Day 36 - Ken (1st person I approached)
February 05, 2015 - I never know who is going to agree to chat with me. I’m glad that I’ve become comfortable enough to get to a place where I no longer take an inventory of someone before approaching them. Ken had no socks on, and was wearing sandals. It was raining. But in Vancouver, if you let the sandals in the rain stop you from talking to people, that would cut down the number of opportunities. The same goes with people wearing shorts all year round. Outer wear, like the outer person, doesn’t necessarily give an accurate insight into a person.
Ken was sitting outside of a local coffee shop, inside a mall. As soon as I asked him if he would chat with me, he agreed. There was no resisting my taking his photograph either.
“I was born in Edmonton (Alberta),” he told me.
“I have one brother. I’m the eldest, he’s three years younger. He was like a buddy when we were kids. Most of the time, anyway,” said Ken, with a gentle smile on his face. He was taking a sip of his coffee in between each question I asked.
"My brother and I, we hung around together as kids. My father went hunting and fishing, but he never took us boys. He went with his own buddies," said Ken.
“Yeah, I went to school in Edmonton too. Elementary and high-school. I finished school, and got my GED (General Education Development) certificate.” I was having difficultly hearing Ken, he’s very soft spoken. No matter how many times I asked him to repeat something, he delivered the answer in the same calm, even tone. I asked him what his favourite thing about school was.
“The weekend,” he replied. This time his smile was quite a bit wider, and there was an element of youthful cheekiness that flashed across his face.
“No, I didn’t care for school,” he said.
His father worked in construction as a plasterer, and after graduating, Ken went into construction as well.
“He didn't get me a job or anything. We never worked together. I worked as a labourer when I started out,” he told me.
“Then I got into working with concrete. Pouring it, later on.”
In 1986, Ken moved to Vancouver.
“The weather. That’s why we moved, mostly,” he said.
“It was me and my family. I was married by then. I met my wife in Edmonton, and after we’d been married for about six years, we had our daughter. Then we moved here. I continued working in construction,” he said. About six years later, in 1992, Ken and his wife separated.
A blonde woman approached the table where Ken and I were chatting. She told me she was a friend of Ken’s. I explained my project to her, and that Ken and I were chatting about his life. I said we wouldn’t be much longer. She offered to walk around and come back, but I invited her to have a seat. She asked Ken if he minded if she stayed.
“No, that’s fine,” he said, taking a few hurried sips of his coffee.
I asked how Ken and his friend knew each other.
“From the hospital. She’s looks after me,” he says.
“I live in the hospital and she comes out for walks with me and makes sure I’m okay,” says Ken, smiling. He’s in hospital with mental health issues. I tell him that I’ve availed myself of the services at that same hospital, as an outpatient. I let him know that part of the reason I had started this project, was as a way of working through my own mental health issues with depression. His face softened, he looked right at me and said,
“Oh. Really?” We talked about people being quick to make judgments about others and mental health issues. I ask Ken how long he’s been living at the hospital for.
“I don’t know exactly,” he says.
“A long time.” He doesn’t remember if he went to the hospital by himself to seek support or if something happened that put him in hospital.
His friend suggests that Ken tell me about what he likes to do. She tells me that sometimes the medication he takes effects his short-term memory. She says to Ken 'Why don't you tell him about your writing?' Ken looks from her to me.
“I don’t write,” he says.
“Not like a writer. I like to read books. I like reading about mysticism,” he tells me. His friend stands up and excuses herself, saying she’ll be right back.
“I got into reading about mysticism after I had finished with all the partying. I had done that for years and a girlfriend at the time was a Christian. That’s how I got interested in it,” said Ken.
“I wouldn’t say drugs were really an issue, It depends how you define an issue. I used to smoke marijuana, but I don’t think of that has a hard drug,” he tells me. I tell him that it sounds like he didn’t do hard drugs, like heroin.
“Yeah. I did heroin. For a short period of time. I guess you could say I had a born again moment. I was raised Catholic, but I converted to Christianity. Now, I’m interested in Spirituality. I’m not a religious person,” he says. I tell Ken that I once, as a kid, told someone that I was a prostitute, instead of protestant. Ken gave hearty laugh at that tidbit. That was the extent of my religious upbringing.
“I hope to be moving out of the hospital soon," Ken tells me.
"I’m looking into getting a place of my own. Maybe by the springtime. Not right here in Vancouver, but out in the suburbs. Where it’s quieter,” he says. I ask if he see’s his daughter.
“No, not that much,” he says, finishing his coffee.
I take a few photo’s of Ken. I ask if he wants to smile after I’ve taken a couple of pictures. I get no response. I show him the photo’s I’ve taken. He smiles and shakes my hand. His hand is warm and very soft. I see his friend walking over towards us again. She’s smiling. Ken gets up and waits for her. I thank Ken for his time, and say goodbye to his friend. They smile, turn and walk away. #notastranger