The girl in the photo above is Emily Keyes, who was 16. Those who knew her described her as friendly and kind, a real sweetheart. She worked as a waitress in a cafe in her small town, played volleyball, and worked on the school newspaper. She had a twin brother, Casey.
Yesterday a 54-year-old man, Duane Morrison, entered the high school she attended, Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, Colorado, around lunch time. In his hands he carried a gun, on his back was a backpack full of sex toys. He fired the gun, ordering first a teacher, then all of the boys, out of a classroom, forcing six of the girls to stay in the classroom with him. One by one, he sexually assaulted them. He let four of them leave the room. There were two girls remaining with him, and he had stopped negotiating with police, when they finally stormed the room; he then opened fire, shooting Emily in the back of the head as she fled. He then shot himself. Emily died at the hospital.
Although already there are efforts underway to depict Morrison as different from “normal” men, or “regular” men, or “other” men, by claiming, for example, that he lived in his car or was “homeless” (homelessness presumably being not about poverty but about criminal behavior), or by publishing photos of him in which he is unshaven and looks scary, there was nothing unusual about him at all. He had a regular street address. He had been steadily employed as a carpenter for years and was described as a good employee. His brother-in-law and other family members were as stunned by what he had done as everyone else was, saying they had no clue he was capable of this. He had never been in other than minor trouble with the law.
The mind searches for some explanation for these acts besides the one that is obvious. We don’t want to believe an ordinary man tied a woman, alive, to her car and dragged her a mile to her death. We don’t want to believe ordinary men pulled up alongside an aging woman teacher and women’s rights advocate, shot her in cold blood, then bragged about it. We don’t want to believe ordinary soldiers raped a 14-year-old Iraqi girl, killed her whole family, and set her afire. We don’t want to believe an ordinary man loaded his backpack with sex toys and blasted his way into the local high school, intending to sexually assault teenage girls.
The fact is, these are everyday acts of everyday terrorism committed against women by everyday, ordinary men. And so, as women, we are made to fear men, serve men, we are kept subservient to them.
In the movie Antonia’s Line, a brutal and violent man in a small Dutch town, rapes a mentally disabled girl and is banished for it. Years later, he returns to the town to claim an inheritance, and when he does, he rapes Antonia’s granddaughter. Antonia is the family matriarch. After the rape of her granddaughter, Antonia goes into the town bar, where the rapist is yucking it up and drinking with his buds, hauls him out of there at the point of her shotgun, and directs him into the town square, where she says these words to him, at gunpoint:
“If I had it in me to kill someone
I would kill you.
Instead, I’ll curse you.
And my curse will haunt you forever.
If you ever return, my curse will savage you to death.
If you return,
my hate will destroy you.
For the rape of a child.”
These are powerful words and much could be said about them. I am the mother of six daughters. Two of them are near Emily’s age, one is 15, one is 17, and my 17-year-old’s name is also Emily. My Emily also works in a restaurant. My 15 year-old daughter works on the school newspaper. Thinking about Antonia’s words, writing them here, reminds me of the only hope there really is for us, as women, those of us who must live out all of our lives in the shadow of male violence: the small hope that one day, as women, we will find our courage, the courage of Antonia, and in so doing will find some way to hold men accountable for the way they relentlessly, intentionally destroy the lives of girls and women, for the way their acts of violence and predation follow us, shadow us, poison the very air we breathe, for all of our lives.
Rest in peace, sweet Emily, my darlin’ girl. Your grandmothers, your women folk, a great river of women are there waiting for you, on the other side.