Day 17 - Garry (1st person I approached)
January 17, 2015 - I was in Chinatown this afternoon to meet with and interview someone, for another project that will be coming out soon (yes, I’m teasing you here!). On my way home (I walk everywhere) I saw Garry coming out of a well-known landmark pub. He lit a cigarette and was walking towards me when I introduced myself and told him about this project. At first he didn’t appear as if he was going to even stop, but he did, and said he would be up for chatting.
“As long as my picture doesn’t end up on the side of a milk carton, you can take a photograph,” he said, laughing.
“It’s Garry with two R’s. I didn’t get a middle name,” he joked, “so they gave me an extra letter in my first name!” Garry was born in St Mary’s Village, Orkney. St Mary’s, originally a fishing port, is a small village on the main island of Orkney, off the northeastern tip of Scotland.
“All my family are from there, and still live there,” he said.
Garry is the youngest of four children, with three older sisters.
“I was always the baby to my mother and my sisters,” he said with a sound of pride in his voice.
“I was the last born. My parent's knew when they had reached perfection, with me,” he said. Garry was on form and feeling no pain.
“We've always been a very close family, and still are.” I told Garry that I had gone to high-school in Dundee, Scotland.
“Oh really? I’ve been to Dundee. I’ve been back to Orkney about ten times over the years to visit. They’re my people.”
When Garry was two years old, his family moved to Vancouver.
“I grew up in East Van(couver). My parents had relatives that lived here, that’s how they decided on Vancouver. They immigrated because there was not much promise of a future in Orkney for my sister’s,” he told me.
“I still think about how truly remarkable that was for my parents to do that. They left all of their family behind, in order to secure a better future for their own children.”
“I went to school in East Van. I finished Grade twelve but I never graduated. I went back a few years later and did what I needed to do to graduate. As soon as I left school, I went to work. But they tore down my old school years later. I went to see it after it was demolished, and I grabbed a couple of the old bricks from the main building. I wanted to keep them as souvenirs. Might be silly to some, but it was my school.”
He started working in construction, getting work in roofing.
“I did that for many years,” he told me. He met a woman and they eventually moved over to Courtney, on Vancouver Island.
“We got married over there, and had a kid and everything,” he said. In his early thirties, Garry decided to go to BCIT (British Columbia Institute of Technology) and start an apprenticeship in Carpentry.
“My parents were still alive back then, and they had the house in East Van. It just made sense to stay with them while I was doing the classroom part of the apprenticeship program,” he said. The program was four years long, and Garry’s wife and son stayed in Courtney, while he attended BCIT.
“On April 01st, April Fool’s day, I was at my parent's place, in my childhood bedroom doing some homework. I felt an intense pressure and heat sensation in my head. It was like my brain was in a microwave, getting hot from the centre and spreading out. I suddenly became a child again. I didn’t want to worry my parents, so I calmly went to their room and asked if I could borrow the car, even though my own truck was parked out front. I drove myself to Mount St Joe’s (hospital) and I go in, only to be told they close at 10pm. I said ‘okay,’ and got back in the car, and drove to VGH (Vancouver General Hospital). They knew immediately what was wrong. I had an aneurism rupturing in my brain,” said Garry.
The hospital called his parents to have someone come to the hospital to sign paperwork for them to perform surgery.
“I had taken my parents car. My father told my mother ‘Fuck! He’s still doing it. He stole my damn car again!’ They had to take a taxi to get to the hospital,” he said, laughing at his father’s humour.
“They operated that night, and found five bleeders while they were in there. They figured while they had my noggin open, they’d do what they could to repair as much as possible,” he said. Garry was in hospital until July, four months in total.
“My wife put our son in school over here and moved everything from Courtney.” The marriage came undone through this.
“My wife said I wasn’t the man she had married, and we split,” he told me. Garry eventually went on to become a carpenter, but never went back to school to complete the apprenticeship. “I got what work I could, and made my way through, going from job site to job site.”
He now lives in a Christian Men’s hostel, in the DTES (downtown Eastside of Vancouver).
“I’ve been down here for a while. Yes, I live in the downtown Eastside. I was in and out of treatment, for alcohol. I stayed in a few different church hostels and treatment centres over the years. But I kind of gave up on that. I’ve been where I am now for about two years,” he said. Garry then told me that he had to go and pick up a cheque. He was heading in the same direction I was, so we walked together.
“I’ve been working for a temporary work agency. You show up with workbooks and warm clothes in the morning. Some days there’s work, and somedays there isn’t. The first time I went to this place, I got a job that lasted for seven months. Anyone who says there's no work in this town, is just bloody lazy. You just have to get up off your arse and go look for it, just like I have,” he said.
We arrived at Garry’s destination, and he shook my hand, telling me he had enjoyed our chat.
“I get enough work to make ends meet. That’s why I’m able to go here and pick up a cheque,” he said. “I gave up on treatment, and I’m doing ok.”
I told Garry that I’m a sober alcoholic myself, and that I had never gone into treatment, other than going to AA meetings.
“I did that for a while," he said. "But some of them wanted to shove God down my throat. ‘Grant me the serenity.' Bullshit. I don’t need that. But good on you. Congratulations.” He took my hand and we shook again, as he placed his other hand on my shoulder.
“It was really nice talking with you. Thanks a lot buddy.” #notastranger