Hummus is a very young-looking lad, having just turned 16, very recently arrived in Middletown and very much in the throes of finding a way forward. He was upset at times in telling his story, but determined to be heard. As is evident in the interview, I had some concerns about his safety. I shared information with the agency that referred him that a continued focus on finding housing that would allow him to be reunited with his pets, challenging as that would be, had as good a possibility as any I could envision to keep him engaged. They have some resources they can bring to bear and are very conscious of his vulnerability. I also alerted the Crisis Service that is/has been involved with him of my concerns. He has a difficult family life, including, from his perspective, outright cruelty, and has not found the help offered helpful.
FM: So, start by telling me a bit about your family – who was in it, where they lived, how they made a living, etc.
My mom is 30 now and my dad is a sick drunk. My mom lives in Rapidsville and my dad lives in Country County. My mom works at [a grocery chain] and my dad just works around.
FM: Brothers and sisters?
I have a sister.
FM: Where does she live and is she older or younger?
She lives in Rapidsville with my mom, and she’s younger than me; she’s 12.
FM: And what kind of work does your dad do, when he works?
Just odd jobs around people’s houses, like raking, sometimes roofing, etc.
FM: Okay. So you’re very young, 2 months over your 16th birthday. Talk about how you came to leave home.
It started out with my mom beating me for 15 years. She put my head through a window. And I always ran away. I was in the back of a police car – not by my choice; my mom called them on me. And then I got sick of it and I went to go stay at my sister’s friend’s mom. And she got CAS on me and I ended up living with my dad the next day. I thought it was all fine and dandy and smoke and all, and y’know, he was helping me out. But first night he had me, me and him went out and got drunk and had a great time. And about a week or so later, when it was getting near the summer time, I got my dog Abby, and dad got sick of the dog and got sick of me, I guess. He said get out. And then I went to rent from an older friend [of his] and I went to put my dog at my mom’s for now and my mom brought it back up. A guy that was living with the friend that I was renting from laughed and shot my dog in front of me. And I was having thoughts about killing myself, and my mom came up, for once in her life she was the Best. She gave me a puppy and her name was Tabatha. It was the first time – for 15 years, she took smokes away from me, and that day she bought me a carton of smokes, and I still can’t wrap my head around that.
FM: Let me interrupt to just clarify a few things. So you lived with your mom and sis in Rapidsville until you were 15?
I turned 15.
FM: And then to your dad’s.
For a month.
FM: Did you know your dad before? Had you had much contact?
No, it was my first time meeting him.
FM: And who thought that was a good idea, for you to go live with a stranger, basically?
My mom. And me.
FM: So better the devil you don’t know that the devil you do?
FM: In retrospect; looking backwards. But at the time it seemed a good idea.
Yes it did.
FM: Okay, so continue on with your story. You’re at school and…
A worker with [the crisis service] showed up and said that Middletown is probably the best option for me. I said I’m not leaving without my animals, which I ended up doing.
FM: Animals plural? More than one?
Yes. A dog and a cat.
FM: But you had to leave them?
I had to find a place for them because it’s coming winter and they’re going to be freezing.
FM: So did you find a place before you left, or after?
I still haven’t found a place.
FM: So they’re with you?
No, they’re with my older friend. Which I don’t trust because I feel they might get shot.
FM: So that’s a worry. And where are you now, then?
At the shelter.
FM: Since when?
FM: Going to school there?
Yes I am.
FM: It’s a bit early in the story, but what’s the plan?
The plan is that if I don’t find a place here, I’m going to have to go back. I don’t really want to but I’m worried about my animals. That’s why I’m here in the first place. I’m worried my dad will hit ‘em. If I ever see him again I’ll kill him.
FM: Let me ask what makes you so angry at him – other than he stood by and let someone kill your dog and kicked you out, but you seem really angry for someone who you’ve only known for a few months…
It was longer than a few months. It was 2. And I’m angry at him because, just because the fact, the way he put me though all this. The fact that he was never there for me. The fact that my animals are sitting there running out of food and I’m here trying to find them a house and some food, and he could just sit there and drink beer instead of taking me in.
FM: Okay, that’s reason enough. And what about your mom; is she an option at all?
She told me that I’d made my bed, I’d have to lie in it. So, whatever.
FM: And do you think that you did that, made your bed? Or what choice did you have?
That was my only choice to figure out my life. She beat me and my dad just didn’t want nothing to do with me.
FM: You mentioned CAS: did they offer any alternative?
They’re been in my life a few times, but they sent me to [a group home], thinking that I had the problem.
FM: And why did they think that?
Because I’ve been so angry my whole life and I don’t really know why, I just, I guess it’s just life.
FM: So you were ‘acting out’, i.e. being angry, acting angry, and they put you in a group home theoretically to help you figure out what that was about and maybe find some alternative ways to express your feelings. What was your experience in the group home?
My experience in the group home was that I ran away and the friend that I knew that was there, he ended up losing his toe because a tree fell on it. And then I snuck in the back of his mom’s truck, went to [a town 150 km away], didn’t have anything to eat for 3 days, ended up in the holding cell, and then back in the same place.
FM: How old are you at this time?
FM: Okay, and what was the running about? Let me ask: was running a new thing in your life or you were used to doing that?
I was used to running because I tried to run away from my mom. I started doing it more and more and it’s been my whole life up until now, anyway.
FM: Starting when? How old were you the first time you ran?
FM: And do you run to something, or is it away from something?
Away from my mom.
FM: Did anybody know how unhappy you were at home?
My sister. Me and her, we’ve become such pals it’s not even funny.
FM: Does you mom wail on her as well?
No. She’s a spoiled little brat.
FM: So she’s the good kid, and you’re the bad kid, and it was ever thus?
They thought I was the bad kid. They just wanted the girl. As soon as they had the girl, that was it. My life was over.
FM: You say ‘they’ – is that your mom and dad or another guy?
Yeah, that was my true mom and dad.
FM: And when did your dad bail from the family?
When he tried to kill my mom. I wish he would have done it.
FM: How old were you when that happened?
A couple months. I remember as it was yesterday, the way he was choking her. Beer bottles smashed on the floor. Beer everywhere, mom f’ing yelling at him. She was being choked on the couch. And us being taken somewhere. And then the cops bringing us home. And then my life has turned over from there. I don’t know how I remember it but I do, clear as day.
FM: Was that when they separated, or was that one of a lot of situations like that?
That’s when they separated. Because he was in jail.
FM: For assault?
FM: And while he was in jail, your mom set up house on her own?
That’s when we first went to Rapidsville.
FM: Why Rapidsville?
FM: Okay, but your sis is 2 years younger, and your dad is also her dad, so obviously he came back into...
Maybe I was 2 years. I don’t remember. I just remember the fight.
FM: Okay. So it’s sounding to me like a fairly classic domestic abuse situation but there are supposed to be help for both the woman to build a new life, and for the kids to get over the trauma they’ve experienced. Anything?
Believe me, I’ve gotten so much help – I’ve tried anyways. The cops wouldn’t help me: I had glass in the back of my head but the cops wouldn’t help me. CAS put me in [the group home] thinking I was the problem.
FM: Lemme ask: What about school? For some kids, that’s a ‘safe zone’. You?
I thought it was too but it just didn’t work out that way. They’d suspend me left, right and centre. Sure, whatever. Let’s go home and get beat; sounds like fun. That’s actually what I thought. I’m just actually not liking school, it’s not my thing. Believe me, I tried. They put me in behaviour class because they thought I was messed up. I did do a few things, but most of them are problems from my mom that I couldn’t get over.
And then I took up smoking. And boy, was that different. My friend got me into smoking because I told him I was so pissed.
FM: We’re talking marijuana here, right?
No. Cigarettes. That comes later.
FM: So when did the cigarettes come?
When I was 10.
FM: I’ve never heard anyone say before that smoking regular cigarettes helped with feeling pissed off.
Well, it did when I was 10, it got my mind off of stuff. Because it makes you not think about it. And then I got on to weed. And almost died. Stole a couple hundred bucks from my mom. That’s where I was bad. And bought all weed. And I sat there smoking it all day and I went to the school just before school was ending – this is when I was in high school – and the ambulance people said I’d died. So if you can’t learn from that, you’ll never learn. That’s all I have to say from that one.
FM: Did you learn not to smoke weed?
Yup. I still smoke cigarettes, though. But they don’t kill me.
FM: Well, not in the short run. They say. But in the whole scope of things, they’re very small potatoes... Talk a bit more about suicidal thoughts, depression…
Okay. Basically I’ve thought about killing myself with a gun. And this was all over my dog. Boy did I ever love her.
FM: Lemme go here: I can’t imagine anything more cruel than making a boy watch while his pet is killed.
For no reason.
FM: Even if there was a reason, it would be cruel
I checked the kid; there was no bite. I went the next day to Rapidsville to check the kid out, see if he was really bit. No bite marks, nothing. I got back just in time to see my dog killed. I tried to save her. And the guy just laughed.
FM: So I’m a bit confused. The dog was with your mom?
She brought it up to be shot.
FM: I’m so sorry. And I can really see why you’re worried about your pets.
[Hummus became quite upset at this point and needed a cigarette so we managed to bum one and he took a brief smoke break. He gave the staff person who’d given him a cigarette a big hug when he returned.]
FM: Alrighty. I’m sorry this is so hard for you, but it’s very important, so if we can barrel on… what I’d like to understand better is how no one seemed to get a handle on continued physical abuse – that at least. Talk to me about how you tried to tell people – not acting out, but was there any attempt to say to someone, my mom’s beating the shit out of me?
I’ve told everybody and it’s okay but you know… I did a bit of acting out but it wasn’t necessary for her to beat me.
FM: So ‘acting out’ means communicating something by actions rather than words, so what’s supposed to happen is that someone says, hey, what’s that all about, how come you’re doing that? And then helps either resolve whatever it is that is making you feel the way you do.
And basically I’ve tried everybody but the thing is when you’re a little kid, nobody believes you.
FM: But what about the glass in the back of your head?
My mom said I fell down the stairs and there’s glass there.
FM: Bruises visible at school?
Yeah. Teacher pulled glass out of my head. But the cops didn’t believe me.
FM: Well, that’s a pretty damning indictment of a couple of systems not working as they should.
FM: At [the group home], was there anybody there that you thought listened to you, believed you?
No. I had a bed wetting problem until I was out of [the group home].
FM: Huh, so they understood the problem was bed-wetting, something you did rather than something that was done to you...
Yeah, because I don’t really know how to put it, but they thought I was depressed and angry. Which I was. But they just made it worse.
FM: Can you think of anything that might have made it better – aside from better luck with the family you were born into?
Yeah, my animals, that’s what’s keeping me alive right now.
FM: Should we be worried about you doing yourself in?
No, I have my animals and I figure that’s happy enough for me. That’s what’s going to keep me going until I start getting good luck.
FM: Is there a plan to have your animals that are at your dad’s place taken care of? Is anyone looking after that for you?
My older friend is looking after that for me and I plan on getting them up here ASAP but I need a place. I might have one, though, because some mother mentioned taking me in. She’s going to talk to me today but I don’t know her. I don’t know what to do.
FM: How’d she hear about you? How does she know you?
Well, she went out to have a smoke when I was kicked out until curfew for letting a 2-year-old in for being cold.
FM: Ah, so she is also at the shelter, is that what you’re saying?
FM: Okay, so she may be up to her ears in difficulties of her own. What about finding a home for your animals, like a foster home for them?
[Shakes his head.] Not going to work because I want them with me. They’re considered my only good luck that I have right now. If they’re not there, I’m not going there. You should see my St. Barnard puppy; she’s so cute. I had a good cry last night. I pictured her in my head, me scratching her belly, her scratching my head – that’s how I got this scratch (on his head). She used to paw at me, to wake me up. I don’t know why but she knew when I had to go to school.
FM: I talked to a guy in Toronto for this research who had a dog, and he had been in line for a shelter that allowed animals in, but it was a really long waiting list… d’you know if they have that kind of service here at all?
No, they don’t. Believe me, I’ve asked. I don’t know why; it’s so stupid.
FM: Probably a matter of money...
No no no no no. They make lots of it. They get all welfare money which is $500 and something dollars, I’m sure they can afford to have pets there. They just choose not to.
FM: Well, it’s very complicated because of the havoc that pets can wreak, like e.g. biting kids – and there are kids there – so it would have to be a place where everyone was into pets and knew what they were getting into, and that is a more expensive proposition than a shelter ‘just’ for people. But… I’m hearing you that in spite of what the challenges are, for you, having a place where you can have your pets is really really important. But if that can’t happen, if you can’t find a way to make that happen, what do you think you’ll do?
I’ll have to go back to my shack. I really don’t know what else to do. I’m running out of options. I’m sorry, but there is no god.
FM: Okay, let’s turn to other things – I’m feeling as hopeless as you right now! We talked a bit about school, you said it wasn’t your thing and that you were in behaviour class. Was there anything positive about school ever?
FM: And where are you in terms of grades and stuff?
FM: Are you literate, can you read and write?
FM: Figure out basic arithmetic, money and stuff?
FM: What grade do they say you have?
I still have to do a couple classes from grade 9. I still have half my classes for grade 10 and all grade 11 which I’m supposed to be in.
FM: So a long road ahead, and you have other things on your mind. Employment: have you ever worked? For money?
Yeah. Not official job but whatever work I could find, like construction, yard work. I didn’t do very good. My dad is getting my baby bonus which he shouldn’t because it’s government money and I’m not with him. And he’s spending it on booze.
FM: Yeah, you’re young to have a work history, and not much opportunity. What about… I know, you said earlier when you were talking about smoking that you had that one pretty dramatic blow-out with weed and don’t do that any more. And on the app you said you drank, but I think...
Two or three beer a day.
FM: Since when?
Pretty much my whole life. I don’t try to get drunk but if I’m really pissed I might, but other than that I just have a couple beer to end my day.
FM: How’s that work at the shelter?
FM: And the problem that you’re too young to buy cigs or booze, so you need to hook up with somebody...
I had lots of hook-ups in Country County, but here’s not that good. I’m sure I can find a hook-up for cigarettes.
FM: Aside from the time in [the group home], were you ever referred for counseling? Ever offered the opportunity to talk to someone about what was on your mind?
FM: Do you think you would have spilled the beans if offered that opportunity?
If it would really help me out. Like help me find a place. Stuff like that.
FM: Is someone working with you now, aside from shelter staff? Like the guy from [the crisis service]?
No, he’s on holidays for the next two weeks.
FM: But then he’ll see you?
FM: Did you connect with him? Did he feel like a good guy to you?
Shrug. Other than his shit-box car, yeah. I sat there bugging him about that because his car is so tiny. And I was bugging him about how tiny it was and that. Probably the best time I’ve had for three years. I think we’re living in hell I think. It does seem like that. You know how they talk about heaven and hell? I think this is hell, though.
FM: Well, it sure as hell sounds lonely, that’s my dominant impression.
FM: Actually, I know your guy from [the crisis service] and he seemed to me like someone who really...
Has a shit-box
FM: Well, I was thinking, likes kids, and works hard to be helpful. He’s also a musician, d’you know that?
I just wanted smokes; he wouldn’t get me smokes.
FM: It’s a tough one.
FM: Okay, before we go to my finish-up questions, I just have to poke one more time if there has ever been anyone who you felt was on your side, potentially, at least. A member of the extended family? Anybody there?
My uncle James. He was allright. I loved him.
FM: And where’s he?
FM: Okay. Ready for finish-up questions?
FM: All right. For the people who will read this story, in order to have them understand it the way you mean it to be understood, would you say what you think is the Most Important Event in your story, the thing that most influenced how the story is unfolding?
Booze. That’s what caused it all, I think.
FM: Okay. Did your mom drink as well as your dad?
FM: A lot?
FM: Okay. I’m almost afraid to ask this question: People who read this story will form an opinion about how it’s going to turn out, for good or not so good. What do you think?
It’s improving but it’s still not good. Never even been a kid, played with toys or anything. Not that I care anymore.
FM: So what’s improved?
I got a puppy and kitty, that’s it.
FM: And not getting beat up, has that improved?
FM: But not as important as having something that loves you, I’m going to say.
Yeah. I agree.
FM: Okay. Two advice questions. The first one is: What advice would you give to your younger self, whether or not your younger self would take that advice, that you think would make the story unfold better or easier or whatever?
Steal money and get out of there.
FM: When, at what age?
FM: And go to where?
FM: I am almost overwhelmed with how hopeless I think your life must feel to you.
It’s not hopeless any more. I got a puppy and a kitty that loves me and I want them here, now.
FM: Who knows that, besides me hearing this?
FM: And what do they say?
Not much. Don’t really care.
FM: Maybe they care but there is not an easy solution...
They could do something about it; they just choose not to.
FM: Okay, last question – I’m chuckling ‘cause I think I might know what you’re going to say…. This is an advice question. What advice would you give to those of us who would hope to be helpful to youth like yourself, that would help this journey be easier, turn out better...
FM: Yeah, you and by extension, everybody.
Believe us. Not lie to us. Treat us like normal citizens. Give us more freedom.
FM: Freedom to do what?
Depends on the age.
FM: Ah, so you mean freedom to make a better life for yourself, like get a new home at 5?
Maybe not that far but sure, that works. I’d say more along 10 and older.
FM: But the issue really is that we should somehow be able to ensure that little kids who aren’t old enough to take care of themselves are adequately cared for, and in your case it seems we were just not able to do that.
You guys just stood there and watched everything happen and that is what I hate. The cops; the reason I call them pigs is because they never believed me when my head was put through a window. I was 12 when it happened; you’d think they would have believed me, but no.
FM: Yeah, I think we failed you pretty consistently. I dunno what efforts were made –it’s possible things were trying to be fixed that you didn’t know about – but whatever, they didn’t work, and that quite simply is not as it should be. And I think your advice is simple but about as good as it gets. And by the way, you are not the only one who says something along that same line. In this research, it will be a fairly strong theme, the ‘just listen’ thing. But I think that we need to go one better and be effective with responding to what we hear. And that’s what is making me feel quite powerless today, knowing that in all likelihood, it will be very difficult and maybe impossible for you to take care of your pets. And that’s bad.
FM: Anyway. That’s where I am, having listened to your story. Is there anything you want to add?