The Lightning Strikes..
I was sitting on my balcony watching the lightning flash after a week of ridiculous heat. I couldn't help but think of the power behind each strike. The destruction that it can leave behind, the ability to change a landscape with one point of contact. My mind wanders to the shock of electricty in one flash.
When I was around three, I was playing with a set of keys on the floor, you know jangling them around. My mom was on the phone and I was one curious kid - I saw some holes in the wall that looked like they would fit the keys. So, naturally, I took them and tried to stick it into the electrical socket. Sparks flew and so did my mom. She realized I was fine once she saw I was holding onto the leather tag and not the key itself. In that moment my reaction was the only thing that was shocked and I had my first row with electricity.
When I was in junior high, I went to plug in a shop vac outside to vaccum the car. As soon as the prongs connected with the socket, a loud popping noise was heard. Electiricty ran through my body. The top of my hand holding the plug was black with my hair singed off, as well as my other hand that wasn't holding onto anything. This time the electcity circulated through my body. I was lucky and the Doctor couldn't see anything immediately in harm. That day I learned there was no safety tag to hold onto. That even though I was ok on the outside, the electricity - the power, shocked me on the inside. It ran through me like an invisible wire navigating it's way from one hand to the other.
I felt like I lost that round and ever since then I've always been careful around electricity. Shying away from forcing plugs into sockets or using cords with even the slightest fray. There is a power with electricity that you have to respect, because if you don't there are consequences.
Through the years lightning has became more of a symbolic reference for me to represent people in power situations. They can either act accordingly and be "respectful" when striking and stay up in the clouds. You can easily observe in this situation and learn from it. Or, they can toy with people by striking the ground to change landscapes - causing damage, changing people's thoughts and self-talk often with a negative outcome. With either kind of lightning strike, we're taught (especially girls) to respect the strike and take the hit.
I was 23 years old and decided that I needed to meet more people in the city, make more friends. I couldn't think of a better way to do that than through a sporting league. I also figured why not make some money while I'm there too and decided to referee. I had really taken a shine to scorekeeping and was invited to keep score for a University level tournament my very first year. I was so excited because I heard through the grapevine this was a big deal. You see, in this ref'ing world anything to do with University level sports was a big deal. It was seen as an honour to be chosen to participate in, not everyone got to be a part of it. You really felt like you a part of the "in" crowd and that you were liked. For me that felt like something I hadn't really experienced before, so naturally I decided to accept the assignments.
For this particular tournament the University staff threw the refs a mixer, I was encouraged to attend. I remember being nervous because I didn't really know a lot of people but wanted to fit in so bad. Being one of the youngest in the room, the lowest ranking member and a female in a male dominated "profession", I sat quietly and accepted beverages that were handed to me. It didn't take long before I was feeling the alcohol. This group served drinks with the two finger rule - the middle and ring finger are tucked into the palm and the alcohol is measured between the index and pinky finger. The room was definitely starting to move on it's own while I sat in the chair after my second drink. The next thing I know one of the senior male officials started laughing and commenting on how I ate a two bite brownie in one motion. He shared with the other senior male officials how he thought it was of a "sexual" nature and they decided that my nickname from that point on was going to be "brownie". My drunken heart sank, I felt violated. I just wanted to eat something, there was no sexual innuendo behind me eating that brownie (certainly not towards this official or anyone else in the room). I did what had become a natural response in those types of situations, where I felt uncomfortable and taught not to disturb the power balance - I smiled and laughed along. After all, it was an "honour" to be at this tournament.
Lightning strike 1.
A few years had passed and the nickname carried on, the unwanted innuendos continued and I slowly started to faded away from this group of people. By this time my only interaction with this crowd was a few random score keeping gigs. I kept up appearances at functions because I knew I needed the face time to be considered at all for University games (the highest paid jobs), and I played the politics of this refereeing world. There was a college tournament in town and it brought many people from across the country - meaning one of my favourite people was in the city. I wondered over to the dorms where the officials were staying so I could say hello to them. The night was going great and the conversation was filled with laughter but it was winding down and time to go home. Another official attending the tournament offered to walk me home because we were downtown and it was in the early hours of the morning.
The walk wasn't far - only a few blocks and when we reached my place this official asked if he could come in and use my bathroom. I agreed and didn't think anything of it. When he came out of the washroom we met in the hallway and he said to me, "so are we going to have sex now?" It was said in a tone where it felt like it was expected. He was a higher ranking official at this point and had sway on assignments. I paused, I was not expecting that. I had given him no indication present or past that this was something I wanted from him. I welcomed him into my home to use the facilities and that was it. I declined, opened the door and showed him out.
I couldn't believe that happened! I text a female ref that we both knew and told her, the response was unsupportive and leaning on his side. It was brushed off as if it was a normal thing to do and there was a sense of "why didn't you?" Every time I was invited to a party with these people I'd ask if that male official was going to be there and if he was I wouldn't go. I felt disregarded and vulnerable every moment after that when I was with these people. I said nothing more to anyone for fear that I would become outcasted like I had seen them to do other people. The distance between myself and this group grew even larger.
Lightning strike 2.
My final tournament with these people was a University one in Calgary, four years almost to the weekend after my first one. By this time I hadn't score kept in almost a year and was just there to help out and hang out. It was the first night and the majority of the officials were hanging out in a dorm room, laughing and having a good time. A ref who had come from another city was sitting across from me. He made eye contact with me and asked to see my necklace. I got up, walked over, took it off from around my neck and handed it to him. He took it and looked in my eyes and said, "I didn't really want to see your necklace, you have a very nice chest."
It was like all the previous four years of sexual harassment came out in that moment as I unleashed on him - no longer caring about getting a gold medal match or even any kind of assignment at that point. "How dare you think that's appropriate to say to me." The room quieted and all eyes were turned on us, "that's so inappropriate and unwelcome." He had nothing to say and was stunned at my response. I took my necklace back, moved to a different part of the room and sat down. No one came over to ask me what happened, no one acknowledged the words spoke between that man and myself. Our exchange was loud enough for people to hear but yet, no one chose to talk to us about it. No consequence was had or even an apology given in a more private setting. This man was held in great esteem by all of the high ranking officials at the tournament and me, well...I was still a female, first level referee after four years who was fading from the scene.
Lightning strike 3.
My time with that group of people had come to a close shortly after that. The last tie was broken when I was lectured about my absence from the group and being a horrible friend by the same person who refused to support me the nights of strike 2 and 3. There was no more power in that situation anymore. Where the electricity had entered my hand upon meeting those people - that phone call with her was when the it finally exited through the other hand just as black as when I had shocked myself in junior high. This time though - the damage was on my mental well-being.
The idea of a power imbalance being used to manipulate/use people never really crossed my mind until I was in a therapy session years after these instances had occurred. As I discussed this with my therapist a flood of other event from my life came across my mind - everything from boys I had liked to people who were informal teachers where I just wanted to learn more from them, using there position of power or influence over me to assert dominance and have their own agenda succeed. This conversation with my therapist about power imbalance took a few sessions and started to evolve into the discussion around consent and what we're were taught at a young age about it. That if we are to say no to someone in a position of power because we feel uncomfortable or don't want to do it there will be consequences. The lightning will strike the landscape and change it.
Take for instance when you're a child and you're leaving someone's house. The first thing a parent will typically do is make their child go and hug everyone goodbye. But what if that child doesn't want to hug someone goodbye for whatever reason that day. The parent will typically tell the child not to be rude and go hug that person. In turn teaching that child to set aside what they are feeling in the moment and give that person a hug even though they don't want to. There's a behaviour that is being learned in that moment, that the child has to not only suppresses their emotions but suppresses their voice - their own power, their own lightning strike. I can recall a time when this happened to me.
I couldn't have been more than 8 and we were leaving a family friend's house. I was already in the van and didn't want to give the man a hug - I was ready to go home at that point and just wanted to leave. I had said no to hugging him already but I remember he started to crawl into the van to get his hug. I had no where to go, I felt physically trapped in the moment. My reaction was to kick at him. My parents took me out of the van, made me apologize to him - even though I felt unsafe in the moment and was being forced to do something I didn't want to do...hug him goodbye.
Reflecting on this memory and what I have learned makes me give some grace to that instance. It was all learned behaviours passed down from generation to generation. The power imbalance that has occurred in the past is shifting and is currently being challenged by many. I have since learned that the tolerance for the behaviour that I experienced in that ref'ing world is being called to account and steps are in place to change it. I really feel like now is the time to call back your power and not own people's reaction to you saying no when you feel unsafe, uncomfortable or don't agree.
Sitting on my balcony that night watching the storm, lightning lighting up the sky, made me realize that this was a moment where I was calling back my power. I closed my eyes and let the thunder act as a form of sound therapy - each clash of the clouds releasing these moments when the power imbalance existed. I've since seen lightning strike and instead of thinking about other's power - I now claim it as my own.