December 6, 1989
01. Shining sun on Tiohtià:ke, unceded Kanien’kéha land and waters, Dec 6 1989: Anne-Marie Edward, 21, eats breakfast; Anne-Marie Lemay studies; Annie St-Arnault writes a poem; Annie Turcotte’s amazing with kids with disabilities; Barbara Daigneault shares photocopies of class notes; Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz orders late lunch in Polytechnique’s cafeteria; Geneviève Bergeron sings a song; Hélène Colgan ponders three job offers; Maryse Laganière crunches numbers in Poly’s finance department; Maryse Leclair puts on her red sweater; Maud Haviernick comes in from Sainte-Rose; Michèle Richard is also Mimi from Lac Mégantic; Nathalie Croteau has a ticket for Cancun; Sonia Pelletier has straight As.
02. Ma mère―On l’a su en revenant chez nous parce qu’on n’avait pas Internet. Je travaillais cette journée-là. Condo sur la rue Dollard. On ne pensait pas que c’était possible ici. Ils ne disaient pas qu’il avait ciblé les femmes. Puis c’est devenu évident. Incompréhension. Les médias nous forçaient à nous mettre dans la peau du tueur, pour comprendre comment il avait pu passer à l’acte. Alors qu’on voulait penser aux victimes, aux survivantes. Puis on a vu la mère s’excuser pour son fils. Elle a été forte. Qu’on s’en prenne à des filles qui allaient s’éduquer c’était inimaginable.
03. In a 15,000 km leap of faith, my conception is born out of a moment or metaphor somewhere between divine creation and nuclear fusion. My mom let slip that I was unplanned. A fat baby with dark curls and a penis between sausage-cased thighs, immigrant optimism replaces severed umbilical cord. Anchored in my navel, it weaves itself between limbs and hogties my legs. Yet, I still want to change the world. In 2010 I start my engineering degree. Genitals be damned, a sissy like me never stood a chance. Thirty years later and still nothing is as terrifying as masculinity threatened.
04. How did we get to trigger warnings in the classroom without any reference to the guns and the men who hold them? How quick #NotAllMen silences #MeToo. How “incel” is a word I didn’t know a year ago, whose badge is earned by stomping out “feminist” with such hatred. In 1989, politicians and police couldn’t say it at the scene and in the decades that followed. They could not say the word, could not put the word in the room and name the violence. They left only whispers of “feminist” as warnings to those left behind and growing up since.
05. An imagined memory, I see her listen to the radio. She rages and grieves as she hears each name. In 1989, I am 2 and my mother is 36. Of course she’s lived violence and misogyny. She steels herself for the day she will explain this to me. Was this my first massacre? In 1997 Beth Alber’s Marker of Change is installed 10 minutes from our house outside the bus terminal. A memorial. A prompt. Here my mother tells me their story. Now she will teach her daughter about hate. But at 10, this lesson, this violence, I already know.
06. How extraordinary and banal feminicide becomes when it teaches us who we are, ready to be killed because we are women. I don’t even remember the names of the fourteen women killed in this massacre; a slaughter that happened at Université de Montréal, in a building that I have sat inside exhausted from exam writing eating chicken soup worried about a disposable fork. The worry no less banal than my own (extra)ordinary memories of attempted murder on my life. As a girl, I grasped how disposable you are when your value is in the hands of men.
07. I heard the news of the Montreal massacre that December, but I cannot remember how. Was it a news story? A friend? An overheard conversation? Memory escapes me, but the feeling, the horror I felt has never left. It could have been me. It could have been so many of us. I was in my first term as a freshman at the University of Minnesota. I had fantasies of being an engineer – a woman who could build cities—but my academic strengths lay elsewhere. So did my passions, it turns out. This act of femicide politicized a whole generation of women like me.
08. I was about 8 years old when I first heard about the Polytechnique shooting. My sisters were part of a dance crew that had decided to honor the 14 young women in their mid-year show. At some point, someone on stage declared: « December 6th, 1989, never again » and then named every one of the women. I asked my mother: never again what? She was crying silently. She told me the story. I felt then how our world waged a war against women. I wept too. I asked her: why just women? My first act of feminist inquiry.
09. If there are 14, then there are 452, or 1808. If there is Geneviève, Hélène, Barbara, Anne-Marie, Maud, Maryse, Maryse, Anne-Marie, Sonia, Michèle, Annie, Nathalie, Barbara, and Annie, then there are more than we remember or know. But the names and numbers tumble out, just like they always do. And still, she’s walking in and she’s sitting, just like you do. And it’s just a room and a day and a time of day, and that’s all there is for now. There’s breakfast, and a bus, maybe laughter, and a secret she was holding––wanting to tell you later.
10. Today I am going to teach you about postmodernism, he said, already smirking. Meaning is arbitrary. Take your white ribbon. It has no essential significance. Whatever I say it is is just as legitimate as whatever you may think. An hour before I’d stood in front of my whole high school, with 14 tender ghosts from the city I longed to leave for. In a classroom full of 16 year old girls, he kept his eyes on the ribbon on my breast throughout his little lesson on power. In all the tedious variations since, the lesson still doesn’t impress me.
11. Good immigrant daughter, grateful for not growing up under occupation or embargo, I nerded diligent for killer math grades. Mom said, you can do anything you want with your life. I want to be an architect. Means Arts degree first. She said, do a professional degree. Engineering then. Profs lectured facing the board. Blushed red and stuttered when I requested help. None of the boys wanted me in their labs except Jeffrey. Lady Godiva rode naked across campus. Grades plummeted, trauma enough to make me drop. Luckier than Geneviève, Hélène, Barbara, Anne-Marie, Maud, Maryse, Anne-Marie, Sonia, Michèle, Annie, Nathalie, Barbara, or Annie. Dear Architect, did you know that nothing’s built from zero? I scribble, dabble, organize, talk, arrange and howl. Wolf nudges pack to other being.
12. When the rain comes to Isla Vista it pools in the gutters—forms into small rivers that rush along the roadside, taking with them the dried eucalyptus that has settled there through the hot, late autumn. It is too much, too quickly, for parched earth; too at-once to wash away what it holds, what it remembers. And it remembers. On December 6, the forgetful slosh of rainwater sounds different. It hardens, sharpens. Now, it is the stale crunch of Montreal snow underfoot. A crack—in time and space and knowing—that is at once a putting-together, a responsibility.
13. Massacre is the name for a tautology—women killed for being women. Women are also killed for being Indigenous, and being women; for being poor, and being women; for being Black, and being women; for being queer, and being women; for being trans, and being women. The tautology of massacre only gets coarser with time rather than finer—not a press photograph or school portrait but a sheet of sandpaper that scrapes away at the event, disappearing some details but accumulating others on its surface like lint. Tautology is a figure that scratches its own back. They were killed because they were.
14. The Feminist Media Studio commemorates the 30th anniversary of the December 6, 1989 Polytechnique Massacre with these small written reflections by members and allies. Guided by Lauren Berlant & Kathleen Stewart’s The Hundreds, these hundred-word experiments strive to attend to the personal, social, and political charge that these traumatic events continue to emit into the present. Like the form they are modelled on, they dwell in and amplify the resonance of things, atmospheres and rhythms evoked by the legacies of gender-based violence. The hundreds train us in modes of attention and framing necessary to think then and now.
Olivia Michiko Gagnon
Feminist Media Studio