Welcome to Pandora's Aquarium, a rape, sexual assault, and sexual abuse survivor message board and chat room.
If you've been a victim of any type of sexual violence, you belong here. What you see below represents just a fraction of the resources and survivor support available. Register now to join our community and take full advantage of what this online support group has to offer you as you heal and recover, or sign in to remove this message.
You are not alone, we can support you as you heal, and you've made an important step toward recovery by reaching out. If you are unable to register or have any questions, please contact the staff or view our home page.
A Whopper on Ste-Catherine and Main
It's Friday night. The street is busy, as always. Cars move by slowly; honk aggressively, whenever speedometers go below not fast enough. An ambulance or a cop car wails in the background, somewhere in the neighbourhood, toward an emergency. There will be many more emergencies throughout the evening. People, lots of people, shuffle past us and each other. Some laugh and talk loudly, seeking attention: frat boys from the States, who can't legally drink back home yet, most likely – summer brings many of them every year. Others, people from here, trip over themselves in drunkenness, or ask for change, or sleep on benches. They're here all year. It gets pretty cold in the winter, though.
There are many lights brightly lit everywhere, in blue, red, yellow and white; porn-store and tavern signs, flashing, seeking out the eyes, intent on hypnotizing hands to take out their wallet; and girls, outlined by the neon tubes, with their legs spread and breasts bursting out of life-size pictures, in all their fullness and fakeness, luring the many walking here through the strip-club entrances for a taste of the real thing. There are girls on the street too, but looking less like plastic and more like zombies: young one, older ones, all just wanting to go for a ride, honey – go away with whomever wants to get off elsewhere. Cars slow down at their corner; sometimes men whistle or make obscene gestures at them. We keep on walking. The smell of urine emerges from the dark alleyways that line the street – and weed. There's a group of street kids still in the Goth phase ahead of us. They're smoking.
We're in the Red Light district in Amsterdam; in Berlin's Stuttgarter Platz. I've been to both and I can tell you that this is where I think I am, save for the women sitting pretty behind neon-clad windows over there, instead of standing on pimp's corner over here. We're in Montreal: on Ste-Catherine between Berri and St-Laurent – the infamous Main. It's an area of town most people have never seen and will never see at night, unless they work here of course, or come to spend their dollars – Canadian, but preferably American – for a quick fix from a youth dealer next to the metro, or a couple lap dances and beers at the strip-club above the restaurant Le Vieux Four, “the old stove,” where desire surely burns.
We came here tonight because it was a nice, Friday, summer night – nice and warm, and busy everywhere and I needed a rush of that busyness. I don't quite know why I'm drawn to it; I have been for many years. Maybe it's a moth driven to light sort of thing. Maybe it's because I know this reality much better than the illusion.
We arrive at our first destination: les Foufs, otherwise known as Les foufounes électriques, an institution for those contesting parental or governmental authority everywhere since time immemorial. The music is loud. I yell at Antonio that I think I like coming here because it's such a surreal experience. It really is by the way. You should try it. It's like seeing the world like Picasso must have seen it: with all the facets of reality there are to see, all available to the eye at once. Montreal's pretty cultural center, Place des Arts, is just a few strides away; a tattooed girl with a nose ring and a generous cleavage flirts with me at the bar as I order our beers, from what is considered the ugly, over here.
The Goth kids we passed earlier are a few tables down from us now. I look at all the other people around us and wonder how many are minors. Have we gotten old, I ask Antonio? He says no, but I’m sure my behind was far more electric in this place when it was ten years younger. The beer is still cheap though, which is good because Antonio and I would both do better to hang onto our money by spending it on the cheapest trip in town.
We leave after just a half hour, as the Goth kids just get started. The music was too loud, we both agreed, code-talk for noise – music that used to make me vibrate too, not so long ago, but in a time I've since forgotten and am perhaps looking for here, tonight. And we were hungry. 11h30. Pops' van should be passing by with free hotdogs soon, if we can stand the wait.
I was on his van one night, the first night I’d ever volunteered on “the van” – rewind about 3 years back – the first time I’d ever seen the street as I see it now. We gave out hot-dogs and juice or coffee to the homeless, and I was the head hot-dog and juice person and it was the best job I'd ever had until I quit because it never got better for anybody else. I was on the van and we were just a little further down the street from here, and I was laughing with some drunken guy who could discuss politics better than I could, and here I was thinking I was the one with a degree in Political Science. How'd you get to be on the street, sir? Stupid, naïve question you're not supposed to ask - that I didn’t ask - but wanted to ask. I got to know him instead.
Jean-Marie always came on time and he liked his dogs with mayo and ketchup, but hold the lettuce and tomatoes, darlin'. He liked his beer on tap. We didn't have any lettuce and tomatoes and I only had grape juice or coffee to offer; he'd been a patron for years. He let me take his picture once. He told me his favourites were Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb and Beethoven’s Symphony #5; he used to be a financial adviser. Then, no one knows – he became homeless. As we walk across the street from les Foufs, I point to a man over there that looks like him, but by the time Antonio looks he's disappeared in the crowd. Maybe he went to sleep on a bench. Maybe he died years ago and I'm dreaming.
We could have waited another 15 minutes for the free hot-dogs from Pop's van, but that Burger King neon sign at the corner of St-Laurent was just too appealing.
I used to come around here a lot, before I met Jean-Marie, when I was younger, when I was 17, over a decade ago, to hang at les Foufs or have ice-cream at la Crémière across the street, where all the Harleys merge with the sidewalk. I used to be impressed by it all, just as I am now. I came here tonight to capture bits of it on film because I’ve heard a picture says a thousand words; words I think I’m trying to remember. Antonio said sure, he would come. Maybe I like this place because I wanted to be a biker when I was a kid. As my lens captures 4 of them, proudly standing next to their rides, I wonder why bikers – in the non-gang-affiliated sense of the word – like coming here, like us. Maybe it's just as the wise man once said: sex and drugs and rock and roll go hand in hand. But one of my father's uncles brings his Honda cruiser here on Friday summer nights, like tonight, and I can't imagine him indulging in anything sweeter than ice-cream. I remember him saying the whoppers on Ste-Catherine and La Main were mighty good.
Adelin Dieudonné describes himself as a Haitian kid in cegep, who loves architecture, which is why he wants to study it in university next year. He works at this Burger King full-time, along with a full staff of other Haitian kids, perhaps paying off their cegep fees as well, during the summer – tourist season. He's worked here two summers in a row. I can tell he's trying to figure us out. Hooker and pimp? Drug-addicts? My friend is wearing a black Iron Maiden t-shirt (vintage!) and has large tattoos all over his arms; I sport a far too friendly smile – I must be high. We fit the profile of people who cause problems, which is why neither of us had any qualms about walking the street here so late at night, in the first place.
Adelin loosens up. We're not high, drunk, or working. Antonio smiles because he sees it coming. I just can't leave people alone; always having to go pry in their lives. Do you like working here? Adelin seems surprised, but answers: he'd rather work anywhere else, anywhere but here. Really? Why, I ask again? Too hard, followed by a blank sort of stare. I get it, I think. We get our order and go sit, or rather, Antonio goes to sit and I follow because he gives me that look that says I ask too many questions.
It's busy here too, as always. People pass through the entrance regularly; sometimes they yell at each other or themselves. A night's worth of panhandling resonates on the counter; Adelin counts. A girl, obviously intoxicated, in the hopes of being intoxicating, walks in cursing at some guy on the street who can't hear her anymore; a group of American kids makes sure everyone notices them by being loud and noticeable. Pops never comes here. There are neon lights in the washroom – blue, so you can't find that perfect vein. There’s still the odd ambulance or cop car siren in the background, but their sounds are muffled now that we're inside. A few tourists look lost and eat quietly at a far-end table, where at least 2 other rows separate them from the reality of everybody else. We sit in the middle. Antonio comments on the great taste of his whopper. I concur – mighty good indeed. Thanks for the tip, uncle.
The smells of filth and dope are gone, but it all still feels the same. In this area of town, no matter which table you sit at, you always know where you are. You always know it's not like where you're lucky enough to be from. Adelin doesn't like it because there's trouble every night. Sometimes all night, other times only a few times. You're never really ready for it, he says. I wonder. Maybe he also doesn't like it because he fits the profile of people who get the night shift at this Burger King. It's not the hookers though... When we were done eating I wanted to pick up the conversation with him there, where we had left it off: Who then? But there was too much of a line-up. Other hungry patrons. Thoughts for another time.
Antonio excuses himself to the washroom. I say I’ll wait for him outside. The street is even busier and louder than before; my senses need readjusting. St-Laurent is flooded with youths now; groups of them collect into larger groups in front of the Dome, waiting to get inside to dance the rest of the night away. There’s an unofficial competition going on: who’s got the loudest car stereo system. A shiny blue BMW, vibrating to the sound of hip-hop, slows down at my corner. Hey honey, looking for a ride? I smile – to myself. When did you get to be shopping for sex on the street, sir? Stupid, naïve question from a girl who’s served over a thousand before being somehow teleported into a university, that I didn’t ask, but wanted to ask. Antonio came out and we headed back home instead.
I stopped working on Pop's van because we didn't have lettuce or tomatoes to not put in Jean-Marie's hot-dog and because he could have cared less about what he considered to be unshady condiments; he just wanted to make himself less invisible by joking about how a good dog should be done. He always changed his mind for coffee instead of whatever beer was on tap tonight, darlin’. He made me laugh each time. No matter how hard Pops wished it was so, he'd never make him more visible than I could. Everybody is always still here the next morning – only difference is we're gone. Why am I not here in the morning with them? Maybe I’ll find the answer on my roll of film.
I met a friend from those years I’ve forgotten on the van once. Her wide-eyed smile said she was too high to remember me. Or maybe, by crossing over, by coming out of her world back into the real world, I somehow ceased to exist. As I reflect on that, I think that reality is relative and I’m only here searching for that girl I could have left behind, because I miss her naïve smile; that front she put on, like Adelin and Jean-Marie; that hopeful smile you only see here.
I like this area of town because I don't feel out of place, because I think this is the beautiful, not the ugly, because I see humanity as it really is here, because it makes me feel alive after having lived those thousand words I’ve finally reclaimed here.
I forgot to mention the roar of the Harley's engines. I like them better than the Hondas'. You'll hear them if you come.