by Vanessa Tottle
The gall of them. The gall of one young shit in Isla Vista. He used a Sig-Sauer P226, which is what James Bond used in Bolivia after getting a woman killed because he fucked her like a prize.
He also had a Glock 34. Denzel Washington used that once in Man on Fire. He looked very good in slow-motion gunfights. He needed to. There was a white, blonde, baby Dakota Fanning to save from endless Mexicans.
I was owned once. It was not in the way that Elliot Rodger would have liked. It was in the way that an abusive family owns you, like a vase they don’t know where to put, so they stick you out of sight and out of mind, but still you’re owned, and your chief quality is your quietness, and sometimes that is reinforced.
I weigh 105 pounds. I am a 105 pound vase. I crack myself because my quality is quietness. I have a black belt in krav maga. It has cost me three cracked ribs and a broken jaw. Try getting the flu with a broken jaw.
I lead paleontology digs now. I have taken assistant leadership roles in Canada, the United States, China, and South America. I almost have my Ph.D. It has cost me a broken ankle, a concussion, and cool-looking parasites. Once, I stood looking at a bear while friends climbed up river banks to safety, and I was all that was between my friends and the bear. The bear didn’t move. Maybe it saw a vase whose quality was quietness, with too many cracks to give a shit about one more. Maybe it was disinterested.
The gall of one young shit in Isla Vista, to think I can be owned, to think I would go back to that, to think I would move aside for him, to think that Bond and Denzel gave him strength enough to move a woman. I was thin as ragged bones until I left my parents’ house and learned I was crafted out of more than quietness.
What has he to show for pain? Disappointed misogyny? Three guns and nowhere to use them? Pain is real. You don’t come back from it. You feel it all the time. I don’t doubt that he felt pain. I doubt that he had ever earned it.
Pain can be taught. I’m a Harry Potter fan, I think every abused kid is, so let me describe it like this: pain can be cast like a charm over you. Pain can be offered as an excuse by people who want to master you. You think it’s real. You think you won’t come back from it. You think you feel it all the time. But it isn’t real. You are bewitched. You are the victim of an illusion.
Believe in any pain for long enough, and you become a thing, owned by whoever made you believe in it. The boy in Isla Vista belonged to someone else. He belonged to the Male Rights Association. He belonged to a philosophy. He had found a family who taught him the pain he should believe in, and who taught him being owned by their philosophy was the only outlet for that pain. He became a vase they didn’t know where to put, but one they crafted out of violence.
If you want to temper a human being, you give her hope. You tell her that her enemies are behind her, that they cannot hurt her anymore. You teach her cracking can be beautiful. You teach her to look at herself as a leader.
If you want to temper a weapon, you give him hate. You tell him that his enemies are all around him, that they only think of hurting him. You teach him cracking isn’t acceptable. You teach him to follow you.
I was a vase, stuck out of sight and out of mind. So was he. To pretend we started any different is a lie. To call him evil is to isolate the repercussions to a dead man. I hate him, but I won’t ease my mind with excuses. He was shaped this way by others. He was tempered through a process. He was taught who to blame and who to hate. His life was not a war, he was just a weapon made by others. He was an amateur. The professionals don’t get their hands dirty. The ones who teach young men to think this way are waging the war. The politicians who seek to control our rights to our bodies are waging the war. They teach men to be mastered. They teach women to be tired. Before we see what other weapons that philosophy can make, we need to treat this like a war as well. Our weapons are leadership, creativity, knowledge, communication, and relentlessness.
They try to take away our leadership by destroying Head Start and Acorn and unions across North America. They reinforce the idea that one president’s too black to lead and the next president is too much of a woman to lead. They try to take away our creativity by stealing from PBS and NPR, by foisting us with Common Core education and standardized testing. They try to take away our knowledge by making higher education unaffordable. They consolidate media into a handful of channels, and these channels interrupt discussions of hate crimes and government deadlock with breaking Justin Bieber news. They try to take away our communication by bankrupting the postal service and making plans to sell the internet chunk by chunk like parcels of land. They replace these with false alternatives, hoping we don’t notice. They try to take away our relentlessness by making us re-fight the battles we have already won – abortion, voting rights, fair pay, social security, veteran care. Women are exhausted from fighting for our bodies. Minorities are exhausted from working harder for the right to vote. The poor are exhausted from working more to make the same. The elderly are exhausted from a broken promise they worked all their lives to earn. Soldiers are exhausted from physical and emotional scars that go untreated.
This isn’t by conspiracy, not entirely. It’s by mentality, but when a mentality is so deeply and overwhelmingly ingrained in us, it exhibits the same traits as the conspiracies we make up to distract ourselves. But why do they fight so desperately? Why do they take away so much? Because our fate is progress, and theirs is to dwindle.
When you’re in a corner, your training takes over. You don’t think. You react from years of being taught what to do. When I broke my jaw, I was sparring two men who are twice my size and ranked above me. One was my instructor. Krav Maga is never fair. You’re not meant to win fights. You’re meant to learn to keep on going despite being broken. I believe that’s why I take to it. I remained sparring for five minutes after my jaw cracked. I could barely see or hear through the pain. Breath came and went. My body took over as my mind receded. All I could think of was not being cornered. Don’t get cornered, don’t get cornered. I had been cornered years of my life; I would not go back to that. I was given the option to stop. I would not stop. Classmates told me I became vicious. I had no chance to begin with, and then my jaw broke. I lost the match, that was always the point. But I understood then: I was tempered through a process.
Theirs is a different process: Right to rape. Oppression by exhaustion. Destroying the middle class. Imprisoning minorities. Ownership via hatred. They have been tempered by an ugly mentality. But their desperation is no different. We can recognize it if we stop to think and consider their ridiculousness. They have the option to stop, but they react from years of being taught what to do. They are still mastered by their mentality and those who preach it. It is because they will lose that they have become so vicious on its behalf.
I have overheard friends say there’s nothing we can do. I have been told change is a process that takes place over decades. No shit. What number decade is this in that process? My right to vote was established in 1920. The Civil Rights Act happened in 1964. Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973.
Change doesn’t happen for people out of sight and out of mind. It doesn’t happen for the quiet. It certainly doesn’t happen for those afraid of being cracked. I think we’re all done with that. I hope we’re all done with that. They have brandished their weapons. Now let us brandish ours: Let us lead. Let us create. Let us teach. Let us communicate. Let us be relentless. Ours are not the backs against the wall anymore, so let us refuse to act the part.
Long ago, our chief quality was quietness. We are crafted out of so much more than that.