Mikyla is a 24-year-old wispy blonde whose return to high school after a patch of drug use and truancy was stabilized by a co-op placement with a lawyer who became a friend and mentor.  This apparent gateway to success ended when he died suddenly.  Soon after he died, she moved in with her fiancé, seven years older, who has a brain tumour that has caused seizures since childhood and is on disability.  His condition has improved significantly with her care.  They care for his two children on alternate weekends.  She has been precariously employed, but attended a work preparation course and plans to soon enter college to take Early Childhood Education.  This was the third interview of the day and I think I wasn’t as sharp as I could have been, and didn’t dig as deeply as I might have.  Mikyla’s story illustrates the value of both giving and receiving support.  

FM:  Let’s start by you telling me something about your family – where you were raised, size and composition, siblings and stuff, what your family did to pay the rent, etc. etc.

We were first raised in Middletown.  I have two brothers, one older, one younger.  I have a step-father.  My biological father passed away when I was little.  My mom met him when I was six and we moved from Middletown to [a small village 20 km. distant] when I was nine, when they got married.  I lived there for three years and then we moved again when I was 12 to Westville.  My parents still live in Westville.  I lived there until I was 21, almost 10 years.

FM: And what did your step-dad do for a living?

My step-father is a truck driver, a weekly truck driver so he’s only home on weekends.  My mom has always been a stay-at-home mom.  When we were living at [the little village] we had to move because they couldn’t afford that house any more.  They were worried about being evicted.  That’s when we decided to move to Westville and they got a house – they’d rented the house in [the little village] and in Middletown but now they bought one.  In Middletown the house we lived in was rent geared to income. 

FM: Was the rent-geared-to-income house a stand-alone house or in a project?

A townhouse in a group with a park in the middle.  The one in [the little village] was a house by itself with its own property.  It was a big house, eight bedrooms, that’s why they had trouble supporting it.  We didn’t need that big a house with a family of five.  It was right on the highway so there wasn’t too many houses around us, a lot of open property so we pretty much had to use our imagination to play.  The one in Westville is surrounded by other houses, but it was still nice and quiet.  When we first moved there, it was mainly older adults, not too many people with children – I guess that’s why it was so quiet.  We walked to school – didn’t have to take the bus, which I liked.  We had to travel to Middletown about 30 minutes away.  I think that’s about the only thing I didn’t like about living out of the cities, there’s not really much to do for fun when you’re young, like movie theatres or malls or arcades. 

FM: Okay.  Maybe start your story with – I was going to say when you moved out, but you were 21 so maybe start with when you finished school.

I finished high school in 2006, should have been 2005 but had some troubles so was out for a year and then came back.  When I was finished school I started a job in a lawyer’s office.  I worked there for two years.  Because when I finished school I was almost 19.  So then I moved out when I was 21.   I do like being on my own but I find it’s hard, it’s not as easy as pie, having all the responsibilities, paying for everything yourself.  Having to do your own laundry, cook your own food, clean up after yourself and pay your own bills, it can be frustrating.

FM: So what was the decision-making process about first, staying at home with your parents when you were first working, and then moving out?

Well, I was in a relationship with my current fiancé and my boss deceased so I had to look for another job   And my fiancé found me another job but I would have to move in with him because I would have to travel and I didn’t have a car and my mom wasn’t willing to drive me back and forth.  So I moved in with him.

That job didn’t last too long so I went the first winter without a job.  He has his own income so that’s how come we were able to afford rent on the place.  He doesn’t work, though; he’s on disability.  He has epilepsy so for the first little while I wasn’t able to work because of having to take care of the seizures, but then they got under control so I was able to go out and work.  I ended up getting a job in the spring of 2010.  It was a six-month job at [an employment preparation program] that helps build your resume, cover letter, interview dos and don’ts.  It ended in October.  Then I got a job at Tim Hortons just as a store-front clerk.  That only lasted a month.   Then I was out of work again for the winter.  Then got another job in the spring of 2011 and that lasted until August.  I quit that job because there were some work issues with that work place.   And I was out of a job from August until March of this year, 2012 and the only job I could get in the spring was a babysitting job and I quit that in May of this year because I got hired at Subway, and that’s where I currently work.  And this job is going really good so I’m hoping I’ll be there for awhile.  Because I’m starting College in January.

FM: In what?

I got accepted in [college] in Middletown in Early Childhood Education.   I really like children and like helping them and I’m good with them. 

FM: You’ve been steaming along here and I have some questions.  For clarification, mostly.  So the work in the lawyer’s office was clerical work?

Yes, I did mortgages, deeds, sales and purchases, faxing, photocopying, bank deposits.

FM: So a good job, probably the best?

Yes, I really did well at that job and enjoyed it as well.  And the boss and I were friends outside of work.  He helped me with a lot of personal stuff in my life.  He was a good guy.  I wasn’t in a good place at that time in my life and he helped me get through it.

FM: Would you expand on that a bit, and also your reference to taking a year off school because of troubles?

I’ll start with the school.  I had trouble skipping class a lot because I was hanging out with the wrong crowd of people, getting into drugs and stuff so I got expelled for five months.  And then I came back and started doing it again, and my mom pulled me out for five months.  And then when school was out for the summer I realized that if I wanted to do anything with my life I needed an education.  So I went back to school and got my diploma.

FM: What led to that turn-around? 

I don’t really know.  I guess hanging out with the group of friends that were thinking the same.  And just hanging out with my best friend, if I want to go to college and become anything I need a diploma.  So I smartened up and went back to school, didn’t skip any more, got out of drugs, that was that.  I think a lot of that had to do with my boss.  Because I was co-oping for him when I was in school and then he hired me when I graduated.  And he helped me with a lot of that. 

FM: And then he died.

Yes, he had a massive heart attack at 60.  It really affected me because we were really close.  At first I didn’t believe it when the neighbour beside where we worked told me.  She told me and I had to ask her if she was joking because I’d just been talking to him that day, because we made plans for the next day. 

FM: And the move out of your mom’s house took place right about then?

Yeah, shortly after he passed, couple of months after he passed.  I got hired at another place to work so I had to move.  And that was Eastville. 

FM: You said that job didn’t last long.

No.  I’ve never had a job through the winter except for that lawyer’s job. 

FM: So no fault of yours, the job just stopped?

The first one was a misunderstanding between the workplace and me.  I caught the Swine Flu and the manager forgot to tell the new manager that I was at home in bed for a week, so when I was better and went to get my schedule, they thought I’d quit and asked for my shirt back.  So that was just a misunderstanding. 

FM: A bit of a come-down in work from working for a lawyer.

Yes, working in a convenience store.  But unless you have a certificate or a degree or are going to college for that, places in Middletown wouldn’t hire me.  I know because I tried.  And then [the work preparation program], that ended in six months.  With Tim Hortons, to this day I don’t know the reason why they fired me, they just said for the sake of the corporation, it’s best I don’t work for them.  I think it was because I hurt my left hand at work.  It had to be wrapped for a week, I pulled a muscle and ended up getting carpel tunnel.  And there you work the till and also do one secondary job, but with my hand I could only work the till. Because a week later I got fired, but they didn’t tell me a reason.  It would have been nice to know a reason so I could work on it for my next job. 

So then I went the winter again with no income.  Which has been rough.  With only my fiancé having an income, we can’t afford food, we can only afford the roof over our head.  Which I’m thankful for.  So then I got hired at a gas station in the spring.  I worked there until July/August.  I quit that place because of work issues there.

FM: What kind?

Money issues.  They would tell me my till is short when I counted it at the end of my shift.  It was always about $100 short and that was because my manager was taking it.  But I had no proof.  Who’s going to believe me over the manager? He’s been there a couple of years.  So. But what got me to quit was I asked for a particular day off because I had a wedding to go to.  I told him that a month in advance.  He was fine with but when the time came he had me working that day and gave the day off to the new girl.  She’d only been there a week whereas I’d been there four months, finished my probation, so I had seniority, but… 

FM: Tell me about how you met your fiancé.

Okay.  I met him during the winter when I was still working at the lawyer’s office in 2008.  I met him at the movies.  He was out with his friends.  I was out with my friends.  There was one ticket left and he let me have it.  So that sorta made us click, started us talking.  So we started hanging out with each other more often, and then about Christmas we decided we were officially ‘dating’.  And then June 2009 that’s when he asked me to move in with him because of the job.

FM: Would you have moved in with him if it hadn’t been necessary for the job?

I think so.  I think maybe not as soon as then but I think he would have asked me eventually.  We make each other very happy. We’re good together as a couple.  We have very open communication.  Very different from my other relationships.   He proposed to me last year.

FM: What’s the nature of his disability? 

Epilepsy.  He also has two children, so I’m a step-mom. 

FM: Okay.  What ages? 

His son is eight and his daughter is five.

FM: And they live with him?

No, they live with their mother so we get them every other weekend. And if we want them any other times.  They have a good relationship between them.  We all get along for the sake of the kids.

FM: That’s good. 

My mom doesn’t understand it but I think it’s good for the children to know Mommy and Daddy can’t live together but they can get along even though they’re not together.  We go to things together, all of us.  It’s good. 

FM: But your mom has a different view.

Yes.  That’s because of my step-dad and his ex-wife.  They don’t get along and never did so she thinks that’s how it should be.  Or she’s saying you better watch her because she might do something, when you’re married, she might do something.  And I say, no.  Because she hasn’t, and now when we’re engaged…

FM: I forgot my protocol here.  We need to go back and number the moves to form sort of the backbone of this story.  So here goes.

FM: Well, that was easy, only one move.  I got confused in my mind with all the jobs.

Well, we’re thinking of moving from out of the place we’re in, in the country.  Maybe just a little closer to the city so it’s not so far to drive.  But we can’t find a place that we can afford with how many bedrooms we need.

FM: Do you mean near to Middletown so you can go to school?

Or thinking maybe of moving into Middletown, into the housing they have for students.

FM: You have a vehicle, I take it. 

Yes, it’s just not on the road right now.  I can’t afford the insurance right now.  We got it last year.  I have my G2.  Now we did have it on the road for a year.  We paid the insurance for a whole year, June to June.  But in March the car quit, needed some work on the transmission.  But we parked it because we didn’t have the money, so that was until June it sat. 

FM: Can your fiancé drive - because of his epilepsy?

Well, we’ve been approved by his neurologist but the family doctor doesn’t advise it right now.  He wants him to wait a little while longer.  So hopefully next year he can get his G1.  And he’s 31.

FM: Is his condition chronic, since he was a child?

Yes, he’s had it since he was three or four, his whole life pretty much.

FM: And what’s the prognosis?

It has to do with a brain growth, a tumour.  He has a tumour on the left side of his brain and they believe that’s what’s causing the epilepsy. But it’s not getting bigger or smaller and that’s good, but they have to keep an eye on it to see it doesn’t get bigger.  And the family doctor is surprised he’s not in a wheelchair because of where it’s located on the brain.  So his daughter has been tested to make sure she doesn’t have it, because it can be hereditary.  But his son is not biologically his, although he’s the only father he’s had since he was a baby. 

FM: Will that influence your decision about whether or not to have children?

No.  He wants more children.  I want to have my own some day.  The doctor just said when it’s time, he’ll do some tests to see if he still can, because he’s 31.  And there’s some issues in my family, when you get to a certain age, and I’m getting close. By the time we’re ready he’ll be almost 40 when we have our first one.  So the doctor said he’d have to do some tests just to be sure.  And then they’ll have to watch my pregnancy, too, just to be sure the baby is healthy. 

FM: Okay, so you have some challenges looking forward.  And it seems likely that you will be the primary bread-winner in your family. 

Yes.  Which doesn’t bother me.  I like working, like being busy.  I’m going to wait awhile before I have a family because I do want to stay home with them for the first five years, which is the most important.  So we have to wait until we can afford, if not the five  years, at least the first year.  But that’s why I like the ECE because I can open up my own day care and that way I could stay at home. 

FM: Okay, I have some finish-up questions if that’s where we’re at.  Is there anything more that comes to mind? 

No, I’ve pretty much said my whole life.

FM: Okay.  Then.  To give your story some focus and shape for people who will read it: What would you say is the Most Important Event in the story?  Could be something that happened, or something that didn’t happen. 

[long pause]

I guess it would have to be when I moved out.  Life just got harder, not having a job for the winter, trying to afford the bills through the winter.  And him having epilepsy too, that was hard at first to get used to, to not be worried all the time, when I was away at work or when I was sleeping.  It took me forever to be comfortable sleeping, worried that he would have one and I wouldn’t wake up. 

FM: How much can you do when he has a seizure?

Well there isn’t really much you can do.  The only thing you can do is to make sure there isn’t anything around that can hurt him, so if he’s on the floor, move back the furniture.  And make sure he’s on his side so he doesn’t choke on his tongue.  Other than that, that’s it.  Now, if he’s hit his head when he went down then I have to call 911 for sure because he could get a concussion.  And then calling 911, it depends how bad the seizure is, because there’s different types.  Like grande-mal, they seize and they’re in it for a long time, and then there’s a petite mal which they don’t seize very much and they’re not in it for very long, only for a couple of minutes.

FM: What kind does he get usually?

Well, when we first got together it was grande-mals and after a year and a half, they started slowing down and they were petite-mals.  A lot of it depends on his surroundings.  Like heat, stress, going from hot to cold, like stepping out of a hot to cold room.  I think the major part was stress, because when he and I met, he’d just broken up with his ex, the mother of his children.  A year and a half later they started slowing down.  I tried helping him with his stress levels.  Making sure there wasn’t anyone around who would stress him. Making sure I didn’t stress him.  Keeping him out of the heat in the summers when he didn’t have to be.  It seemed to work.  He doesn’t now even have petit mals.   He’s gone a whole year without having any kind of seizure.  He’s still on medication, though, because he could have one at any time.  He just gets the symptoms when he’s going to have one.  Like when he’s going to have one, he licks his lips or has a headache or get dizzy.  So now he just complains about having a headache or feeling dizzy, and he sits and relaxes and he’s okay.  i think a lot of it has to do with how much medication he was on, he was on a lot, and now he’s only on a third of that.  He has an appetite now; before he didn’t want to eat.  Before he was zombified; now he’s alert. 

FM: Who took care of him before you moved in, after the wife moved out?

He had a roommate.  We met about eight or nine months after she moved out, so he got a roommate because his seizures were really bad then, because of all that stress. 

FM: So perhaps if things continue to go well, he might be able to get a job of some sort?

Well, he has to finish high school first.  He didn’t finish high school because his seizures were so bad when he was a teenager.  Which he wants to do, and I said I’d help him with that.  So he does have some goals for himself, which he didn’t before we met.  So I think I helped him with that.  And eventually, hopefully he’ll get his G1.  He’s always feeling down on himself because he has to rely on others all the time.  So I think if he got his G1, that would help with that, and also finishing school would help get him off disability, so he could find work.  But it’s hard to say because he’s never worked anywhere before so that could be a lot of stress on him so he could get seizures again.  So it would have to be a step-by-step process. 

FM: Right.  Okay, next finish-up question, the judgement.  Which you’ve already addressed, perhaps, to some extent. The question is:  For those who read this story, they’ll want to know how is it going to end up.  Is it going to end well or not so well.  How do you think this story will unfold, are you optimistic or not so much about the eventual outcome?

What do you mean, optimistic?

FM: By that I mean do you feel that your story will likely have a happy ending, or not so happy.  Optimistic is looking at the bright side.

It’s definitely going to have a happy ending.  Because I’m a very happy person.  We always try to stay positive in very stressful situations.  Like everything will work out, we’ll always find a way.  Our happy ending will be moving out of our apartment that we’re in, finding a better place and getting married one day.  The place that we’re in isn’t so good so we’re looking forward to something better.   

FM: You do strike me as a glass half-full sort of person.

And I’m always quoting there’s always a silver lining, the grass is always greener.  That’s been helpful from my fiancé, he helps me with that.   He’s a very positive person, very positive, which is good.

FM: Which might have been really necessary for him

Yes, to stay positive is really important, really good, with his condition. 

FM: Okay, two more questions about advice.  What advice would you give your younger self, whether or not your younger self would take the advice, that you think would make this story more likely to have a positive outcome? 

[long pause]

I think the advice I would give my younger self would be don’t skip school, just stay right through.  Have a job through school – I never did – so I could have got a car sooner, I could have stayed at home longer if I’d wanted to. Like I still love the fact that I moved out but part of me wishes I’d have stayed longer.  But I don’t want to change everything because then I wouldn’t have met my fiancé.  If I went to college right out of high school, I wouldn’t have met him.  And I think I met him for a reason, to help me be more positive about myself.  I think I needed that in my life.  And to help him.

FM: So you’re saying it might look uneven from the outside looking in, but really it’s a pretty equitable relationship, about even with give and take.

Yeah. 

FM: Okay, last question.  What advice would you give to those of us who would like to be helpful to young people like yourself.  What should we do?

The advice I’d give is to make more youth programs available and maybe change the age bracket to 35 or 40, well maybe 35, that’d be pushing it.  Just because some, like my fiancé, have never worked and if he got off disability now, he wouldn’t know where to begin.  Like the youth program would help him to build a resume and do interviews and he can’t join any of that because he’s over 30.  It helped me, I loved it, I’d like to do it again and again and again, but you can’t.  You can only do it once.

FM: Let me ask what was so great about it, the [work preparation program] experience?

Well, I’ll have to say the people for sure who taught it, they’re amazing at teaching.  And if you just needed someone to talk to, they were there.  The people they picked to be in it, they were great as well so I met some new friends.  We all kinda helped each other, even with personal life.  I learned some new skills.  I learned now to renovate a house now if I ever need to.  I know how to use power tools, I’m not so afraid of them any more.  And it really did help me with my resume and my letter writing.  I have one that just pops out at you now.  And I know how to do interviews better now.  Like I don’t get nervous with interviews as much as I used to, which is good.

FM: Did [the program] have anything to do with you getting to College?

Yes.  Actually.  They got me thinking about it more because that was also one of the topics they brought up.  So I got to thinking about it more.  And the first occupation I picked was paramedic because I wanted to do that since I was four.  But I didn’t have all the curriculum because I never took biology or chemistry.  And I talked to a professor at [the college] and he told me he didn’t think I’d be able to do it because of my height and size, and I don’t have upper body strength so I’d have to work very hard on that.  So I decided to go with secretary, I thought I was going to do that but I changed my mind because I can get bored very easily.  So I thought I’d get bored later on just doing paper work and paper work and paper work.  So I thought what else am I good at.  My fiancé and all my friends said maybe you should do something with children, you’re very good with them and like to help them, so I said ECE.

But with ECE I want to work in the nursery ward in the hospital or in a treatment centre for special children, like children with behaviour problems or behavioural or emotional disabilities because I like helping others, but especially children. 

FM: Okay, that’s the end of my questions.  Is there anything else?

Not that I can think of.