In the autumn of 1974 I arrived by myself in Montreal, Canada, to begin my new life as a Landed Immigrant. I hadn’t anywhere arranged to stay or a job waiting for me. But thanks to my youthful enthusiasm and the great PR that Canada did in the UK, I believed that my new country would treat me well.
My poem Bienvenue au Canada tells the story of what happened, less than a month later.
A few things to know first:
- Please don’t read this poem if you are easily triggered
- This was a time of no cell phones and no bank machines
- The city of Montreal stands on an island
- People there speak French and/or English
- Klute was a 1971 film with an Oscar-winning performance by Jane Fonda as a high-class hooker who prides herself on her ability to playact roles to please her customers
- The autoroute means the highway/freeway/motorway
- The Métro is Montreal’s subway system
- Bienvenue au Canada is French for Welcome to Canada
- ***It’s amazing what we can survive***
Bienvenue au Canada It all begins innocently, with a girls’ night out after a 12-hour work shift. A couple of drinks, a few laughs. No big deal… Alone in my new country for less than a month, I don't know that it’s Thanksgiving and the banks have shut. So I have no money for a cab back from the boonies to my immigrant’s downtown Montreal rooming house. Lorraine drops me off to wait for a bus. I stand alone and shiver in the cold October night surrounded by strange silent streets of dark staring houses. I wait... And I wait… No bus. No money. No idea where Lorraine lives. Long after midnight, I start walking, a 21-year-old girl looking for the way home. Spying the lights of an open doughnut shop, I enter to ask for directions. The counter clerk asks me if I’m driving. I say no, and he tells me the way to go. But something's wrong. This is the autoroute. I walk along the shoulder, more lost than before, and far too tired to turn around. A car pulls up beside me. A man asks if I'd like a lift. As I get into the car, I ignore the small voice inside me that whispers, “This is a mistake.” We chat in French as he drives. He’s a French-Canadian truck driver. Then he drives straight past the cutoffs for downtown Montreal. The atmosphere grows brittle and dark. The pit of my stomach churns and my mind turns numb in disbelief as he wordlessly leaves the island, and heads into the countryside. He pretends not to understand me as I plead that he’s making a mistake, that I’m not that kind of girl. He just grunts. And drives. When I try to jump out of the passenger door one large hand drags me back by my long dark hair. It becomes a fist that punches me in the head when I grab the steering wheel to try to crash the car. This can't be happening This can't be happening This can't be happening This is happening. A chill calm cloaks my terror, and I choose rape over dying. I recall the movie Klute, and fix on acting the role of a sexual ingénue with the hope of flattering his ego and reducing the horror. He heads for a deserted country road. He stops the car and kills the headlights. He climbs on top of me on the front seat to use me for sex. He comes quickly. He climbs off me. Later my wide-eyed acting is good enough to change his mind from doing it a second time. He falls asleep in the driver’s seat. I sit next to him in the pitch black, trapped, helpless in the middle of nowhere, not knowing where to run, and too terrified to try. The car radio plays. Morning light arrives. My rapist awakes and checks his wallet to see if I’ve robbed him. He drives back towards the city, and drops me off at an outlying Métro station. Exhausted, but alive, I make my way back to the shabby room I call home. For weeks afterward I tremble with fear when men look at me. I never go to the police. Every girl knows that in a man’s world, it’s supposed to be her fault.