When I was 16 years old, my friend Jessica was murdered. She was 14 and was the cousin of my childhood best friend, Mel. Her family were kind people and always welcomed me into their home. We used to spend time giggling and finding boys to kiss, spending time on the far end and lower socioeconomic side of Rivière Des Prairies – the town where I grew up in Montreal. I suppose I was as naive as a teenager should be. I had no experience with death except seeing my grandfather’s ghost the night he died (but that’s another story for another day). When Jessica was killed, this inherent overwhelming sense that I would never feel safe ever again, washed over me. I had never felt *that* feeling specifically before. I had a tumultuous relationship with my father but it was never violent, and I remotely feeling like I started to see men very differently after this. She was stabbed dozens of times. Brutally murdered in a way I still think about even though it happened in 2002. Her perpetrator was a serial killer and rapist who was very much known by the police and lived 6 km from the scene of the crime – which was literally across the street from her home. He should not have been out of jail and out in the streets. He was finally caught after 5 months when letters being sent to a jail were intercepted and he was gloating about every detail of the crime. His recounting was written like an erotic story with a man named Bob (which was him). It was atrocious and psychotic. When I went to her funeral, there were hundreds of people. The whole town was in shock. I saw her little body and could feel the energy of both her and everyone’s grief, curiosity and repulsion – it knocked the wind from me. I wailed. I couldn’t stop. I had to leave.
I will tell you what I remember – when she went missing, the amount of times I heard people say ‘she’s a little slut’ ‘she’s probably off getting high’ – the empathy deficits shook me. Justice for the violence inflicted on girls and womxn was something that would become my mission.
That year, I learnt I would never be safe in this body – a cloud of awareness that’s haunted me in every arena of my life and work.