observations and opinion
In the hours, days and months that follow the trial of Jian Ghomeshi, it’s unlikely that any four words will resonate so memorably as these: “I love your hands.” Coming from the victim to the accused, one day after the alleged assault, these words will be wrapped round the neck of the witness, as tightly as if she were being choked.
To quote courtroom maven and ace reporter Christie Blatchford, the lady’s testimony is “bewildering.” People will ask (are asking) how could the victim of an assault say that to the man she says attacked her? It will be said by the defense, and its defenders, that these four words make a lie of the testimony against the accused assailant.
As a lawyer and sometimes defender of the accused, I can tell you that as of this writing (February 6, 2016) the accused Mr. Ghomeshi is legally innocent – presumed so, at least – and cannot be judged a criminal by anyone unless and until due process of law reaches that verdict. What the trier of fact in the case will have to determine, is whether those four words – buried in a mountain of a million facts – create, or contribute to a “reasonable doubt” that Mr. Ghomeshi committed a crime.
I love your hands.
Almost no-one on earth is in that courtroom. All of our reports are second hand at best. The trial itself is a “report” – a reproduction, perfect or imperfect, of past events. Like a play in endless rehearsal, with at least two scripts and no director, a trial continuously recreates. What the law does is turn memory into meaning: I remember how the man treated me, I remember his actions and words. The memory might be perfect but the meaning of it legally – that is not remembered but invented – ascribed – by the law and its practitioners.
When Jian Ghomeshi was first publicly accused of being violent towards women, he seemed to admit it. You may remember that his explanation was that this was the kind of sex he liked, and the ladies liked it too. You’re just not cool enough to understand, he seemed to say. And I think for many of us, we paused and pondered: is that right? is this behaviour something that a woman would volunteer for, get aroused by, enjoy?
Maybe, but more than a few women came forward, in the days to follow, and said that they had experienced this “treatment” and that they didn’t enjoy it. Didn’t get aroused by it. Didn’t volunteer for it. They were injured by it, terrorized by it, humiliated by it. Some of their wounds were temporary (on the outside, like the bruises and the abrasions) and some wounds were more lasting (the slashing of their self-respect, of confidence in their own judgment) and some were external even to their bodies and minds (their job security or prospects).
Those of us who did not live in the skin of those women, cannot know what they felt or feared or knew or came to doubt. We can only imagine, drawing parallels from our own experience, searching for empathy or insight. Scrutinizing their words and actions. Being at times, “bewildered”.
Many women tell the same story, or a version of it: a story of charm, blazing wit and power. The curious elixir so many women find intoxicating. A story of being drawn in, excited and thrilled at being wanted. A story that turned, slowly or more often suddenly, into a story of debasement and of insult. A story of injury. A story of enduring hurt. A story of not running away.
Things are bewildering. Once, when I was a boy, a drunk woman beat me with the wooden heel of her shoe. I didn’t punch back, though I might have. I didn’t run away, though I could have. I crumpled, kneeling on the floor, my arms above my head, as the heel of the shoe smashed on me, again and again. I said “stop! stop!” and waited for it to be over.
If I were cross examined today – why didn’t you fight? why didn’t you run? I would have no answer that you would understand. The truth is, when it happened and even after, I wasn’t afraid. That’s not what I felt.
The only thing I remember feeling or thinking, was that I wished she would stop. Not because it hurt (although it did). I wished she would stop, because when she woke up in the morning, she would remember – and she would feel ashamed. And I didn’t want her to think of herself that way, as a woman who beat a boy with a shoe.
So I yelled, “Stop! Stop!” And at some point, she did stop. Her arm dropped down, the shoe hanging from her fingers in front of my eyes. And I got up off the floor, and went to my room. And in the morning she woke up. And if she remembered, she never said. And neither did I.
The lady in my story isn’t charged with anything, other than being someone who was lost in her own pain and alcohol. There is no other proof: it’s my word against hers and she isn’t here to deny it. I never said a word about it then – it would have been too humiliating – too humiliating for her, and for me. It feels bad to tell on her, even now.
But I still see those hands, I see the wooden heel of that gold strappy shoe, right in front of my eyes, all these years later. Was I the victim of an assault? I suppose. Was she a criminal? That’s not for me to judge. What she was, was a woman who beat a boy with a shoe. I knew it then, even if she didn’t. And I know it still.
Even if you don’t believe me.
I know what you’re thinking: an adult woman is not a child. That’s absolutely true. The circumstances are not the same. They are very different. But that difference is only helpful in trying not to understand, what it means to be on the bad end of a beating.
The law will call a thing something, no matter what it was to those involved. Call something a crime and it’s a crime, but don’t call it that, and it is still what it was. It is still the thing that happened to the people who lived it. The memory and the meaning inside us are not altered, by what others see or believe. No chorus of doubters, no crowd of strangers in faraway rooms, no lawyers or reporters – not even a judge in a courtroom – can change what happened, or what it did to someone, or what it means.
Four fingers, a palm and thumb make up a hand, it is true. But they also make a fist. Call it what you want. When you feel it, you know what it is.
I love your hands.