Ben is a 22-year-old woman who self-describes as ‘pan-sexual or gender queer’ which she defines as ‘body parts not mattering’. She works at a First Nations organization and only recently discovered native heritage. She looks ‘European’, there are remnants of her Goth phase – several piercings and a hair style that could easily hide her face – and she self-describes as dealing with ‘identity alternation’, as well as anxiety and depression. She has scoliosis which is subtle but identifiable. Her story twists into unexpected spaces – an idyllic childhood, a close-knit community, a nice work-oriented family that is abusive, a close Catholic family that ejects homosexuality, a controlling boyfriend as the price of re-entry, an AmEx boyfriend as essential college gear (remember the ad? ‘Don’t leave home without it’), date rape and blame-the-victim counseling, academic pleasure and scholastic success.
FM: Let’s start with a bit of detail about your family – where they lived, who was in the family, what the family did to pay the rent, etc. etc. etc.
Okay. In my family there are just my mom, my dad, my brother and me. My brother is 4 years younger than me, and we’ve lived our entire lives in [a small village south of Middletown] until I moved away to attend college. My dad, for the younger part of my life, drove in and out of North Bay to work. He worked at a power plant up there – it was basically the only place he could get a job at, at the time. We didn’t really see him that much. He lived with my great-grandmother and we’d see him maybe twice a month. He did any overtime he could. My mom worked as a manager at a pharmacy in Porttown during that time, and she worked constantly as well. Most of the time we were at the babysitters or being taken care of by friends so they could work and make money and stuff to pay the rent. [Our village] is pretty tight-knit; it had like a lot of just-starting families at the time, so there’d be like 10 kids crammed into one house and one person taking care of them. Like my mom would take her turn, and we just sort of swapped around raising / caring for them. A lot of my younger years I remember being at babysitters or being taken care of by my grandma or neighbours down the road. Actually, a lot of the time was spent out in the woods, as well, because [the village] is [in] a big valley with a forest and cow field, so they just let us run around there.
FM: You’ve indicated First Nation background, and this sounds a bit like some of us might imagine life on a reserve to be. But this was not a reserve, and you said you only recently came to know about your First Nation connections, right?
Yeah, it was through my mom’s side of the family, through the woman’s side. And it was always kind of mentioned here and there but no one would talk about it. It was really hushed up. Since I started walked at an Aboriginal Women’s Organization that topic started to come up more in the family because I was interested in it. And recently we went out to a party with the family and my grandmother had a little bit more to drink that she usually does and the topic came up and she just started talking about what her grandmother went through, who was half Cree.
FM: Residential school system?
No, they were kind of illegitimate. My great-great-grandmother had a lover and she had two children by him out of wedlock, and they were taken away and sent, we don’t know what happened to them. She was still very young so they married her off to a much older man who had no children of his own and had spent most of his time setting up a farm when he came over. And then suddenly she had 10 children even though they didn’t think he could have children. So they’re pretty sure that none of her children were her husband’s. Eventually with her last child she died in childbirth, and shortly after he passed away as well, because he was well into his 60s by then. And then all of them were just scooped up by the system and shipped off to the farms to work, because their families wouldn’t take them in. One of them was sent to an institution because she had some kind of disability, pretty sure a mental disability but they never figured out what it was.
FM: What era was this?
Somewhere in the 1800s because my great grandma is 95. And she’s still kicking around.
FM: Okay, what an interesting history. But when you were growing up, you didn’t think your life style was First Nations. Did you think it was ‘normal’ or was it more tribal or like a kibbutz?
I think we thought it was normal. We like to pretend it was tribal because it was a lot of fun. We used to build forts in the woods and little communities, little towns and stuff like that. When I go back there now I can still, when I dig though all the needles on the ground, I can find rock gardens that we planted, and trees that have grown up.
When I got older and started to see how friends outside of the community lived, I began to realize that it was a lot different. Most parents, like, had a lock-down on their children, they didn’t let them go out after dark, they didn’t let them run around free.
FM: So an odd upbringing, but a good one?
Very good one. It gave me a lot of appreciation for living in a tight-knit community and having people there that you can rely on. Nowadays the other parents that looked after me, I’m still in contact with them and we’re still very close and stuff.
FM: Okay. Are we ready to go to when you left for college? First, let me ask about public school, was it also within this community, or was it a bit broader in its composition? Did you at that stage have more involvement with a broader community?
In a sense. But my public school was only a 10-minute drive up the road. Most of the students there were also country kids and all came from local communities, so a lot of them lived the same way, beside the lake and in the forest like we did. And eventually, once we got old enough to ride bikes and go distances, we’d just pedal down and hang out with the other kids. They’re pretty much the same as our friend group got wider, but they all grew up in a similar fashion.
FM: I have to say this is kind of like how I was raised, not a lot of parental supervision, and I’m not quite as old as your grandma.
I think it’s a good way to grow up. You learn a lot of responsibility right off the bat. I guess we were lucky because there wasn’t a lot of drug abuse or alcohol in our community so we didn’t get into too much trouble. I guess there was a few kids, but we much preferred just running around and fishing or biking. And then we learned to look after younger kids – I think that was a lot of the reason that we stayed out of trouble, we had to drag around younger kids with us and look after them and stuff.
FM: Okay, now maybe leaving for college.
Okay. I went to [a Middletown college] for social service worker when I was 19. And completed the 2-year course there just this past April.
FM: And where did you live while you attended college?
I lived in New Residence both years. It was only a 5-minute walk from the school and they were really safe buildings, kinda built like compounds but much more taken care of and supervised than Old Residences. Their rules were actually enforced, whereas Old Residence didn’t really care.
FM: How was that change for you, from a very rural life -- wait, I’m just remembering that you said in your younger years, it was as you described. Did it change as you became a teenager? Your dad maybe moved back?
Yeah, my mom was in a severe car accident. She completely shattered one leg, all the muscles in her back were torn, she had brain damage. So he had to move back to help look after the family. And he ended up going to [college] to get a degree and got a job at the Pickering Hydro Plant. Eventually my mom healed up and she went to [college] as well and got a degree in teacher’s assistance. And now she jumps around schools in the Catholic school board.
FM: So while on one hand, your upbringing was very rural and rustic, on the other both parents are college-educated and in semi-professional jobs. Professional, maybe even.
Umhum. I think they stayed there because my dad hates the city and that was the first house he ever bought on his own. And my mom just loves the community and they just stayed there. As I got older I spent more time in Porttown which is a small town, but I just loved coming back every day to [my village] because it’s just so quiet, even compared to Porttown, which is kinda silly.
FM: So then back to my question about how you experienced Middletown and college life?
It was most definitely an eye-opener. I met people from all over Canada, from all kinds of backgrounds, even people who had immigrated from other countries, which I had never met before coming to college. Also the freedom was a lot. It was a bit overwhelming at times. Because [my village] and Porttown there’s only so much to do, but Middletown, it’s massive, I could find pretty much anything I want here.
FM: So how did you handle that?
I found a pretty good friends group. Unfortunately half of them were party friends and the others were really close friends that I hung out with outside of classes and partying. But then I also became a bit of a recluse as well, just the amount of people just got overwhelming and I just had to shut myself in and not talk to anyone.
FM: You described yourself as suffering from anxiety and depression. Is that what was at work here?
I think so. Sometimes some people are just so foreign and so outgoing. It was overwhelming. Like even sometimes just walking into the main entrance I would get panic-y because there are just so many people.
FM: Did you seek out help with this? Tell your family? Did you have a name for what was happening to you?
I knew it was anxiety but I didn’t tell anyone.
I don’t know, I thought it was kind of silly. Because I was so excited to go to college and meet all these new people that it was kind of embarrassing that I just couldn’t handle it. I more told my parents that I just missed them, or said that I needed to do laundry so that I could come home. Because so many people just wanted me to come out all the time and drink all the time and it upset me that I could connect with them when I was drunk but I couldn’t connect with people when I was sober.
FM: Was that pressure the same both years or did it change over time?
I stopped going to parties in my second year. I had one good friend that I hung out with a lot, outside of my roommates. And we didn’t drink so much as we did other things. We smoked weed a lot. We’d just hang out, me and her, and listen to music with one of her roommates who would just chill with us.
FM: Okay, so I’m interested to hear that drinking goes with lots of people and an outgoing ambiance, but weed is more intimate, more quiet. So in a sense you were self-medicating by choice of substance?
Umhum, because with alcohol I lost control a lot. I blacked out a lot and there’s some things that happened that I really wished didn’t happen. But with weed I had more control. You get more in depth with people, it opens up more avenues of conversation.
FM: Okay. What about the academic side of college life?
I really loved it. I loved all my classes. Unless I was seriously sick I didn’t miss any classes or lectures. I had great grades. Coming out with - in my second year my GPA was 4 points higher than my first year. I got, like 80 average on everything. Actually won an award when I graduated so I was really happy for that.
FM: Okay. Were you a good student at the high school level as well?
Once I put effort into it, I was. I would have been really good in my later years if I didn’t skip school so much. I was much better at like the arts and English than I was at sciences and math. I wish I had taken more sciences now but I couldn’t wrap my head around it at the time, so once I was free of it, that was it.
FM: Why do you wish you’d taken more sciences?
I’ve kinda become a bit of a geek as years go on, and I hear about scientific theories and procedures and such and I just wish I understood it more. And I really really enjoy biology and anatomy but I didn’t take it in high school because you had to dissect a rat and I had a pet rat so I just avoided it. But now I wish that I had actually done it
FM: You mentioned in your application that you also have a physical condition that is chronic and potentially very debilitating. Does this have any connection with your growing interest in science?
A bit, because I’ve seen pictures of what happens to the body and the spine with kyposcoliosis. It kind of horrifies me / interests me. It’s kinda a morbid fascination. And then also in my later years, we went to the science centre a lot, just as a school trip, you could choose where you wanted to go on this one day, we called it WestFest and you had a lot of options, and they had the Body Works exhibit there and we saw one where the spine was all messed up and it was just amazing to see how the human body actually works.
FM: How old were you when you were diagnosed?
I think I was 13 because shortly after that my parents put me into swimming because they said it would be one of the best things for me. And I grew up in the lake and I just naturally enjoyed it.
FM: Okay, so only one move, really, from home to being on your own. First out-of-home experience -
Well, I was kicked out of home a few times. One – the first time was for having a girlfriend. So I lived with a friend
FM: Hold on. So having the girlfriend means an intimate relationship with a girl, i.e. you came out as non-heterosexual?
Yes. I didn’t really mean to come out. She came to one of my soccer games and my mom kinda caught on so it was a massive screaming match all the way home and fighting going on all night so I packed up everything, because she told me so. Things got violent so my friend came and got me.
FM: Violent in what way?
I was trying to leave and my brother was trying to stop me and our door is like on a landing with a steep set of stairs and a short set of stairs that comes up, and he was shoving me around the steep set of stairs that went to the basement and eventually pushed me on my back to the short stairs and I kicked out because I was afraid to push him away and he just snapped and just kicked the shit out of me. I had bruises all over my arms and my face and he broke one of my fingers – I brought my arms up to protect my face and that’s how he broke my fingers.
FM: Was this unprecedented or was there a history of physical altercation or had he been physical before?
We’ve always been physical. We’ve been fighting since we were little kids. My mom’s been physical before and so has my dad. It was just kinda normal, but that was the worst it’s ever been.
FM: What was their major problem – was it that you were coming out or was it something about the friend -
It was both. She was older than me, for one, and my mom didn’t like her. She knew her before we were dating. And also my mom is hard-core Roman Catholic so she just can’t relate to the idea. I found out later that she knew a lesbian girl in her teenage girl who committed suicide, so any experience she’d had with it had been really negative.
FM: And your dad?
He was upset. He doesn’t agree with it but later on, when he was trying to convince me to come home, he said You’re still my daughter and I love you and I can’t change that. My grandpa was the same way, which I was really surprised with. He’s really progressive for a 91-year-old man.
FM: And what was with your brother? Was he upset about you coming out or was there something else. He’s 4 years younger?
Yeah. I think – I don’t think he has a problem with me being gay or anything, it was that I was leaving. Like that had been threatened a lot before but the fact that I was actually packed up and had my stuff waiting outside and friends coming to get me, that really set him off. He has a temper anyways so there’s been points when I’ve had to physically pick him up and put him outside because he tries to choke me out or something.
FM: So you painted this picture of a quite idyllic childhood, but seems it co-existed with a really violent, dog-eat-dog sort of culture?
It really was. We hid most of that from the rest of the community for quite a long time, but now it’s come to the point where we have screaming matches on the front lawn and don’t even care.
FM: So even in this close-knit community, the family managed to keep domestic violence a secret? For a long time?
Yeah. It was just like it wasn’t something that you talked about.
Yeah, a lot of that because I know I caused a lot of the problems.
FM: How so?
I was really out there. My parents always criticized me for not being normal. Like what I read, like I changed religions, I was the first one who came out gay, I always talked about wanting tattoos. I guess I just didn’t fit their standards of a normal family which is one of the things they always prided themselves on wanting.
FM: While they’re putting up with or brooding domestic violence?
It was more appearances than anything. You had to appear a certain way.
FM: What’s your relationship with them now?
Better, now that we’re not at each other’s throats all the time, now that I live in Middletown. I am the closest with my mom. So we do have a lot of fights. Me and my dad are starting to get better. He actually took me out to a concert, just me and him, the other week, so that was really nice. And my brother is starting to get better because now I see him as another adult rather than this kid that I had to look after all the time, so now I’m not trying to play mom with him.
FM: He would be 18 now. So also an age when maybe, maybe, the concept of lesbian is more acceptable? Or more discussed? Actually, lemme ask it this way: does he think that you reflect badly on him or make him look weird in your community?
I think a bit when he was younger, but not because I am gay or anything. It’s more that I was this creepy Goth kid that was into paganism, listened to Death Metal all the time, really stood out.
FM: When did you start to look ‘weird’ within your community?
Grade 9, because I went to a new school with a ton of new people and I thought I could just restart myself. He also kinda took that to his advantage as well. Because I was really open-minded about a lot of things so if he had any questions he knew he could come to me instead of my mom or dad. He actually had a really close male friend and they would hug and stuff all the time, or lay together on the couch, like they weren’t romantic just really really close, and my mom would yell at him that people would think he was gay. And I walked in on her doing that one [day] and I said, Bro, I don’t care if you’re gay or not, I’ll love you all the same. And afterwards he came to me and thanked me, said he wasn’t gay but thanked me for the support.
FM: Let me swoop back and ask what you did between college years. Did you go home? Work?
I went home and worked pretty much full time at Dairy Queen in Porttown. But just before I started college I got a boyfriend in Porttown so in the summer I would spend 3 days at his place and then come home for 2 days.
FM: Alright. So now you’ve ‘gone straight’ and are living in sin. How did that go down with the parents?
I guess they were glad to see me with another guy. I had another boyfriend before that, but he was really bad. They knew they couldn’t really stop me from being with him so my mom would just have the be-sure-you’re-having-protection talk and wouldn’t bring anything up about it.
FM: And let’s explore your work experience a bit, since it hasn’t been mentioned much. What role, if any, did that play in your life?
Well Dairy Queen was my first official job. I did babysitting before that over the summers, but this was a lot different. When I was with the bad boyfriend I got really into my work because it was isolated down to him and work. I have definitely become a workaholic.
FM: Say more about that.
Well it’s just kinda something else to put my energies into, I don’t have to think about my own life. Whether it was at Dairy Queen, where I was not the best employee, like I had a bad attitude with customers, but I would do anything they would ask me. So I got the dirtiest jobs, I never complained. When the others were sitting and talking, I was down on my hands and knees scrubbing baseboards and stuff like that.
FM: But I’m interested in the present tense-ness of that. How has it followed you as your work life has changed?
I’m definitely devoted to my current job. I put all effort I can into making sure the projects that I’m running turn out. Unfortunately, I beat myself up a bit too hard when things don’t always turn out. I’m trying to not take it so hard and not to be so critical of myself but it’s really a hard thing to do when you make it so important in your life.
FM: Does it self-medicate re the anxiety and depression, d’ya think?
Most definitely. Now that all my college friends have moved away, I don’t really have that many people down here. So I kinda work to alleviate the loneliness. I’m starting to go and I’ve started to meet some new people and have a bit of a social life but I’m always so worried about what they think about me because I always blunder and make a fool of myself.
FM: So you’re saying you’re not socially at ease, or smooth -
Not at all. I get super super nervous around people, my mind goes blank when I try to talk to new people and I say something stupid, like I don’t connect with them the proper way. I stutter a lot.
FM: But in this interview, you’ve very eloquent.
Because I know it’s not the same as trying to impress people to be your friends. Like that pressure is not here, I don’t have to impress someone.
FM: And has this lack of social ease been a chronic companion, since you were quite young?
It started – I was always socially awkward as a kid, I was always the weird kid, so for the longest time I just said what I wanted and didn’t care. But when I hit high school, I started to clam up. I got told to shut up a lot by other people, so I just finally did.
FM: Okay, but high school was also a time when you could turn over a new leaf, be a new self, and the new self was quiet, Goth? That’s the Goth?
Yup. I made a very good friend group over the years but trying to reach out of that group of people that I felt safe in, it never really happened. And a lot of them I knew from Girl Guides or something, from groups outside of school, and then they’d bring in other people, like their siblings and we’d make friends through that.
FM: But since you left your home community, at about high school level really, you’ve not had a comfortable social grouping and you’re not too sure that you have the necessary skills to re-build a social group as a young adult???
I lost a lot of them when I dated that bad boyfriend. He lived with me for almost a year at my parents’ house and he really cut me off from all of my friends. Like I was so tight-knit with all of my friends at that point and now I barely even talk to them.
FM: I’m interested in exploring the relationship between domestic abuse family style to ‘bad boyfriends’ – how would you understand that connection, if any?
I dunno. He was never physically abusive. He was very mentally and emotionally abusive. Which was also a part of the abuse that happened in my family. He would get upset at me if we would go to a party and I even left his side for a few moments. He would actually get up and leave the party, walk around for 3 hours, come back and mope in a room by himself, make a scene the whole time.
FM: How’d you meet him?
He dated one of my friends and he came down to visit her, years after they broke up and we just kinda clicked and he seemed really nice, he was really sensitive, super super intelligent, he was Goth as well and we had just a lot of common interests and sense of humour. He lived in Ottawa so he’d come see me one weekend and I’d go one weekend so it was mostly long distance. But eventually he found out his dad hadn’t been paying rent for months until he got an eviction notice and had nowhere to go so he came and lived with me. That’s when he started getting really really controlling. It got to a point where I couldn’t even go out for a cigarette without him having to be there with me.
FM: And was he out of the picture when you headed off to college, or was college the ‘solution’ to the relationship?
No. I broke up with him about a year before I went to college. I just couldn’t stand being with him any more. Like I’d lay in my bed until 1:00 on my free days pretending to be asleep so I would just have some free time.
FM: So let me clarify the sequence. High school – Goth – boyfriend at a distance – boyfriend moves in? Before high school ends?
Just before. And I worked for a year before going to college. And he lived with me for most of that. And I kicked him back to Ottawa. And the summer before I went to college I met my next boyfriend and we started dating about 10 days before I went to college and I had a long-distance relationship for those two years. I broke up with him maybe a month ago.
FM: So that’s some of the lack of social group now, too, you’re in a transition time?
FM: Okay so if we number the places you lived. #1 Family home. #2 Friend’s home for a few months. #3 College. #4 Porttown. #5 College. #6 Middletown. Right? Let’s talk about where you live now and your work.
When I graduated from college I was living in the basement of a couple. It was decent, it had lots of space, it was pretty cheap for the amount of space, but it was really damp. It was infested with silverfish. And I could hear them fighting upstairs sometimes. And the husband got really angry so I was uncomfortable there. And this was when I first lost all my friends so I was really isolated to the place and began to have some mental issues so I had to get out of there.
FM: Mental issues – depression?
Yes and some minor hallucinations. Because I was so paranoid about the bugs there, I kept feeling like I was having bugs all over my skin, kept seeing them on me. So paranoid.
FM: Right. So moved to?
[#7] A house and I’m renting a room within it right now. It’s much cleaner, not damp at all, it’s an old old house and there’s much more people in it, nice people. There are two girls my age, one who I get along with very well and we go, like, to the gym all the time together. Then there’s the landlady who’s a little bit crazy. And then an older woman who lives in the top loft but she works from like 3 to 12 at night so we never really see her that much.
FM: Is this shared kitchen and bath?
Yes. And it’s nice because we all have independent rent, so it doesn’t matter if one of us moves out, and there’s no lease, she likes to keep it month to month.
FM: Okay. And you started work soon after you graduated?
Yeah, I started just before May, because I officially ended in April. And the project that I had been working on throughout my placement was happening in May so they kept me on for that, and kept me on through the summer, and now we’re kinda scrambling for funding to keep me on for now. Depending what happens with our receptionist, I may take that on as well as fund-raising and stuff so that I can’ continue on to work here. I am putting out resumes out at other places and I’ll see how that goes, but I’m also hoping to go to [university in Toronto] next year.
I’m thinking sociology.
FM: So from a community college degree to a university degree – many students go the other direction because they find the university degree doesn’t translate into work.
That’s why I went the other way, because I knew if I got an understanding of the basic things I’m interested in, then got some experience, that I’d probably do much better in the university courses.
FM: Have you a heavy student debt load?
No, I was very lucky that my parents saved up a lot of money for me, so they paid for my college and I paid for my residence fees. My grandpa also set me up with a couple scholarships and I got one worth $500 so that was nice.
FM: Very with-it grandpa!
Umhum. He expects a lot from us which is sometimes kinda hard, because he compares us to his friends’ kids who go to university and stuff, but he wants us to succeed. I don’t think he ever had a degree or went to college or anything, but his wife was the head nurse of [a] hospital for a long time so he understands the importance of having an education and how much it does benefit you.
FM: Is this your mom’s dad?
No, my dad’s dad. He was a military man.
FM: And is your dad educated – before this last go-back to school?
No, I think he dropped out in grade 10 or 11 and he was in a biker gang for a long time and he also made money by playing in bands and like travelled across Canada and played in a bar for like a week at a time and then they’d move on and play someplace else.
FM: So I have this impression of your family as chameleon, through the generations, becoming many different things over their life spans, starting with your great-great-grandmother.
Now that I think of it we really have been all over the place, doing whatever we wanted and then becoming what works for us in the long run.
FM: Yeah, I think you come by your current challenges quite naturally, given the family. I think it’s amazingly interesting that you started this narrative with your great-great-grand-mother – it’s an odd place to start which suggests to me that it’s important in some way to what you see as your story.
Umhmm. I’m starting to look deeper into my family history and I’m finding a lot of things that I didn’t know about us, like things that the current generation has kind of covered up, like the fact that some of my aunts were ex-communicated from the community as witches. And the aboriginal heritage. It’s like we’re not the normal Roman Catholic family as much as they try and portray themselves that way.
FM: Very interesting. Anything else? I have some finish-up questions; are we ready for that or is there anything else you want to add?
I guess the importance of the other sides of my family. My mother comes from an incredibly large family. She’s the eldest of 6 and all her siblings and herself have at least 2 children. So we’re big but we’re very close and I see as the years go on that we’re becoming a more open family which is very good. My dad’s side, though, he had a sister who passed away recently, who lived in Vancouver and she was an addict and an alcoholic. Never talked to her much, saw her maybe twice, but we’re trying to get ahold of her children. So hopefully that all turns out well.
FM: I hear this theme of the importance of community / family / ‘good’ social group, a place where you feel you are yourself and you are safe and you are loved.
It is the most important thing. It’s just trying to deal with all the conflicting personalities in it. While we do on the outside portray a certain way, everyone does have their own opinion when we’re in the house together. It makes things very interesting.
FM: Yeah, I can see that. Okay. Here’s my first finish-up question: In order to give a bit of focus and shape to this narrative for the people who will read it, will you say what you think is the Most Important Event in this story?
I think the incidences of abuse within the family, particularly the first time I was kicked out. Because that was really a life-changing moment for me. I am still really close with my family but there is that mark on us, it’s something that has never really left my mind and it’s kinda put a damper, made it more difficult for me to trust and connect with people. It’s that if my family can treat me that way, it makes me worry about people that I don’t really know.
FM: Have you ever sought counseling to help with this? Or other issues?
Yes. I took a bit of counseling in the beginning of my first college year because something really bad happened when I was drinking. But the counseling wasn’t really effective. And later on I started to get counseling, two years later, to deal with the same issues and these issues I’ve talked about have come up during these counseling sessions.
FM: Any thoughts about why the college-based counseling wasn’t effective? I’m understanding it was counseling for students?
Yeah. I think I just went into denial and thought I had worked through the issue because I was kinda so ashamed about it and then I couldn’t let it get in the way of my studies.
FM: So back under the rug?
Yup. And then I started getting counseling because I thought about reporting [him], but I wasn’t really emotionally ready. And I don’t know, the counseling took me into a lot of different areas from there.
FM: Okay, second follow-up question. The judgment question: People who read this story will form an opinion about how it’s gonna end, for good or not so good. But where is your opinion, your feeling, about how this narrative will unfold over time. Good, not so good, feeling optimistic, not so much?
I think if I keep on the path that I am it’s going to turn out for the better. I’m working on fixing my own issues and reconciling with my family and I think the distance has helped a lot. There’s still a lot of worry because I know the anxiety and depression does get to me, and because I have a hard time opening up to somebody, I just put on the face that works for them, I worry that I won’t have good connections outside my family again. But I’m going to continue to work through it.
FM: Do you worry about losing the ability to be independent? Would you consider moving back home if you lost your job and couldn’t pay the rent?
I would. But I’m afraid that our relationships would go south again. And I hate the idea of not being independent. I also kinda worry about being emotionally dependent on someone if I do get into good relationships again, because I do get really really attached. Like if I make a good friend then it’s really hard for me to let go of them and sometimes I get jealous. So I’m kinda like balancing between the two, being financially dependent and being emotionally dependent and it’s kind of difficult.
FM: Good points. Two advice questions now. First one: What advice would give to your younger self, whether or not your younger self would take that advice, that you believe would make the outcome of this narrative better or easier?
I would tell myself not to let bad boyfriend move in with me. He did a lot of damage to my emotional and mental health and cut me off from all my friends and I lost my ability to socialize. And to not fall into that relationship with the next one, like I did.
FM: Can I ask, it seems to me that the bad boyfriend moved into your parents’ house. Any thought that they ought to have intervened to ‘save you’ from him?
I wonder a lot why they didn’t because it was really obvious the way he behaved. I don’t have a clue – when I finally broke up with him they told me good, but I don’t know why they didn’t do anything before that.
FM: Well, they’d been pretty hands-off in your early years as well, as you tell it.
It might have been something they thought I should learn on my own.
FM: Hard to tell. Okay, last advice question: What advice would you give those of us who would like to be helpful to young people like yourself, about how best to do that? In the context of this research, which is about helping rurally raised youth make a good transition into adulthood, whether they stay where they were raised or go to an urban centre.
Ummm, I would say really give warning to how much alcohol can affect you and how different some people are to how you are.
FM: Like how different strangers can be from what you’ve been raised to expect from people?
I find that some people only want your company because of how you are when you’re intoxicated, or aren’t really who they say they are. And I grew up fairly naïve about people so trusting people has kind of hurt me in a lot of ways. And as much as I hate to say that, it kind of has put a negative spin on people for me.
FM: Do you think that youth raised rurally are particularly vulnerable in this way? relative to kids raised in urban centres?
As long as the kids who grew up rurally didn’t get into drugs and alcohol when they were younger, then yes.
FM: So you’re saying that drugs and alcohol make you vulnerable, regardless of where you‘re raised?
Yes, because if you have no experience with it and most of your life was raised innocently, I guess, when you do get that freedom to do whatever you want, you either indulge too much or you trust people with what you have. I guess I learned to not put my drink down at a party the hard way. That was something I never thought someone could do to another person. It was really shaking. It really shook me.
FM: Do you think anyone or the college was negligent in any way, that you were not protected sufficiently?
Oh yes, we never really got any discussions about binge drinking or party etiquette and safety. And then also the counselor never did anything about the attack that was done on me, and I later found out that four other girls had been got in by the same guy. I’m kind of ashamed that I didn’t do anything to stop him but almost everyone I knew at that time just told me to shut up.
FM: You mean press charges or take it to the authorities?
FM: And you were at the New Res, which was safer than the Old Res, so others might have been even more vulnerable? Or did it have anything to do with where you lived?
I think worse things happened at the Old Res. I know there was a girl who was raped by several guys at one time at Old Res during my years there and nothing was done about that either. She wasn’t a student there, but all of them were. And I guess no one believed her because it was her against them.
FM: Are we done?
I think so, yeah.