Ricky-Bobby is an attractive lanky youth, 20 years old, who slouched into the interviewing office and spent much of the first part of the interview writhing in the chair and running his hands through his hair and declaring that he ‘didn’t know if he could do this’. I had considerable difficulty getting a handle on him while he expounded at length and with emotion about the challenges of entering the work force. There was an abrupt change of physical demeanour and engagement at the point in the interview where he says “Wow”. At the end of the interview, he stood up, initiated a formal and serious shaking of my hand and thanked me for the ‘really good’ interview. While we were waiting for his narrative to print so that he could take a copy with him, he indicated he intended to make amends with his step-father in order to get the guidance he needed to get unstuck.
Justin is a skinny, sharp-featured 20-year-old man who wiggled both his legs through the entire interview while he told a twisted and confusing tale about a rough-sounding family that he left at 14, and his subsequent descent into substance abuse, gang involvement and probably criminal activity. He has fathered two children, each of whom are in the care of their maternal grandparents – or were, by the time his current partner, Star, participated in the research a few weeks after his interview.
Manny is a gangly 20-year-old youth with a deep voice who learned about the project through his welfare worker. I interviewed him in the house he rents with two room-mates just outside downtown Lakeville. It was clean, sparsely furnished and obviously housed heavy smokers. There was a list of tasks on the dining room table, where we met, and the yard was well kept, so my conclusion was that a rather grizzled old guy who came into the kitchen to get a cup of coffee while we were meeting is the roommate or landlord who pro-actively manages the property. Manny monitored the screen very closely and seemed intent on producing a well-phrased narrative. He careened into odd humour on occasion and then edited it out. I didn’t ask about mental health diagnoses because he had very affirmatively written ‘healthy!!!’ on the information form, where it asked about health, including mental health and substance use. He indicates he was a client of the local children’s mental health agency for much of his childhood.
SC is 20, a slim blonde person with an androgynous name (I was expecting a guy) and pink dyed hair who self-describes as transgendered and specified she wouldn’t indicate either male or female on the app form. She was referred by an employment agency and was expecting to be philosophical rather than to talk about her personal experience. However, she allowed herself to be ‘peeled’ and I had the impression she moved fairly quickly to enjoying the process of making me work hard to get to know her. I found her very intelligent and articulate, well-grounded in herself and quite charming. In some ways, hers is the ‘classical’ story – bright girl from rural middle-class family kept to a strict and contained life and can’t wait to get to the big city to have a ‘normal’ life – but with some interesting twists and insights, including a found family. She is insightful about the potential value of extra-curricular activities and the downside of prioritizing sports.
Star is a young-looking 20-year-old, the partner of Justin who had earlier participated in the research. At that time, the couple and their 4-month old baby were staying with friends in Littletown after being kicked out of the ‘family farm’ in a small settlement 20 minutes away. Two months later, at the time of this interview, they are couch-surfing in Middletown and have lost custody of their son to her mother, under child welfare supervision. Star, an only child within an extended family, felt she was raised ‘on lockdown’ in the country with a mother who perhaps neglected her. She had difficulty with authority from a young age, began drinking at 9, and considers marijuana use essential to managing her behaviour. A bright spot in her life was playing hockey. She is struggling with wanting ‘freedom’ but at the same time qualifying to regain care of her child.
Kailey, 20, was referred by the Adult Ed Centre and I chose to include her, even though she was living with an aunt and uncle in [a city other than the selected destinations]. The interview took place in their lovely home. Kailey is a tiny woman – 5’, 96 pounds – and looks a bit odd at first glance, because of a chronic genetic condition, we learn. A major theme is an abusive relationship with a controlling older man, rooted in the vulnerability of feeling isolated from her peers because of her physical condition. The interview was rushed at the end by my being late for my next appointment so I sent Kailey her narrative by e-mail which resulted in an extended conversation, some of which has been added to this narrative with her permission.
Kelly is 21, raised in a melded entrepreneurial family, living with her mother whose second marriage just broke up. Kelly is working at a minimum-wage job with a relative while she tries to arrange a co-op to fulfill her requirements for an electrical engineering technician diploma. And wondering, even though she chose it carefully, loved it and did well at it, whether she had made a wrong choice of career. She has a limited local social life and conjectures about why local kids see recreation as going to the bar when visitors come for other things to do. Her brother, Bill, is also a participant in this research.
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.