I’ve tried so hard to let go of what happened with him. It’s easier to pretend I don't care then to try and make sense of it. But those memories all came tumbling back out of hiding on that day in late October, 2014 when every device and social media account I owned was continuously beeping and vibrating violently.
Outside on the lake, unseasonal frost was beginning to form almost before my eyes, creating a crystalline orb on the surface; the first snowflakes of the year were drifting lightly against the window. But inside I was hot and sweaty as friends, family, regular customers, and randoms-I-barely-recall-speaking-to, were all wanting to know if I had seen the day's top headlines:
Of course I'd seen them... I'd frantically clicked through them all. Even curled up, hibernating on my week off I couldn’t escape them.
Well..how do you feel?! I want to know. How ARE you? Everyone wanted to know.
Ok, I guess? I'm ok. I feel...numb? I felt numb. Then nothing. I felt nothing. I am fine, totally. Totally fine. Fine.
Well...were you one of them?! One of Jian's victims?
Confusion. Followed by a deep breath. Then the question started to sink in. Inhale. No. Exhale. Nononononono, absolutely not, no. I am not Jian’s victim. I am not a victim of anything. Except serving coffee. I shrugged and felt the nothingness again, and just continued to let the phone ring and texts and emails pile up. Are sure you are ok?!
I am ok. Totally fine.
Over the next few days, I felt nauseous. Then empty. Then nauseous again. Like I was constantly going to throw-up, then I'd get the wave relief just by thinking I was throwing-up. Then I'd have to imaginarily throw up all over again. There was no way this could be true. And, no, I was not a victim. It would all blow over in a few days, then Jian would go back to hosting Q- he'd probably start off his new reign by bringing on a perky, female sex-expert to discuss the secret world of BDSM; how misunderstood this growing community is; Jian enthusing intelligently with that genuine, smokey air of his- He’ll be sure to mention how HE was the victim of society's ignorance for the sexually-explorative, but that this experience has only made him stronger...
Yes, that is what would happen.
But then the BDSM community shamed Ghomeshi's statement, he was dropped by his pricey PR firm and more allegations were reported. I bundled up to face the bitter fall air and took an early break from my shift, walking in circles in the parking lot, wishing I had a cigarette.
I exhaled the illusion of toxic smoke from my lungs. I jumped, peering over my shoulder, as though someone was creeping up on me. Startling myself, I pulled out my phone, turning it over and over in my hands, not thinking anymore…
I texted Jian. He texted back right away. Anything you can to do to help me would be greatly appreciated. I need you right now.
Inhale. He never texts me back right away.
Exhale. I didn’t reply. What could I do? What did I have to offer the world, except mediocre coffee with smile? What could I say? The truth? Who should I believe anyway? Jian or the media? Who to trust? Myself?!
Who I am? Me. And my options are to be:
Or naive, brainwashed young woman.
Or silence. Fuuuuuuuck.
Inhale. I deleted his messages. Then I Unfollowed and Unfriended. Long exhale.
Then he texted me one more time. I am going to have to go on the down-low for a while. I am getting a new number. Your support is greatly appreciated, my Coffee Girl. All the best.
I flung the phone across the parking lot. It landed deep in a snowbank.
That night, I summoned my best barista friends who closed up their stores immediately to go for a drink wit me. I candidly released all the mixed-up thoughts and feelings and I could muster up about the situation. I laughed about it all. People laughed with me. It felt good. I don't remember what I said, just that it felt good.
Tragedy + Time = Comedy.
Tragedy + Comedy= Time to Heal.
And then silence.
Friends and family stopped asking me if I was ok. Everyone forgot about it.
Silence. Good ol' silence.
15 months later and it is starting to get noisy again. I am making myself an Americano at the empty café before opening the doors when CBC News announces casually that his trial begins...today?! I click open my phone and there it all is: his face is covering, what seems like, ALL of the pages of the internet, all over my life. Again.
But since no one is asking me if I am ok this time, I have finally found some words, my truth, and the option I needed, but didn't see: Tell my story!
And no, I am not ok. This whole situation is not ok.
For the record, here is my sordid history with Jian Ghomeshi:
-Fall, 2006: CBC radio 1 is playing in the background while I'm working the bar of a busy shift. Over the blaring espresso machine, I strain my ears to hear a new program called Q. I am intrigued and turn the radio up; my shift goes by faster as I listen.
-Winter, 2006: I “Like” Q on Facebook. By now I think it's pretty good show and that Jian Ghomeshi, the host, is charismatic and intelligent. My friends laugh that we're too young to like CBC Radio- laaaaaaaame. But I still listen everyday.
-Fall, 2008: I cover a shift at a downtown Starbucks. I can see the CBC building through the window from behind the bar. There's a lineup to the door, but my heart double-beats as a familiar, smokey voice hits my ears. I whip around to see Jian Ghomeshi at the till, asking for a mint tea. I snap to attention and with shaking fingers rip open the package. I peer over over the whisps of steam from the hot water to catch a glimpse of him. Dark haired with a teddy-bear smile, talking animatedly to a pretty, petite woman with sharp bangs. They are deep in conversation so I gently place the tea down on the hand-off without a word, but still mesmerized. Jian absently takes the drink and feels around for a lid; there aren't any! I panic, diving into the cupboards to find them. I grab a stack and hastily fill the compartment before he can even ask for one. Suddenly, our eyes meet. He x-rays me. I'm dying of sweat as at the fact that I'm actually having a barista-customer conversation with Jian Ghomeshi:
Jian: Are you new?
Me: Yes. I mean, no. Just filling in.
Jian: But I haven't seen you here before.
Me: Definitely not.
Jian: There's something intriguing about you.
Me: *self-consciously looks down at my messy apron and sweaty-stained blouse, blushing*
Jian: Will I see you here again? *The woman beside him smirks and rolls her eyes*
Me: Probably not. Unless you come back in the next three hours...
Jian: Then I'll see you again, mysterious coffee girl. *He winks and turns and leaves with the woman.*
For the next three hours, I'm on edge, excitedly glancing up every time the door open, ears straining for that familiar voice. But he doesn't come back. I shrug, Go figure. Then I unlock my bike and head uptown. That night, I add Jian Ghomeshi to Facebook. Just for fun. My roommmate thinks I am lame.
-Winter, 2009: Jian Ghomeshi accepts me on Facebook. I am excited! My friends think I am lame.
-Spring, 2009: A guest host fills in for Jian Ghomeshi while he is away somewhere, doing something. I write on his wall to express my concern about the replacement host, asking for an ETA as to when Jian will resume his hosting. I believe I used the word “ear candy” to describe his voice. My friends think I am lame.
-Spring, 2009: Jian private messages me. He says he's intrigued by my post and my profile picture- I believe he uses the word “eye candy” and says I look familiar and if we've met before. My friends and I do a collective eye roll. But I secretly message him back with something witty and clever. I don't mention I served him at Starbucks.
-Spring, 2009: Messages go back and forth, funny and casual. Then he asks me for my number. I say no way; I'm not that easy. In the next message, he gives me his number. My friends prank call it pretending to be an old lady looking for her dear friend Mable. We hear the familiar raspy, low radio voice on the other end- It is the correct number!!!
-Spring, 2009: Nightly phone calls with Jian begin. We talk about everything. He even asks me for topics to use on the show- "because you're young and cool"! I am 20. He is 41. He definitely thinks I am an intelligent Icelandic journalist or something, and that I'm bffs with Björk (I did see Bjork at a grocery store in Reykjavik once from afar and we did make eye contact). He says I make him laugh. We laugh together. He can't stop thinking about me. Do I think about him? I do. Of cooourse, I do. He says we should meet. I agree we should meet.
-March 29 2009: We meet. At his house. He says it has to be at his house. Of course at his house. I assume it’s an impressive house. It is. Sunday at 8pm. He’s really, really busy before that. I don’t have to bring anything, just myself. My friend Olive, a barista and an aspiring makeup artist, dresses me to the nines; I look 14 going on 39. I swear to myself, and my coworkers, and all the Icelandic Elves that nothing will happen beyond an intelligent conversation between professionals, possibly over wine and pistachios. He loves pistachios.
-March 29, 2009 cont’d: I am standing at his door. I remember having red flags at that very moment; I am staring at his dumpster and have sudden chills. Then I rationalize that he is a prominent radio star at a publicly-funded broadcasting corporation and he would be a super-creep and super-stupid to harm a nobody-Starbucks Barista and throw her in his dumpster. Plus, he looooves Starbucks.
-March 29, 2009 cont'd: A total blur. We dance, we march to Billy Bragg and discuss the Revolution in Iran. We tell each other everything. He wants to go to Iceland with me. He moves his hands to my waist. Ah! I want to go home. His hands move firmly to my face. I cannot move. It takes me a few moments to realize he is kissing me. Hard. His grip is so tight on my small frame that I’m grounded to the spot on his immaculate kitchen floor. I cannot breathe. He presses his sweaty body into mine. I can't keep my balance. But this is Jian Go-bloody-meshi! Who cares now- I want to go home!!! I push him off me and he stumbles back against the cupboard. We are both shocked by my strength.
He slumps and then moves toward me, meekly. He tells me he has bad anxiety but that he feels very calm around me. Will you stay the night with me? I will be gentle, he says. I shout at him, saying I am an Icelandic Elf and dangerous; stand back! He doesn’t believe me, he chuckles, approaching me. I say I have magic powers that will terrify him. Then he frowns, crossing his arms as though he has only just noticed me in his house, and doesn't approve of my antics. I tell him that I'm actually just a nobody-coffee-girl and that I have to be at Starbucks to open the store in 2 hours. He scoffs and gives me $20 for a cab and sends me away immediately. The door slams behind me.
-March 30 , 2009: He texts me at 7am saying I owe him $20 for the cab ride. What a creep!
-April 2, 2009: Why hasn’t he texted me?! Did I ruin it?! Is it over?! Why did I leave so fast?! What is wrong with me?!? I am shaking.
-April 8, 2009: That Billy Bob Thornton interview airs. Jian Ghomeshi is all over the local media. Then the international media. I want to know that he is ok! Why? He is a creep, I rationalize. But I want to know that he is ok. We had a connection didn’t we?!?! He said he needed me- that I'm funny, smart. I don't feel funny or smart. Why isn't he returning my texts?!?! He is all over the news now, and I am forced to see his smug face. But he doesn't return my texts.
-April 9, 2009: So, I prank call him as an Australian journalist that wants the scoop on the Billy Bob interview. He says he would love to talk to the Land Down-Under. Then he says I have a sexy accent and he desperately wants to meet and "go gown-under" at his house. He texts me immediately saying I almost fooled him but that I am back in his good books.
-April 10, 2009: Good Friday: We spend Easter together. We talk about everything. He rests his head on my belly and his head goes up and down as I breathe. He says I am the best storyteller ever, that he reads all my posts and I should write a book about sexy baristas in the city. “Call it Coffee Girl,” he says. Yes, I’ll do it, I say, inspired. He likes me most for my writing he says. Wow, I must be a great writer!!! He gets up slowly and locks the door with a soft click. Then he pushes me on to the couch. We are locking eyes as his gentle, soft hands are suddenly gripping me. He is kissing my frozen face. The weight of his body and the whole world are crushing me. The rest is a blur....
-Sometime/Someplace/Somehow/Somewhere: I’m in a cab again, numb. Sweaty and cold. Trees and cars whiz by but I'm not sure where I am or where I am going. The cab driver, concerned, asks if I've decided what I'd like to do, or should he just take me back to where I came from? My phone beeps. Jian texts me, you don’t have to pay me back for this one, coffee girl ;)
Keep driving!!! I yell at the driver. My heart pounds and my phone shakes in my hands as I try to remember my address. My wrists, arms, legs are raw and red. I catch me breath somehow.
-Late Spring, 2009: I am gutted and confused. I hate him for making me feel this way. And I hate myself for letting him do this to me. I hate myself for being weird and ruining everything. Even making coffee is an impossible task.
-Late Spring, 2009: Text from Jian: Coffee Girl, I am never too busy for you. It takes all my strength not to answer. Making coffee is getting easier again.
-Weeks Later, 2009: I continue to ignore his infrequent texts. I am happily making coffee and going out-too-late with my friends, living life in the big-city.
-June, 2009: Jian Ghomeshi is doing a live Q taping at Glen Gould Studio in Toronto. He casually texts me telling me there are front-row tickets waiting for me at the CBC lobby. Coeur de Pirate and Elvira Kurt will be performing. I know how much you love them. He does know, and I do love them...even though they would be ashamed of me if they knew what I've done... But I do go, dressing up to the nines. Sure enough, the tickets are waiting for me; someone has sloppily drawn little hearts in permanent marker beside Coffee Girl + guest on the clipboard. My heart soars as the agent smiles and winks, and hands me the tickets.
I am sitting front row with my best friend. We wait awkwardly after the show, watching the producers and tech-crew cleaning up. The studio empties. Jian waves, beaming at me from the stage. Then he disappears. I gulp. He reappears in front of me, taking my hands and pulling me into a tight hug. He is sweaty as his hand slithers all the way down my tight blue dress. I introduce him to my best friend. Give us a second, he tells her.
He pulls me away to a little room somewhere near the stage. He touches me all over, putting one hand up my dress. Red flags! I try and push his hand away, whispering I want to talk first, and could we go for a civilized drink somewhere instead. He slithers his hand up my dress further, pushing me backwards until I thud into the wall.
Suddenly, he's leading me out the door like a gentleman. My friend is waiting, eyes narrowed, arms crossed. Jian is charming again, arms lightly around my shoulders. Now I'm laughing and talking a little too loudly. Jian checks his phone, yawns, and then tells us to wait here, that he'll be right back. My heart pounds. We wait. Silence around us. My friend tries to talk to me but I'm numb; I need to shower, for a million years. The studio is dark now so we leave, finally. Out on the sidewalk my phone buzzes. He texts me, Have a goodnight. I don't respond. I try to remember some of Elvira Kurt's jokes, staring up at the summer night sky to push the tears back.
-June, the Next day, 2009: I post on Facebook that I am going back to Iceland for the summer, alone, and I am stoked. My phone rings. It is Jian! WTF?! I don't want to answer. I let it ring three times. But then I hastily flip open my phone, mad a my hands for obeying him. We talk about everything. He wants to see me when I get back. I miss you. I really miss you. Everything will be different when you're back, he whispers. Ok, I sigh.
-Summer, 2009: I go to Iceland. I have the best time ever. Silence from Jian. I am gutted, but I don't show it. I resolve myself to have amazing adventures, no matter what. And I do! I write again. I make coffee again. I find happiness again.
-End of Summer, 2009: I enter a writing contest hosted by Jian, for shits and giggles. I use an alias. I win. I email the producers and ask for a signed letter from Jian Ghomeshi, telling me I won. He writes “Dear Miss Button, You are a fine writer. Love Jian Ghomeshi”. Ha! Sadly, this makes my still slightly insecure-self feel slightly validated.
-Fall, 2009: I get a random text from Jian, What's the Icelandic coffee girl up to these days? Can she be free to make me a tea tonight? I delete the message. I make myself a latte with beautiful foam and go-out-too-late with my friends, living big-city life.
-2009-2010: My friends and I continue to occasionally prank call him as that little sad old lady looking for Mable when we're bored or we've had too much wine.
I wish. But not really. Those few months left me feeling wretched, confused, weak. Like a victim. For years, the grip on my arm, the way his eyes glinted from angry to charming, the way he touched me when I disobeyed him, haunted me. But what haunts me more, is how I couldn’t shake off the idea of him, wanting him to be in my life- the illusion of our connection. Our fantasy friendship. Our walks around Riverdale Farm, talking about the future. How could that mean nothing? How could I have made such stupid mistakes?
But whenever I wanted to walk away or if I'd had enough, he pulled me back. I let him.
He only needed me to help him feel powerful. He only wanted me when I wanted out. I was young. I was insecure. My life was out of control. He seemed in control.
Insecurity blinds us. It makes us do things that aren’t healthy for us in our quest to feel whole again. Insecurity makes us greedy, selfish, inhuman. It makes us victims to our worst selves.
I have written Coffee Girl, on my own. I have run marathons and travelled the world, on my own. I have my own life. I am happy, on my own. When any smooth-talking men or entitled celebrity customers try to make me feel otherwise, or pressure me for their own self-worth, I laugh behind the counter while repeatedly pushing the decaf button.
But in my younger barista days, I was constantly battling with my spiralling self-esteem, looking to anyone but my measly self for reassurance that I was ok. Unfortunately, Jian Ghomeshi found me during that time in my development.
Today I am a still very-young, very queer, very hardworking, woman. But underneath I still have shame that I felt I had needed an insecure yet grandiose man at one point in my life, not because I wanted him, but because I was searching for love and success, and felt like I couldn’t get that from myself, on my own merit, by just making coffee. I am trying not to let that shame rise up and destroy the person I am today.
I wish we could all admit when we are not ok, then we would not have to hurt ourselves, or other people so much.
As a woman I am constantly being told by every human-made outlet that I am not pretty enough, that I need to tweak stuff, that I should talk less, that I should do this, but not that, and buy more. I understood later in life that I don’t have to spend my hard earned dollars on trying to play society's game that is rigged against me, but that I have better alternatives I can choose to invest in- like writing a kick-ass book about women, and buying coffee at my kick-ass neighbourhood café, run by kick-ass women.
But at least I learned that.
It saddens me that after fighting against my own self for so long, I often have to fight against other women too, the ones who call me an arrogant bitch, c-word, or man-hater because I dare to work hard and speak the thoughts and opinions that are my own, not scripted to me off of mainstream media- which is run by insecure, rich men (kinda like Jian Ghomeshi)…and yes, unfortunately, insecure women too.
To me, the most disturbing detail about the #GhomeshiTrial is reading all about Jian’s lawyer, Marie Henein. If Jian’s lawyer were a man, we wouldn’t even have known his name. I am disturbed because this woman, as successful and powerful as she is (Yay to powerful women!), is making her living off victimizing already-insecure women, and protecting insecure sexual abusers (but that's where the $$$ are, right folks?!).
Or does Marie Henein need to defend these high-profile men (Michael Bryant, Dave Frost for example) to prove that she herself is not weak, that she is faraway from the women being picked apart on the stand? We live in a patriarchal society with a justice system designed by men in the stone ages to protect that very society, so I don't blame Marie Henein for wanting to play the role of pit bull rather than be the frightened rabbit in the ring, while we all watch, frozen on the sidelines.
Honestly though, I don’t know Marie Henein, or anything beyond what has been reported in the media, so I really shouldn't pass judgements. I really don't know what her story is, or what she has gone through to get to where she stands now. But I do ask that she show compassion to those women who took a big risk and came forward.
While I remained silent.
But hearing the stories of survivors, and the other young women like me who are now publicly writing their stories, like Ruth Spencer's, empowered me share mine.
I also know two other young women who have had similar experiences with Jian as I did. Both were young, beautiful and strong women. Ironically, both were also baristas. Both of them met Jian via social media and were avid Q listeners; they were his Followers and he reached out to them, flirty and forward. One of them never responded to him again and snickered at his flamboyant text messages, reading them out loud to her boyfriend over sushi one evening. She told me Jian became angry and threw a temper tantrum when she'd rejected him, saying he didn’t understand why she wasn’t “affected” by him like all other girls were.
The other woman that confided in me was so distraught and upset when Jian stopped responding to her. And later, after he'd turned aggressive, she called me, frantically asking for advice. She said she was worried about his anxiety and she wished she could help him. I told her sternly to move on; no man is worth your tears and he has to learn how to take care of himself. She was 20 and he was 44 at the time. She didn’t want to share the intimate details of the rest of her experience with him to me, and frankly, I understand completely.
We are ok now. We are not alone.
The last time I saw Jian Ghomeshi was in September, 2013. I waited for him on the grass outside of the CBC, on an unseasonably hot, sunny day. He sauntered out of the building, 45 minutes later than planned, gushing that he was so happy to see me again. Finally, coffee girl, it's been sooooo long. He gave me a hug, and signed copy of his book , 1982. I chuckled to myself inside- what an ego this douche bag has! I am glad I can see it now.
We kept in touch somewhat over the next year, while I was off travelling and writing. For my own sanity and healing it was important to reconcile with him, as proof that I was strong enough to handle myself in his presence, in the presence of older, insecure men. If I can handle them and stand my ground, I can achieve anything, I rationalized.
Ironically, Jian and I actually became friends again, sort of. A form of Stockholm Syndrome? Maybe. But for me, choosing to have Jian back in my life on my own terms was a motivator to keep working on my projects regardless of others' opinions, and a reminder that I am not a victim of life's negative experiences; I am not afraid to be my best self and I strive everyday to experience life to the fullest. Because I still remember how soul-scarring not creating, not living can be.
And I am better prepared to deal with assholes now, that's for sure- a most important lesson girls are not never in school!
I don’t know the details of what the women on trial went through, but I am choosing to believe them. I standby them. Who knows how they will fair in this perfectly corrupt system of ours so it is my duty to listen to their testimonies even if it is crushed in court due to "lack of evidence". Manipulation and emotional abuse are just as harsh, if not worse, than physical abuse. And I think there are enough stories out there to showcase the instability and emotional insecurity of this one man, Jian Ghomeshi, towards a number of women.
Unfortunately, the stories of young women rarely hold up in court- unless we are acting in the best interests of a man or corporation. Don't even get me started on the time I sustained 3rd degree burns on my foot when a broken brewer spilled on me while working a closing shift at Starbucks. The company tried to get me to sign many documents saying that it was my fault, that I was careless, that I was wearing revealing clothing instead of proper safety wear; that I was too tired, emotional, etc, etc and therefore I must deserve to rot in silence with no salary or medical assistance to heal. Luckily, I knew better and didn't sign. All I wanted was for those millionaire executive assholes to fix the goddam brewer!!!
Never, ever sign the rights to your story away. I have learned that again through trying to publish Coffee Girl. I am a young, inexperienced woman, so I should freely give it away in exchange for a few nickels, my 15 minutes, and a blowjob, right??? Wrong! I'll publish it myself, thanks. On my own terms and with zero conditions in the fine print, and with a team of women who believe in me, in each other.
The important thing is, TO TELL YOUR STORY. Maybe that story is still on the tip of your tongue, or buried deep behind thick scars...but keep reaching for it. Do not be afraid of your own words. I promise if you keep reaching for it, you will find whatever you need to tell it. Just please don't give up and erase the draft because you're worried the men in suits won't believe you. There will be someone, somewhere listening who will be grateful you told it, and standup with you. And heal with you.
Though, if I were in that court room, Marie Henein would rip me to shreds over all my prank calling and for using an Australian accent dishonestly. Ha! True enough.
All I truly know is that I have to face the consequences of my actions everyday, and that all of my experiences in life have given me confidence, empathy, and most importantly, vigilance. I do not trust people easily, women or men. I take myself seriously, even though you'll usually find me laughing. Whatever Jian has done, I hope he is brought to justice, real justice. Since those women have spoken out, he has been shamed into silence; his Twitter feed is bare and his radio voice has been muted. The more stories are shared, whether professionally published or not, the more we are forced to stop, listen, and eventually, grow. That is real justice. Even if the courts did not defend them, defend us, we can still defend each other.
So, do I believe Jian Ghomeshi was capable of the violent assault against those women? Anyone can fall victim to their own insecurities and after spending much time with Jian, I know that he has many. Very many. I am freely speaking for myself.
I wish all the people who were involved in that difficult case healing. I mean, what do these vicious, cut-throat court battles as narrated by the good ol'media ACTUALLY accomplish in the long-term? More suffering. More insecurities. More tragedy. More silence.
Tragedy + Healing = Truth.
We live in a society that wants us to be insecure, that wants us to feel broken, that wants to be struggling day after day just to get by. Why? Simple: More profits for the big boys on top! The best thing we can do is to tell our stories when we are ready, and keep sharing them…and then listen, and heal.
Fine, call me a free-spirited, bitchy, c-word- I'd rather be one of those than a chronic victim of insecurity, my own or someone else's.
Ok, that’s my story, I'm letting it go. And now I'm going to share the rest of my Coffee Girl stories...