Stella Leventoyannis Harvey

What is Remembered       

Fragrances of exotic flowers, simmering lamb, baked desserts, aromatic spices will ignite a memory, a sense of something familiar. I will be reminded of a home I once lived in, and yet, won’t be able to see in any other substantive way. The mirage won’t permit a clear view of bricks and mortar, furniture, carpets. These details will be no more than ghosts and shadows. But at some level I know I’ve been there.

As with smells, my recollections can also be triggered by a glance or a twist of the mouth or words uttered. This happened to me a few weeks ago two different times. The first involved Prime Minister Harper. Wouldn’t you know it?

There he was in Quebec making an announcement that would help the devastated town of Lac Megantic. It should have been a good occasion for him. But reporters questioned him about the Senate scandal. And our leader repeated the words, “I was told,” so many times to reporters it sounded like a mantra, one he’d adopted to absolve himself of any responsibility. Even a mediocre leader knows that it doesn’t matter what you’re told, the buck stops with the leader. I digress.

For some reason (and I can’t explain how or why) watching Mr. Harper, I saw the war criminals who were tried after the Nazi atrocities of WWII. I wasn’t even born, but I’ve studied this era in school and read about it in many books. Mr. Harper’s face, the words he spoke, his shifting eyes prompted an image in my head of Nazi commanders standing in courtrooms.  I heard their voices as real as Mr. Harper’s. “I was only following orders.” I shivered.

The second memory was prompted by a CBC report on Senator Colin Kenny’s withdrawal from the Liberal caucus because of an ongoing investigation into allegations of sexual harassment.

The CBC report summarized how a former staffer had lodged a complaint against the Senator and went on to outline other incidents where women had complained about the Senator’s unwanted sexual attention.

One woman, Candace Amis, stood out for me in that report, not because her experience was worse than the rest of the women who were making these charges, but rather because no one listened to her. She’d grown up in foster homes, had been an exotic dancer. She was trying to get her life on track. She thought she’d landed a good job at a tanning salon owned by the Senator. This was to be her first step towards a better life.

Ms. Amis went to the police alleging that the Senator had told her to perform oral sex or she’d be fired. According to the CBC, the police dismissed her complaint as not being credible. Was this yet another example of how a woman’s background or social status dictates whether the police take her seriously? I don’t know. But it sure looks and feels like it.

I do know from the same report, that a former employee of the Senator did not corroborate Ms. Amis’s story even though she knew of other sexual harassment complaints against the senator. She regrets that now.  

Ms. Amis sat with her arms and legs crossed as she spoke to the CBC reporter. She wore an oversized sweater as though making a conscious attempt to disappear.

Seeing Ms. Amis I was reminded of a man I worked with some thirteen years ago. I’ve blocked him from my memory, but once in a while he comes back to haunt me. I picture him leaning over a young assistant’s shoulder. He stares at her breasts.  His hand falls too easily on her shoulder, and finds its way to her back. I can’t for the life of me remember that assistant’s name, but I will never forget his leer or that forced smile on her face that seemed to say: be brave, this too shall pass.

I remember speaking to her about it. I’m sure I offered to help her lodge a complaint. But, she wanted to keep her job. That was more important to her and her family than what she described as, “a little touching”. In the end, I left the company because when I complained about this and other inappropriate situations, the organization I worked for chose to support this horrible man over me. Like the staffer in Ms. Amis’s case who now regrets not having spoken up for Ms. Amis, I regret not having fought harder for the assistant, for me, and for the other women who had or will have the unfortunate experience of working with this man, a man, who incidentally had also admitted to previous allegations of sexual harassment.

It fascinates me to think how memories are triggered. That’s the analytical side of me talking now. I don’t have much reserve on that front. I tend to operate more from my emotive side. This is how I remember.


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