Day 149 - Emily (1st person I approached)
May 29, 2014 - Emily was in a store that I had walked past when I first spotted her. I slowed down my pace, hoping she’d soon be behind me. Sure enough, she steered her wheelchair in my direction and smiled when I turned around and asked her to chat.
“Hello Colin. I’m Emily, how do you do?” she said with a soft, comforting and gentle voice. Emily was born at Vancouver General Hospital, just a couple of blocks from where we were talking.
“I have one older sister, but she’s kind of well, weird. She was always a bit of a loner, and me, I’m a social butterfly,” she says as she waves to someone walking past us. Emily tells me about elementary school and high school. In her final two years she went to a high school that focused specifically on Business.
“I don’t even remember what I had to do to go there, whether it was based on my previous grades, or by choice. I don’t know if way back then you could decide what school you went to. But I learned about office related things, secretarial work, and administration,” she said.
After high school, at 17 years old, Emily said she
“did the stupidest thing I have ever done in my life. I ran away from home.” I asked her where the motivation to run away came from.
"Mother and Father were very strict. We weren’t allowed to watch television. Or talk on the phone. We couldn’t have friends in to the house. And when we were allowed out, Friday night we had to be home by 9:00pm. So I packed a little typewriter case and left,” she said. Emily wasn’t even sure where she was going to go.
“I had been to the Okanagan and liked it there, so I decided to hitch-hike. I got a little job and found a place to stay, and I was on my own,” she said. Another lady in a wheel chair stopped where Emily and I were chatting. Emily introduced us and then they chatted for a minute and the lady left.
In the Okanagan, Emily met a man and they got married. Her husband became abusive and things quickly went down hill.
“Back then no one spoke much about spousal abuse. He would beat me severely about seven times a year, and I was too afraid to leave. He would threaten me if I spoke about it.” Eventually Emily called her mother and told her she was in trouble.
“My mother told me to come home. When I came back, there were heaps of presents from the Christmases I had missed. I was so touched. I realized how much I had hurt my parents by leaving them,” said Emily.
"My mother and I became very good friends after that." Her second marriage wasn’t physically abusive, but it was mentally abusive.
“My second husband would tell me that anything I did I couldn’t finish. That I would never be good enough for anything. He liked to play mind games,” she said.
“I used to throw great house parties. My second husband was a cab driver and one of his friends came to a party we had. I don’t know what it was, but I felt a spark there between his friend and I. Of course I was still with my husband at the time. This man called a few days later and asked if I had felt what he had - a spark between us. We would talk on the phone every day for hours at a time. But I never saw him again until my second husband and I had separated,” said Emily. By now Emily had waved at four people that had passed us by.
The man with the spark would become Emily’s third husband.
"He was verbal, he swore a lot, but in time he softened. He told me I had changed him. He became my soul mate. Sadly he left me ten years ago when he passed away. I’ve been on my own since then,” Emily said.
Emily has been a diabetic since her mid 30’s. She had kidney problems and while in hospital had a reaction to some medication, which caused her limbs to swell. She has not been able to walk, and has been in a wheelchair for four years.
“I go for dialysis three times a week. But that’s really my only problem. I live in an extended care unit and they're working with me to see if I can learn to walk again. I go to the corner and back, but I’m a very happy person. I get up with a smile on my face, I always try to have a nice word to say to people and I’m always smiling,” she says.
Today Emily had been out with her friend that had stopped by to say hello.
“We got some training on how to get on and off a bus with our wheelchairs. I get out and about every day, but now that I know how to get on and off the bus, I feel so free!” I asked Emily about her fascinator (hat decoration).
“Oh, these are my signature. I have 23 of them. Red and black, turquoise and black. I try to always coordinate them with my outfits. I’ve always cared about my hair and I just like how they look when I wear them. Everyone knows they are my signature. I have 23 bracelets as well. I spend my money on clothes. It feels good to dress nicely.” #notastranger