Day 176 - Mary (4th person I approached)
June 25, 2014 - Mary was sitting on a low concrete wall in the shade, under a collection of trees, on the edge of hospital property. She was wearing pyjamas, a hoodie and flip-flops. She was smoking a cigarette and looking at her phone with earphones in. I made a wide circle in front of Mary so to not startle her. She didn’t have her music on loud and heard me right away. She smiled and agreed to chat with me when I explained what I was doing.
Mary was born in El Paso, Texas.
“My father was in the military and I was raised on many different army bases. We moved so many times I couldn’t even tell you the number,” she said. Her father is American Dutch and her mother was Canadian First Nations.
“I am the second oldest of eight children. That meant a lot of responsibility and helping out with the younger kids,” she said.
“In school, I always seemed to be the new kid. I went to schools that were off the military base. I got used to standing in front of the class and telling them stuff about me.” Mary’s grandfather raised her father with strict discipline.
“My grandfather was the sheriff of the town my Dad grew up in. He was a violent man, and used violence with my father when he was young. My father was very violent as well,” said Mary.
“When I was eleven years old, I got put in a foster home. My younger siblings had already gone into care. My older brother and I stayed with my dad for a while, but we ended up in care as well," she said. Mary told me that she ran away from her foster homes a lot.
“I wanted to be with my parents. I didn’t understand what was going on or why I couldn’t be at home.” I asked her if looking back, she felt it was a good thing to have been removed from the violence at home with her father.
“Absolutely. Once you break the chain, the violence stops. The next generation don’t have to suffer in the same way,” she told me. Mary got pregnant and had her first child at age 14.
“My mother is from Boston Bar (British Columbia), and I went there and spent some time with my uncle on the reserve when I was pregnant. That was my first time in BC,” she said.
Upon returning to the United States, Mary went into a young mothers care program.
“I had to stay, I wanted to be with my baby. I was told that if I ran away again, they’d put my child in care,” she said. Mary left the care system at age 18. By the time she was 20, Mary had four children.
“I completed high school. I had to take some time off when I was pregnant, but I managed to finish school. Sometimes my father would come and drive me to make sure I got there,” said Mary. With her mother being First Nations, Mary applied for her Status Card.
“That enabled me to go to school in BC. I went to Kwantlen College to train to become a Medical Office Assistant. I also took Early Childhood Education courses. I didn’t really enjoy school. My father told me I had to be focussed and go to all the classes. He also told me that he’d give me $100 for every ‘A’ I got. So I worked hard and that cost him a bit of money!” she said laughing.
Mary is now 35 years old. She has had four more children.
“After the first four, I didn’t have any kids for five years. Then again, every two years I had another child. Now I have eight kids. My father's thrilled. He had mostly boys and now I have seven daughters, so my Dad is happy that he has granddaughters,” she said.
“There definitely have been some tough times. My aunt and uncle have been a great support. They’ve looked after some of the kids when it’s gotten too much for me. But we’ve made it through. We’re all together again. My oldest child, my son, is 20 now and he’s everything I could have ever wanted him to be. He’s handsome, and kind and polite and smart. He’s a good young man,” said Mary.
I asked Mary how she was doing today.
“I’m doing ok. I’ve been in hospital for a couple of days. I had surgery about a month ago and I had an allergic reaction to the stitches. The incision got infected and it wasn’t looking so good. I’m going to be here for another couple of days. They’re giving me antibiotics through the drip. I’m just waiting for my husband to come by and see me. I want to see my babies,” she said. Mary’s youngest child is 18 months old. She shows me the names of all eight of her children tattooed on her left arm. I asked her what she did after completing her medical office assistant's course.
“I didn’t do anything. My ex-husband sued me for alimony and he won. It’s so not fair. I decided that if I wasn’t woking then I wouldn’t have any money to give him. So I’m staying home and looking after my family. It’s the best job there is. I get paid in love. Some of the sweetest sentiments I’ve ever heard have come from my children. I love my babies!” #notastranger