Day 182 - Mallette (1st person I approached)
July 01, 2014 - Mallette was laying on the grass, in the shade under a tree, in a quiet corner of a park. I wasn’t sure if he was asleep or not, so I did my best not to startle him. I failed. I told Mallette about my project and asked if I could chat with him. It was a really hot day and I had been out walking for an hour, so I was happy and grateful that he said yes. I sat down on the grass out of the sun and we chatted for about twenty minutes.
Mallette was born on a First Nation reserve in St Boniface, Winnipeg. He is the third oldest of eight children.
“I’m half native. My granny, my father’s mother was Scottish. My father had been married before I was born so my older brother and sister are my half brother and sister, but they’re family to me,” he said.
“There’s eighteen years between the oldest kid and the youngest, so there was always little ones in our house,” he said. I mentioned that I know Winnipeg is a big arts and culture centre in Canada, with lots of drama. Then I clarified that I meant lots of drama as in theatre. Mallette laughed and said
“Lots of drama on the streets too!” He went to school on the reserve. “It wasn’t a residential school, no. It was on the reserve though. I went home every night. I went there for elementary and then high school as well,” said Mallette.
“My father was also named Mallette, but I don’t know why or what it means to our family.”
After high school, Mallette went to college.
“I wanted to become a mechanic. I’ve always liked taking things apart and figuring them out, and how they work. So I went to college but I only stayed there for a year. I think I was too young and didn’t really have the focus. I wanted to party and have a good time,” he said. Mallette left college after one year.
“I worked mostly in construction. Labourer, carrying supplies around, moving drywall. I did that for a while,” said Mallette. He had spent some time thinking about what he wanted to do with his future, and decided to go back to school.
“I went to university. I wanted to become a teacher. Teaching little kids, like kindergarten or grade one. Not high-school. I didn’t want to teach kids that felt that they already knew everything!” he said laughing.
“No, I thought it would be great to work with little kids. So I went to university. That only lasted for a year though. School just isn’t for me,” he says.
Once again, Mallette started working in construction.
“I started learning to do more things in construction. I was doing drywall, roofing, masonry work. I was driving a backhoe. They were good skills to have and kept me working,” he said. Mallette got into a long term relationship.
“The woman I was with had three children from a previous relationship. We were together for ten years and I helped raise the kids. But she was so angry and hurt and damaged. After ten years we were done. She had been in a residential school as a child and that pretty much fucked her up for life,” he said.
“She died from cancer about a year after we split.” It was easy to see that Mallette was deeply affected by this. He was fidgeting with his back pack that was on the grass next to him. Then he reached inside the bag and pulled out a can of beer. We sat together in silence for a few minutes. He opened the beer, took a good swig, looked at me and smiled.
I asked Mallette if he minded telling me what had happened to his left shoulder. It looks like his clavicle bone had broken and was out of place.
“I was riding my machine (he gestures to his bicycle on the grass next to us) and I might have had a few too many beers. I ran into a car and flipped over and injured my shoulder, dislocating it. I didn’t get it looked at and the bone healed wrong. There’s nothing that can be done now because the bones have fused together,” he says while rotating his arm around.
“It doesn’t hurt. I know it looks like it might, but I’ve still got mobility in it, for now.”
Mallette met another woman and they had two daughters together.
“I’m thinking I'm not very good at relationships. I became her punching bag essentially. Both emotionally and physically. That didn’t last long and she kicked me out. That’s when I decided to move to Vancouver. I’ve been here for about ten years now, I was forty when I moved out here, and there’s been lots of work in construction,” he said. Mallette told me that he has a good relationship with one of his daughters who lives in Toronto. He has lost contact with his other daughter.
“I went back to Winnipeg about five years ago and saw their mother. She wouldn’t tell me anything or let me know about my kids,” he said.
After ten more years working in construction, Mallette tells me the work is taking a toll on his body.
“I’m fifty now and I don’t have the same agility that I once had. My legs are bad and so I’ve decided to make a change. I have a friend that owns a garage and he’s paying me to work with him, and he’s teaching me to be a mechanic. Back where I started, but I’m really enjoying it. I’m working, getting paid and learning something new. I like to keep my mind busy. I might get my certification when I’m done. If I get my red seal (certificate) then I can work anywhere in the country. But for now, I’m happy to be working and learning,” he said.
Mallette has an apartment in Surrey, but likes to spend most of his time closer to the Vancouver core.
"I have some friends that I can crash at their place if I don’t want to ride home. But I also don’t mind sleeping outside. Sometimes I feel a little claustrophobic. I like being outside. I have friends, and I have my job, but I also like spending a lot of my time on my own. I enjoy my own company and being outside just feels good. I prefer it,” he said.
I thanked Mallette for his time and for talking with me. I then asked to take his picture. I show him the photograph I've taken and he smiles.
“Yeah, that’s me. Thanks a lot for talking with me. Sometimes it’s really nice just to talk to somebody. Thank you.” #notastranger