November 9, 2008

Two Steps Forward

As a child, I lived by the Hope Slough which was fed by the Fraser River. This boggy marsh was play home to many a child, and an escape for masses of teenagers. From one end to the other and on both sides, century old Willow Trees stood rostrum along the banks and I would swing from the long leaves and tease the catskins with my cheeks. I could run through and toss the leaves for hours alone. I would walk the banks of the slough and follow the minnows but now and then, touching its water gave feeling to the “Slough of Despond”. But there the Willows swayed, talking to me with the wisdom of their age.

In the park off the path from the slough, I would climb the large trees and sit in their crooks and dream the day away; dreaming of the future, forgetting the present. Sometimes though, the dominant images of unpleasant absolution would take hold. These images my mind still creates.

I remember Joanne Pederson, though I never knew her personally. In 1983, Joanna was 10 years old. She was my age. Her older sister locked the screen door and would not let Joanne in. Crying, she walked down to the ‘Penny Pincher’ Convenience store to use the phone. The man behind the counter wouldn’t let her use his phone to call her mom to open the door - forcing her to make the call out at the payphone. According to the Cold Case files for the RCMP in Chilliwack, ‘An unidentified male was seen with her in the phone booth. He was described as being a Caucasian male, approximately twenty ( 20 ) to thirty ( 30 ) years old, 5'6" to 5'7" in height, slim to medium build, light to dark hair ( that was below the ears ), clean shaven and wearing a dark jacket.’ Attempts to locate Joanne have been unsuccessful. Joanne’s was the first child abduction case I had ever heard of. My self security was broken into and doubt of the human condition entered my core, though I would never have been able to elucidate these sentiments as a child.

I was never free to walk or roam the banks of the slough, again.

Or Something Like It

The woman, who would be my mother through biology only, was now living with her husband and her son in a small tourist town of Penticton BC, in the Interior of British Columbia. Due to circumstances within her control, she was not an educated woman. Her street smarts were taking her only so far, and even reasonable actions were limited. My mother’s range of parenting also lacked, and managing a selfish life style to date was not promising for her son.

When my mother’s son was ten years old, he befriended the neighbour. A slight middle aged man, my mother thought it a perfect fit as it was well known that my mother’s son’s father was no reward and would not be winning any parenting contests in the near future. The fatherly bond, which my mother’s son and this neighbour had developed, was just what my mother needed a break from parenting.

My grandmother would call my mother regularly to see if my mother was doing well, and to see if she needed anything. My mother never asked outright for handouts, but her calculating character served her well through the years, and although living off of Assisted Living (A.K.A. Welfare) all of her life, she was able to maintain an above average means of being.

My grandmother had always expressed concerns about my mother’s son’s lack of good judgment and common sense and of course, my grandmother believed that there are just some children out there who let their guards down too soon or some that don’t have any guard at all. My mother’s son fell into the latter. On one particular occasion, when my grandmother called to ensure my mother was doing okay, my grandmother inquired about my mother’s neighbour and expressed deep concern for her grandson. My mother tired to play it down that the middle aged man meant well, and that as a bonus, my mother was able to have anxiously waited free time, and focus on her own life for once. A week later, my mother’s husband rushed my mother’s son to the hospital, violently ill after eating 14 pancakes. An eating condition he had recently acquired, my mother’s son was at 10 years old, becoming a bulimic. His stomach was pumped.

Two years later, the middle aged man, a youth programs camp counsellor, died of the Gay Man’s Cancer.

My mother’s son was in and out of doctor’s offices and in and out of schools. He had developed quite a temper and when he was 14 years old, beat a boy the same age so horribly, the boy was admitted to hospital near death. The boy called my mother’s son a ‘homo’. My mother took the only course of action she ever thought she knew. Once her son was sentenced to a half way house hundred’s of kilometres away, my mother stopped telling him she loved him.

My grandmother had her hands full with me. I was a contentious, obnoxiously selfish teenager. I commanded all of her attention in the most unfathomable ways. I was an extremely unconstructive young woman. I sought out all the negative strokes I could receive from my grandmother and her children and even her friends. I was beginning my downward dissent into a living torture. Leading up to this behaviour, it seemed to me that nothing respectable I did, would please my grandmother who I felt was critiquing me in her sleep and ever increasingly, her children were waking her up to my bastardly ways. I was becoming my mother and my grandmother could see the past repeating itself. It was rushing upon her and her eyes were not closed to it.

I believe that I stole more than a thousand dollars from my grandmother’s purse between the ages of 14 and 18 years old, not to mention ‘borrowing’ her credit card and signature. I had nothing to show for it, except 50lbs of added weight gain and an addiction to cigarettes but my grandmother never knew the truth.
I deliberately started hanging out with undesirable young women and men, who were bound for jail or worse. I was rude and foulmouthed. I was loud and boorish. I was completely lost and I was an absolute fake.

I had a boyfriend.

Life

Vanderhoof is a small bush town of approximately 4000 people North West of Prince George which is in Central British Columbia, and the heart of the Nechako Valley. The local First Nations Band is Sai’kuz and make up at least half the population and who have named the moving waters, Omineca for the river which divides the town into two. The only way to cross was a single lane wooden bridge, where the weight of a vehicle triggered the signal lights.

My grandmother’s daughter was a teacher at the local high school. She was a ‘challenger teacher’ for youth who were in and out of the school system and who were generally thought of as underachievers and going nowhere. My grandmother’s daughter befriended a lot of her students. Childless, she seemed to take on other peoples children as her special interest and looking back, she may have possibly have been giving to these children , what she felt she lacked in her own life; a mother.
On several occasions, my grandmother’s daughter had given a couch to sleep on, to native and other youth, when there was no other place for them to go, and her reward was the belief that the youth would continue to attend her classes and possibly make something of them, and, somewhere along the way, my grandmother’s daughter would go on to receive the Governor General’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.

It was the first Saturday of December 1985 and the beginning of a long winter for the region. My grandmother and I had already spent several days, learning how to properly blow dry plastic sheets to the windows to help prevent drafts for the cold snaps we were expecting and my grandmother’s daughter spent numerous hours hauling cords of wood into the house to fit beside the wood stove and along the side of the house by the main door. The night delivered the promised chill and the temperature dipped well below -18oC, where flesh freezes.
Before retiring to each of our bedrooms for the night, my grandmother filled the wood stove to the brim and my sister turned on all the water taps in the house to run a slight amount of water to help prevent pipes freezing.

My bedroom was actually intended to be a den and I’m sure prior to invading her life, my grandmother’s daughter used it as a work area to prepare for classes. Opening the door, I looked directly into the dining room which was attached to both the kitchen to the right and the living room directly in front. When my grandmother’s husband died, her daughter inherited the dining room table, chairs and hutch and made themselves a fine home here.

The bed I slept in was really a folding cot-couch-hide-a-bed-daybed. It was orange and soft and smaller than a twin or single, but suited me fine. I had one dresser in the room, off to the corner and butted the wall leading to the small closet. There was just enough room in the bedroom for me to sleep, change, read and if I peered hard, I might be able to look out my plastic covered window, and make out the trees to the side of the house. The room was narrow and institutional.

My grandmother’s daughter’s bedroom was on the other side of the kitchen and my grandmother’s room was at the back of the house, which was really an afterthought appendage to the petite trifling house. A complicated little maze of stairs and hallways led to her room, and it was cold and indifferent.

At approximately two in the morning, I awoke to the screams, howls and yells of my grandmother’s daughter, from behind her bedroom door. At the point of consciousness, I could not make out what she was shouting. Lying on my stomach, I pushed up with one arm and turned to roll onto my back, and there, in the light of my green digital lit alarm clock, was the face of a long haired man. He was crouched to the floor and was about a foot from my face. I could smell winter in the air and alcohol. The room was still dim, but I could see he was wearing only a jean jacket. It was too cold for him to wear such a thing in this weather. He made not one facial expression that I could see and in my bewilderment all I could ask was “Who are you?” Instantly, I could clearly make out my grandmother’s daughter’s roars.

“BARBIE. WAKE UP! GET UP! GET IN HERE! BARBIE! BARBIE!”

I stared at him with devastated eyes but could not breathe and within that instant…

I remember sleeping the rest of the week in my grandmother’s daughter’s room. It was the only bedroom in the house with a lock on the door and it was here that I discovered that some aluminum softball bats were loaded with sand. I learned how to properly hold and swing the 38 weight within days. After three days of very little sleep, and startled at every little noise, I began to sleep with ear plugs, a habit my mother’s daughter was accustomed to, while working in the pulp factories in Northern BC, prior to taking on teaching.

My grandmother did not talk to me or ask me how I was doing. She did not console me or hug me. She did not outwardly, take the situation as some parents or grandparents would have and it was from this point on with which I never heard her again, tell me she loved me. I didn’t talk for weeks.

When the school year was out, my grandmother and I moved back to our original hometown.

I did not say goodbye

Chocolate, All Things Loved

I don’t remember the first time I ever had chocolate, but I can imagine that I fell in love with it immediately. My love affair with the sweet has forever been my haunting. Of course, dark chocolate is my first choice, but really, anything goes. Even the kind which has aged enough for the refined sugar to start to seep or sweat itself out, to the point where the chocolate starts to assume a white film. This kind is usually sold in a 25 cent bin and bought by grandmothers for grandchildren favours.

One Christmas, pre horror movie experience, I opened up an aluminum foil wrapped Santa. I was so excited at nine in the morning to be eating this delight; I paid no attention to its crumbling demeanour. I believe I slammed the whole jolly chocolate in my mouth only to discover what rotting chocolate is like, melting in a warm child’s mouth. Though I’ve never tried it myself, I can only imagine that this is what paint tastes like. This would not deter me.
Blissful, miserable, euphoric, dejected, incensed, anguished, festive and in mourning, chocolate has always been there for me.

Valentines, Easter, Christmas, Weddings, Birthdays, Funerals and Divorces and everything in between. Chocolate has never scolded me. Chocolate has never told me I was bad. Chocolate had never told me I was fat or getting there. It never told me that my grades were poor. It never told what friends I should or should not keep. Chocolate never told me I was not attractive enough. Chocolate did not tell me I was worthless. We didn’t have to talk. We could just with each other and together in silence, for almost every single day of my life, we grew together.

Chocolate comforted me.

Chocolate loved me, at a time when I was unlovable.

Too much love will kill you.

Or come close to it.

Abandonment

In the middle of a Lower Mainland, BC summer, I was playing in the backyard of my grandmother’s house. The backyard was my world away from the world. I was sitting in my little mini pool filled with sun warmed water and talking to my friends who were in the pool with me. My friends consisted of a rubber Big Bird, about as tall as I was at the time, and a doll I lovingly named Casper. She was a blond haired, blue eyed doll who never betrayed a single secret I ever told her.

A strange couple with a baby in tote arrived in the backyard without announcement. I’m sure I was panicked as I’m told I was a desperately shy little girl. I was approached, greeted and forcibly picked up. My grandmother tells of a screaming young toddler, but even when I look back and try to imagine, I can never picture myself being that way.
My grandmother ran to my yells and unleashed a bitter tongue to my mother, who arrived with her new husband and newborn son, but after some reassurances and what must have seemed a familiar manipulative indoctrination, my grandmother invited my mother and her new family into the house. Later at dinner, my grandmother, who evidently had plenty of time to think about the previous two years raising her granddaughter, presented my mother with an offer; my mother would not refuse.

My mother was told that she had to impart all her authority as biological parent of her two year old daughter or my grandmother would see to it that Child Services took both of her children from her. She was ultimately viewed, as an unfit mother, incapable of taking care of the needs of a child she abandoned years prior.

My grandmother’s justification for not immediately seeking to have her grandson removed from my mother, was based on the notion that his father was apart of his life. This would forever haunt my grandmother, as it was discovered in later years my mother neglected her son on numerous occasions and his life would be forever plagued by dreadful decisions made on his behalf.

It seemed that after 21 years of servitude to her scheming daughter, my grandmother’s awakening had occurred and her downward control of her own empathy was underway. Perhaps my grandmother’s other children would not see it this way.

I’m grateful for my grandmother, who sacrificed her retirement, her life, to raise her daughter’s burden. My grandmother recalled to me, that as a toddler I was confused as to what to call her and her husband and after a number of years of referring to them as Mum and Dad, it was much easier to make it official, than to explain to a toddler the “whys” asked of them. It could not have been easy, but my grandmother and her husband made the occasion a joyful one, and legally adopted me.

I did not see or hear from my mother for many more years.

My grandmother told me, she raised me the same way she brought up her other four children. I remember being doted on especially, and in my teens, summed it up to being the first born granddaughter, regardless of the circumstances. I believe, my grandmother’s other children would never see me as more of the liability to their mother’s life and a waste of time and energy to her. They never expressed that to me, and choose to keep that as a private conversation amongst themselves, and so far as I was concerned, they were warm and affectionate to me. Something lacked.

I was not necessarily spoiled, but I was treated with enough difference that seemingly walked with me well into adulthood. I have never felt completeness. I have never felt whole. I have always looked back intensely, in an attempt to find that missing piece, but don’t ever remember finding it when I was at that age.

When I was eight, a neighbour friend invited me to join her family to go and see a movie at the theatre. I remember the day as if it were yesterday. I was so excited because it would be the third movie I’d ever see. The first was Disney’s ‘The Fox and the Hound’, the second was ‘Nine To Five’ with Dolly Parton. My grandmother had wanted to see that movie and thought it would be a better idea for me to join her than to find a babysitter. Looking back, I’m sure I would have much rather sat with a sitter.

My grandmother dressed me up nice for this occasion. Always one to put good impressions with the neighbours, I would have to be on my best behaviour and make no fuss as this was my treat.
The neighbours picked me up on time and we arrived at the Paramount Theatre with spare time in order to find enough seats for her five-person family and the neighbour friend.

Half way through the movie, I asked permission to leave. The neighbour lady was quite annoyed with me that I would want to leave and to my grandmother’s regret, my fuss, of taking her away from her night out with her family. She would have had to sit with me in the foyer. But alas, this was not the case. She did not call my grandmother to come and pick me up. Instead, I spent more than one hour in the foyer alone, frightened at all that I had seen to that point. When you are eight years old, and are expecting to see a Disney Cartoon, ‘Poltergeist’ is not the movie to expect. Consequently, I would have to spend six months of my life seeing a child psychologist and to this very day, I have to close my walk-in closet door.

That same year, my grandmother’s husband died. For the event, my mother seemingly felt obligated to join the rest of the family for what would be another test of my grandmother’s fortitude. My grandmother told me about her husband’s death, at the same moment that my mother was telling her son about it. I remember her son sobbing uncontrollably from down the hallway. I also remember that I did not express the same feeling. What I wondered though, was why my mother’s son was carrying on so and why I was emotionless. As far I seemed concerned, it was just another day and at that point, I could not remember ever feeling a loss of any sort, let alone a loss of such permanence. How did my mother’s son know what to do on such an occasion?

My grandmother seems to have been consumed by consoling or coddling her children for years after her husband’s death. My mother in particular, appeared to take his death quite hard. Perhaps it was her conscience forcing the tears to surface or it was the greatest performance of her life, preparing for what lay ahead.

I was now the granddaughter of sixty year old single pensioner.

When I was twelve, and about to enter Middle School, my grandmother made an illogical and irrational decision. She had decided that it would be in my best interests to leave all that I knew; my home, my school, my peers, my life, and move to the small remote community of Vanderhoof, BC. Naturally, this pre-teen was mortified and making this situation worse, was its certainty. I was not permitted to plead a case. I was not allowed to issue a rebuttal. I was not allowed to fuss. I was refused permission to express myself. I was to remain, emotionless.
There were only two weeks left of the summer vacation, and most of my friends were missing, on their own family vacations.

I did not say goodbye.

I became lethargic, depressed, borderline anorexic and anti-social.

My grandmother’s attempts to create a new way of life for me appeared futile and it was expressed on more than one occasion that the apparent actions of bettering my life, were unappreciated at best. My grandmother’s biological daughter, whom we were living with at the time, lived a less than agreeable way of life, according to my grandmother, making the situation for myself, rather tedious. My grandmother’s daughter was of the opinion that “things” would be different for her, had she received the attention that my mother and ultimately, myself had always seemed to receive, and it was quite obvious to her that I was an ungrateful little snot., after all my grandmother sacrificed for me and my mother. Of course, what my grandmother’s daughter was referring to, I would later learn, was my grandmother’s other children. This was her sacrifice.

Within months, I appeared unapproachable. I was selective with my peer group and certainly closed off to my grandmother and her daughter. I was melancholy. It was, it appeared, the true beginning of my own awakening to what being alone represented.

Prelude

The woman who would become my grandmother was barren. She was 30 years old, and married at time where she was already considered an ‘Old Maid’. She did not marry the man she loved; she married the man who came along after the man she loved moved on without her.

She was second last of eight children, born to a British WWI veteran and his common law wife. In the days of the great depression, and being second from the bottom, there isn’t much love left to go around, and so adapting, my grandmother was cold, stolid, reserved and unfettering.
She spent four years serving her country during World War II, lost her parents very early and committed to never repeat the past.

After two years, and almost a dozen failed attempts to successfully hold a pregnancy past the first trimester, she resorted to adoption. First, an abandoned baby boy from a remote Northern little community of Fort Nelson; second, a baby girl, from the M├ętis Indian Reserve in Yellowknife, Yukon. The baby girl would be my mother. Subsequently, my grandmother would effectively conceive not one, by two children. Separated by only one year, the sibs would ultimately come to begrudge my mother.

Biologically, my mother was born of French Canadian father, Cree mother and both of them, raging alcoholics. In 1952, and on Native Reserves; Mumps, Chicken Pox, Measles and Tuberculosis swept through these peoples lives, which their healers knew nothing about and by which vaccines were short to come on a Canadian First Nations Reserve, as well as small Canadian towns. My mother was affected greatly by Tuberculosis. Having been misdiagnosed on and off until she was eight, the clincher was when she was finally diagnosed (misdiagnosed) with Rickets.
The only course of action in 1960 was to be body cast for a period of up to one year, and intense drug therapy. By the time my mother was nine years old, she was a narcotic drug addict. She never grew taller than 4 feet 11 inches, had to re-learn how to walk, how to sit. Her spine is perpetually crooked and possibly, her brain cooked to pulp.

My grandmother coddled and indulged her. Whatever her fancy, my mother was embellished.
Without a shadow of a doubt, my mother received more than 110% of my grandmother’s attention. Whether or not my mother milked it at this age is my mystery, but the other children will only see it their way.

My grandmother’s other children were thriving. They were intelligent and did very well at school, were quite active in sports in the community and by all accounts were flourishing in their social development having more than their fair share of peers. It did not go unrecognized by most, with the exception of my grandmother, who was too preoccupied to take notice.

By the time my mother was 15 years old, she was involved in local ‘gang’ activity and numbing down her emotional pain with illegal drugs, as the pharmaceutical kind were no longer at her availability. Hanging with the wrong crowds, befriending boys who were not fit to socialize with my grandmother’s daughter. Using her strengthened manipulative ability, my mother could easily persuade my grandmother to look the other way at many times.
My mother was pregnant for the first time when she was 16 years old. Somewhere, somehow, she met a young man who was with the American Navy and posted at a Vancouver, BC port. His family expressed interest in adopting the baby and raising it themselves, but my grandmother would not hear of it. It was a disgrace what my mother was bringing to her family, but the Salvation Army would take care of it, with their wed-less mother’s adoption program.

One can only ever imagine how my mother felt about all of this.

Between the birth of her son, at 16 years old, and her second pregnancy at 21 years old, my mother turned to a life of prostitution to help her fund her drug habit. More than just smoking marijuana, my mother was a full blown heroin addict and I was born a bastard.

My grandmother had not seen my mother for five years and was shocked but relieved to discover her alive yet horrified that she would show up at her doorstep with a six month undernourished, drug addicted baby. The baby’s wrists were red, raw and dented from having been tied up to the radiator, under the window in the bedroom of her mother’s apartment which she shared with three other people, one, presumably her pimp and the baby’s father. A confession my mother donated to my grandmother in a plea bargain conversation, to again manipulate and guilt her way into yet another convoluted request. My grandmother accepted the appeal with attached conditions.

My mother would come back for the baby in two weeks, after she sought solace with a Women’s Drug Addiction Counselling program.

She returned two years later. I was alone.