May, aged 19, is an attractive, slender blonde who came to the interview from work wearing scrubs. She is a West Coast First Nations and bounced between BC and Ontario several times as part of a complex story of family chaos. She most recently left her mother’s home to live with a boyfriend in Westville while completing high school through a work preparation course and independent study. She describes suicide attempts, alcohol and drug abuse and misbehaviour, some the sequelae of incest with a grandfather, but also a healing stay with a relative and supportive counselling. Post interview, she indicated that her grandfather is in custody on several charges of sexual assault and is likely to be deemed a chronic offender and remain in jail indefinitely.
FM: Start with giving us a quick overview of your family – who was in it, where did they live, how did they make a living, etc etc etc
My family who I live with now, or my whole family?
FM: I think the whole family. If it’s not toooo complicated.
I’m one of 15 siblings and I don’t know all of them.
FM: Okay, the family that you were raised with, mostly.
I was raised with my mom who had 4 kids, me, my brother and two sisters. And then she had boyfriends and stuff like that. And then I was also raised with my grandfather and his wife, my sisters’ dad – we all have different dads – and then I was raised with my grandfather’s wife’s daughter, and then my grandmother. And that would be the family I was raised with throughout my life.
FM: A complicated picture, obviously. So usually I start numbering the places you lived in after you left your family home, but in your case, where would you suggest we start?
Probably from when I was born would make the most sense. I was born in [northern] BC and when I was 3 months old we moved to Vancouver and then shortly after that we moved to Ontario. We lived in [several small towns in south central Ontario] and Westville, everywhere. And then when I was 5 we moved back to [northern BC]. When I was 9 I moved to [Vancouver Island] and then when I was 14 I moved back to Ontario and was living in [a different small town]. Then when I was 15 I moved back to [Vancouver Island] and then 5 months after that I moved back to Ontario and was living in Westville. And since I moved back, I’ve lived in Littletown [and several other small towns and villages].
FM: Okay. So when did you first live ‘on your own’, whatever that means to you?
I moved out of living with my mother and moved in with my boyfriend June 17, 2010.
FM: That was in Ontario? Westville?
FM: So talk about how you thought about that move, what motivated you, etc.
I have anxiety and it was really bad and my mom was making it worse and my boyfriend wanted me to get out of there and my mom and I don’t get along when we live together. So I ended up moving in with him and my anxiety got better when I moved out.
FM: How old were you then?
I’d just turned 18.
FM: And finished school?
Working towards it. I would have graduated a year earlier if I’d have stayed in BC. I lost 17 credits when I moved here.
FM: Okay. So weren’t getting along with your mom so you moved out with the boyfriend. How did that work?
I still live with him.
FM: Okay. And since you’re wearing scrubs, I think you work in the medical field.
No. I do housekeeping at a resort; you have to wear navy blue scrubs.
FM: Okay… take me through those two years re education, employment, whatever else is important.
So when I moved in with him I didn’t have a job. I was still short 8 credits for schooling. So I started looking for a job and I got one at [a work preparation program] here, and I was working for 24 weeks. And then I ended up hearing about the resort while I was here, and about a month and a half after work ended here, I got a call and got my job there. And while I was working at the [work preparation program] I managed to get 4 credits so I only need 4 now.
FM: And what’s the plan on that?
I have the work to do it, I just have to do it and hand it in.
Something they set up here. It’s through a school, the Q school board or something like that.
FM: But you work on your own and send in lessons?
FM: How do you find that? Is it lonely, hard to make it a priority?
It’s more finding the time outside of work and being actually able to understand what they want you to do. Because I was home-schooled before and they give you the same work, but the teacher I had, they’d have to go to the school and ask and sure enough, there’d be something wrong with the lesson – there’s always mistakes in the lessons.
FM: So what do you do now if you’re stuck? With a lesson.
I’d ask someone about it, whether a family or friend, someone to help me.
FM: But there’s nobody that comes with the lesson, no resource that they make available to you?
Well, I imagine when I hand in a lesson, if I had a question the girl would answer it for me.
FM: But basically, you’re on your own.
Yes. I’m very independent, so (shrug)
FM: That fits.. Okay, this is looking like a short story, and I’m sure there’s much more you could say. What in your past do you think is important for a reader to know in order to understand the complexity of the decisions to move – many moves, obviously, before you were on your own --
So was there any time to make a big decision for where I live, like on my own?
FM: I’m thinking you had a complicated life, and you’ve indicated [on the application form] that you’ve had some psychiatric intervention before, and anxiety in the more --
What do you mean by psychiatric intervention?
FM: Like counseling.
I was going through court when that happened, for being sexually abused. So I had turned to alcohol and pot to help with that, and to help with anxiety, and I eventually got in to see a psychiatrist who wanted to put me on pills for the anxiety. So I told him that I didn’t want to, and went on YouTube and learned more about anxiety. And couple weeks after that, managed to control it.
FM: When is this? How old were you?
From when I was about 14 until I was about 18. So then after the anxiety was controlled I was still drinking and my school wanted me in AA and my sexual abuse counselor wanted me in drug and alcohol abuse counseling. So then when they told me that, I did a lot of thinking and realized that the drugs and drinking wasn’t helping, so I just sort of quit it because I didn’t want to do any more counseling.
FM: I’m smiling because I haven’t often heard getting out of counseling being quite such a strong motivator…
Well I’ve been in counseling since I was young and my mother was shocked because the sexual abuse thing didn’t come out then.
FM: Why were you in counseling from such a young age?
Because I have anger and temper issues and I tried hanging myself when I was 7. And my brother came out and found me and cut the rope.
FM: Thank goodness.
And that was because of what I was going through at the time, the sexual abuse.
FM: But they didn’t twig to that being the cause of the behaviour? Then.
No, because I was just an evil child on my own and me and my mom didn’t connect really.
FM: So that’s when the living with other relatives began to happen?
Shortly after, yes.
FM: Okay, so the foundation of the story is a pretty muddled family life, lots of coming and going of men, sounds like, some recognition of difficulties, some help offered.
Yeah. Now I have a program, even, that I [can] go through if I ever need counseling again, like related to the sexual abuse, if I ever need help.
FM: That sound like unusually good service – more often the issue is not being able to get counseling when you want it, but here you have it on call as needed – and maybe that’s why you could use getting out of counseling as a motivator to change problematic behaviour. Yeah???
The only way I managed to get that [counseling], though, was through court, and I had to fill out papers for that, and I’m pretty sure that’s in BC because that’s where it happened and they had to judge whether I was eligible for it or not.
FM: So this court stuff was happening when you were a teenager?
FM: Okay. Let’s focus on right now. The boyfriend. Tell me about him.
I broke up with him just over a week ago and we’re working on things.
FM: I think we’re going to go at this a bit differently. I have 4 questions that I call finish-up questions because they focus the stories a bit. But in your case, I think we should use those questions to fill in whatever gaps are important to your story – if in fact there are gaps, I’m just guessing. So, here’s the first finish-up question… ready?
FM: Okay. So what would you say is the Most Important Event in your story, the thing that happened, or didn’t happen, that most influenced how this story is unfolding.
I was living with my grandfather, that was the one who sexually abused me, and my mom and my grandfather were fighting for custody over me and my grandfather won custody and my mom abandoned me and just took off and I didn’t know where she had went. And it was 17 days after my grandfather got custody of me he told me I had to move out; I was 8. So I had to decide whether I could live with my two sisters and their dad who was already having a rough time with the two girls or I was to move to [Vancouver Island] to move with my grandfather’s wife’s daughter who I had only met once on a vacation. So I figured he’s already having a rough time, might as well move in with this girl I don’t know. And it probably turned out to be the best decision of my life. She turned out to be a lesbian – I didn’t know that either – and after 2 years of living with her I got to trust her and get to know her. I told her about what had happened to me. I decided I didn’t want to charge him then, though, because it would have ripped her whole side of the family apart.
When I had moved back to Ontario, with my mom -- when I’d gotten back in contact with her again and found out that was where she was – we got a phone call from my sister’s dad saying that there was suspicion that it might have happened to her too. I decided then that I needed to charge him. When I was back in BC for the 5 months when I was 15, I had help from the [agency] which would give me all my information about court, all the updates and someone to talk to.
FM: So you went back to BC to follow up on this court case?
No. I was staying with my grandmother, she’d had surgery, had the veins in her legs replaced and they didn’t trust the nurses to take care of her so I came down for the summer, and my mom kicked me out while I was down there taking care of my grandma. So that’s why I was back there. And then I found my own way back to Ontario because I didn’t want to stay out there. Court was out there but the Crown would just fly me out there because they had to do it where it had happened.
FM: So was the Most Important Event going to live with the woman who was a lesbian- not that that was what was important about her, but… -- was that choice the Most Important Event or was it the sexual assault and all the to-ing and fro-ing about that?
I think that me moving in with her was really important because it kinda helped let everything else out.
FM: A safe place.
Yes, for sure. I even call her mom. And my mom’s fine with that.
FM: Okay. That is very helpful with making sense for an outsider to what is obviously a quite complicated history.
Counselors have had great times trying to figure out my life. I had one counselor where I had to put everything on a big Bristol board for her.
FM: I bet. Okay, next question. Are you ready?
FM: Okay. The judgment question: People who read this story will ‘naturally’ want to come to some ‘closure’; they’ll want to go in their mind to where this story leads. In your opinion, in your judgment, do you think the story will go well or not so well, as it unfolds. Are you optimistic, or not so much?
What do you mean by where my story unfolds? It’s just kinda a jumbled mess.
FM: I mean, do you think that this story is moving toward a good outcome for you?
Yes. My grandfather is now in jail. I don’t live at home any more. I have a job. I know there are places I can go if I need support or help with anything.
FM: To that point – what would you consider the places you would go for help, now, if you needed help now?
FM: For whatever the challenge might be.
For me, being in [this town], I’d come to the [work preparation program] because they’re pretty knowledgeable about everything and if they don’t know, they’ll find someone that does.
FM: Okay. Now two advice questions. First: What advice would you give to your younger self, whether or not that younger self would take the advice, that would make it more likely that this story, your story, would have a more positive outcome?
I would have made sure that my schooling was for sure complete.
FM: What would have needed to be different for your younger self to take that advice?
I’m not sure, because it wasn’t really my fault that it’s not even now completed.
FM: Good point. The helpful difference --
I’d probably say not moving to Ontario when I did because then I wouldn’t have lost those 17 credits and I would have graduated a year early.
FM: Right. I was going to say that it would have been helpful if credits could be transferred across provincial lines.
FM: Could you have hung in in BC long enough to finish your high school? Was that even a possibility?
I could have, but at the same time the things I was going though with the person I was living with were really tough at the time, I’d say. And I was kinda young and dumb and got out of there so I didn’t have to put up with it.
FM: Remind me who you were living with at that time.
The lesbian lady (for shorthand).
FM: And what was the stress, the tension?
We were just constantly butting heads at that time.
FM: And you were also looking for your mom, at some level?
FM: So maybe the biggest problem with her was that she wasn’t your mom even though you called her mom. Or maybe, just adolescent pushing against parental authority, no matter whom.
Yeah. I was definitely rebelling then. And I’ve always had the habit of pushing away the people who care about me so they don’t get the chance to hurt me because I’ve been hurt so many times.
FM: Yeah. Okay, ready for advice question number two? What advice would you give those of us who would hope to be helpful to young people like yourself, what advice would you give us?
(Long pause) For people who are out of school and want to do their schooling, having an easier opportunity for them even to get into being able to do their schooling. Like my mom even had a hard time when she wanted to get back into doing it.
FM: And how did you manage it?
Dropped out of a regular high school, went to an adult ed who home schooled me for 6 months to a year, and then once my anxiety was over, I went back to just the adult ed and that’s how I’ve managed to get where I am now.
FM: Just clarification. What was the agency or school that home-schooled you in adult ed – maybe not the name.
I went through the place in Littletown, an adult ed [program], and through them I even managed to get dual credits so I have two college credits already.
FM: That reminds me that we haven’t talked about your vocational and educational goals, acted almost as if the job you have now is the job for life. What your plan?
Where I’m working now I’m trying to get in the kitchen, that’s why they’ve hired me as a housekeeper. I want to do an apprenticeship to get my Red Seal to become a chef. I just have to wait for a spot to open up.
FM: All right: that sounds like a good plan. And you’re 22.
No I’m 19!! Just turned 19 in the spring. Lots of people think I’m older than I am, that I’m very mature. That I look and act older than I am.
FM: Well, you are almost caught up already with your age group. You can’t really say that you’re behind your peers. In fact, you’ve got quite a bit more experience, for sure, but also education – broadly speaking – than many of your peers.
Well I do learn fast.
FM: Are we finished?
I think so.