Letters on Conflict
I used to like making my sister cry. My brother did too, though instead of just using words he often used his fists. Our parents never fought; they discussed issues like money and what to do about their raging son, but I don’t even remember them ever raising their voices. I don’t doubt they had conflicts, they were just mature enough to sit down and talk things through. I guess I’ve grown up, because I don’t make my sister cry anymore. My brother’s grown up too. Why’s it taking everyone else so long?
I remember so clearly. We were driving across the prairies, and the radio said, “They’re killing children in the streets!”
I started bawling. I was eight; I was a child; I didn’t want to die. Not in Red Deer, of all places. And not at the hands of a bunch of Hell’s Angels. I stopped listening to the radio, and I still don’t watch the news on TV. I won’t be forcefed tragedy at the hands of major broadcasters. I know that there is violence and terror in the world, but I’ll get my stories from newspapers so I can re-read statements like “It’s not like they’re killing children in the streets!” if I accidentally miss a few words the first time.Violence scared my eight-year-old self, and I don’t want to numb myself into forgetting that feeling.
To the boys of my eighth grade class,
According to the dictionary, violence is an unjust or unwarranted exertion of force or power. I know that as a child you were taught that violent behaviour causes physical injury. But it does not have to. Every time you slapped our asses, you exerted your power. Every time you did it in front of a teacher who said nothing, you forced us to submit. You made us insignificant. We believed we were worth no more than our asses. We believed that it was our duty to allow you to do this to us. We believed it was our duty to giggle and pretend to slap you and then ignore it. Maybe we should have slapped you. But we should not have had to. I know you did not rape us. You did not beat us. We never went home with broken ribs and torn vaginas. But I want you to know that your violence changed us. You hurt us, even if you couldn’t see it. For the sake of your mothers, your sisters, your friends, and your lovers, I hope you see it now.
I am angry.
I have always considered myself lucky to have escaped violence in my life. I come from a happy and loving home, I am privileged enough to afford school and regular meals, and I have never suffered from any sort of physical attack. When I think about violence I think about it as a distant phenomenon- something I oppose, yet not something I feel the impact of in my day to day life. I am angry because I’m coming to realize that I am a product of violence. I have been lucky enough to escape the direct, bloody impact of war, but it is still intimately linked with my daily life. It plays out in front of me, romanticized, in Hollywood movies. I take part in it in video games. I see it on the evening news, and read about it in the paper. It is in my laptop, my cell phone and my ipod. It is in the food I eat, and I pay for it with my taxes. It’s like the most cynical game ever: take something in your daily life, and connect it to a conflict. I am angry because I have always been told that war is over there, and I’m coming to realize that it is right here, in our refrigerators, backpacks and backyards.
We have constructed a culture that values aggression over compassion; war is deemed necessary, yet same-sex marriage is seen as threatening and unnatural. I want to live in a world where peace is normal, where community is valued, and where my government spends billions to create rather than destruct. So let’s rid ourselves of the violence that permeates our culture, even in the places where it seems most benign. Let’s deconstruct our culture of violence, and reconstruct it surrounding the values that we want collectively. I’ll be the first to admit that this idea seems abstract and close to impossible, but if war is a construct, then it is possible to deconstruct it. So let’s get angry and start deconstructing.
He was like anyone else. A little annoying at times. Oh, and he was cute. He knew it too. Maybe that’s the reason why he annoyed me to no end. I hated cocky guys, and he was one of them, a guy that the girls used to fall for, chase around hysterically at recess in their pursuit to find out who he would take to the school dance. He was an enigma, large curly hair and sweet eyes, quiet spoken but with this mischievous smile lurking on his lips.
High school came about and he was lost me, a new person, as soon as we stepped through those large doors that promised a new beginning. He climbed the ranks of popularity quickly, never without a girlfriend, always in the corners smoking his ganja. Everyone knew where to go for some weed, he always was excessively supplied. Everyone knew who to go to for backup in one of their worthless fights, he never let one slip through his fingers. I used to see him at parties, wiling up on the dancefloor, chugging down alcohol as if it was water. Still just as cocky, which is why I would watch him through narrowed eyes. He fascinated me. Why, I never understood.
Two years after graduation. I had nearly forgotten he had existed.
He was just absent from my life. I didn’t see him anymore.
In my world, he was a flitting memory, creeping at the edges of my consciousness but never fully there.
Then he died. A brutal fight, resulted from a stupid cause. A guy with a knife, decided it was all too appropriate for that knife to positing itself in his stomach.
I didn’t know how to take the news. My entire grade in high school was broken up, my friends from grade school crying their eyes out for this boy, this man, this person who I thought would always remain that baggy jeaned coolie in the corner, his pimped out car, spitting out these lines that just oozed charm.
So I took it in stride. He was an old friend, a friend I lost touch with. And to hear of his death, made me think of how fragile life is. And I wished maybe I could’ve stricken up a conversation with him, maybe after high school. Maybe told him that I did indeed think he was quite the cute one back in grade 6, and that I didn’t quite like his ex-girlfriend, she wasn’t very nice. Maybe I’d tell him about the fact that I liked how he danced, and how amazed I was at his curly hair. I want to tell him that his nickname was Q-Tip in my head, just cuz he was skinny and that afro just topped it all off. There isn’t a chance anymore.
He wasn’t close to me. He wasn’t someone that I could cry over, that I could break down over and wish to God that he had taken me instead. No, instead I just stared at my ceiling in wonderment at life. In all that, I desperately hoped that maybe people would learn. Childish fights don’t prove your masculinity, your pride, it doesn’t prove shit. All it proves is that you’re stupid enough to cause that much pain to your loved ones. All it proves is that you’re an idiot for losing your life over a fight that you could’ve walked away from.
Life doesn’t come with second chances.
Sucks, don’t it?
Now live it up. Don’t let violence become the devil’s game, let pride be the tongue of temptation, don’t let conflict be the reason why your last breath is at the hands of a kid with a kitchen knife.