March 31, 2015 - Mathew (1st person I approached)
I went out early this morning and spent a leisurely hour or so just sitting in my favourite local coffee shop. No agenda, just reading news, drinking coffee, perusing my personal Facebook, daydreaming, and drinking more coffee. The sun was shining and I’m feeling decidedly better than I have for the past week. So often walking through, rather than around something, is the shortest route. It takes the time it takes.
I headed out to find today’s story, and I thought I’d check a little park near my house that I’ve not been to recently. I saw Mathew standing next to a picnic table, looking at his phone, smoking a cigarette. I walked over and, explaining what I’m doing with my project, asked if he would chat with me. He readily agreed, and then went to deposit his cigarette butt in a nearby trashcan, telling me he doesn't litter.
I recently made the decision to not have a ‘connected’ phone; no calls, no internet. When I’m not at home, I rely on picking up wifi hotspots, or I wait until I’m at home. It’s been about six weeks since I changed this, and so far, so good. Although I'm not sure what my mother thinks. Anyway, my point in sharing this is that I couldn’t show Mathew my page or website. So I showed him some photos of folk I’ve chatted with recently, to hopefully validate what I’m doing. He told me he recognized Jazzy, who I met just last week. His decision to chat and let me take his photo was based purely in trust. It’s a beautiful thing to have a stranger trust you.
“I was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia,” he said, with the same sense of pride that everyone who comes from Halifax has in their voice.
“My father’s Dutch and my mother Irish.” Mathew has one sister, seven years older.
“We weren’t particularly close as kids. In part because she was older. She wanted a beagle, not a brother,” he said, smiling.
“We were both introverts, and had different ways of dealing with that. She masked it with exuberance and I just smiled at people,” he said.
As children, the family moved around a fair bit.
“The economy was rough on the east coast, sort of the way it’s getting here now. My father was a baker and we moved between the Dartmouth and Halifax area quite a lot. There was always a new elementary school,” he told me.
“That made it difficult to keep up. Particularly in French. Each school seemed to be at a different place in the curriculum, so I never caught up. There was one teacher who took an interest. He spent time with a group of kids, and he wanted to help us out. I remember one day he was so tired of our mucking around and being foolish. He brought in some music and played ‘We don’t need no education’ (Another Brick in the Wall) from Pink Floyd. We thought that was hilarious!” Mathew said, laughing.
“My parents divorced when I was about ten years old. We stayed in Nova Scotia for a few years, until I was fourteen, I guess,” said Mathew.
“My mother, my sister and I climbed into a UHaul van and drove across the country to Vancouver. Seven days,” he said, shaking his head.
“I went to high-school here. They put me into an advanced program. I was a pretty bright kid.”
At sixteen years old, Mathew moved out of his mother’s home.
“I moved in with my girlfriend at the time, from school,” he said. I mentioned that was pretty young, and asked how his mother felt.
“After seven days in a truck with her and my sister, I told them, ‘I’m done with you people!’ and moved out.” He didn’t quite graduate school.
“I did Grade twelve but I had to complete a few courses. I just didn’t see the need, or the relevance. You know at that age, you think you’re grown up and that you know it all. My girlfriend and I had started drinking. I thought I could deal with it, but things were getting out of hand. Let’s just say I partied and met a lot of girls in my youth,” he told me.
“I always loved food. Perhaps my father being a baker had something to do with it. I worked in a lot of restaurant type jobs. Server, kitchen help, front of house, in the kitchen. I helped a few friends start up restaurants a couple of times as well,” he said.
“I’m diabetic, and I never really thought about my future. I didn’t think I had one, to be honest. I thought I’d just work, and party and I didn’t want to ever get married or have kids. I wouldn’t want to pass diabetes along. So I just partied,” he told me. Mathew wears an earring with the Diabetes Association snake symbol on it. He also has the symbol tattooed on his inner right forearm.
It was while sitting on the patio of a bar, in downtown Vancouver that something unexpected happened.
“I was seeing this woman and we out having couple of drinks. She was sitting on my lap, and we were talking and having a nice time. I realized that I did want all those things,” he said. Mathew had fallen in love.
“We got married and had a kid, our daughter. I never expected any of that,” he said.
“I was doing my thing, working and still drinking. When my daughter was about three years old, my wife left. She didn’t like the drinking, and made-up some stories about our relationship. I was drinking, in part, to run away. She got a restraining order against me, moved out of town and I haven't seen my daughter since then,” he said quietly.
“I completely fell apart. I was in a deep depression and couldn’t do anything for myself. My mother took me in. For about a year, I did nothing. Slowly, very slowly I started to come out of it. My mother was an Emergency dispatcher. She worked with a woman who had her own cleaning business on the side. She needed some help with her business so my mother suggested I help her, and do some work for her friend. My mum was trying to get me out of the house."
"I started working a bit, and then a bit more. I became friends with the woman, my mother's friend. There’s a bar that had become my local, and we went for a drink after work one day,” said Mathew. It turned out that the woman with the cleaning business knew the owner of the bar.
“She had told me that she always wanted to run a restaurant. She spoke with the owner and then asked me if I could cook. She took over the restaurant and hired me to do the cooking,” he said, with an air of amazement.
Mathew reaches into his coat pocket and pulls out a lovely silver cigarette case.
"Do you mind if I smoke?” he asks. I’m not a smoker (anymore) and I appreciate when people are considerate enough to ask. He lit a cigarette.
“Before I had been working in the bar, back when I was still just a customer, I spotted this women who seemingly just captivated me. I had been watching her a bit and then I went over to talk with her. I asked if I could have her phone number. She told me she had a boyfriend. I thanked her and then went back to my drunk friends. As she was leaving the bar, she comes over to me and tells me that if she didn’t have a boyfriend, she would have given me her number, and says goodnight. Thing is, I don’t remember any of that conversation, or that night. It was a friend who told me about this woman,” he says.
"I was too drunk."
Several years later, and Mathew’s now running the kitchen in that same bar.
“In comes this beautiful woman one night. She’s looking at me like she knows me. It was that same woman from that night years before, that I don’t even remember! She recognized me because of my hat,” he says, with an air of disbelief. They’ve been together ever since, for the better part of seven years.
“We’ve broken up a few times, during the first few years,” he tells me.
About five years ago, he realized he wanted this woman to be in his life, long term.
“I started going to a day program. It runs daily for six weeks and you can take certain workshops that suit you or that appeal to you. It’s a combined drug and alcohol rehab program, but no one has to say what they are there for,” he told me. Mathew worked through some personal issues and has been in a good place for the last two years.
His mother passed away last November.
“My sister and I have become a lot closer through that. We’ve tried to find the good in things. Now we’re closer, since Mum’s passing. We try and get together and have dinner every week. It’s good,” he says with a warm smile.
“It was tough. We didn’t know what to do. My mother never left a will or anything. We only knew that she said wanted to be buried in Nova Scotia. So we did that for her,” he told me.
“An aunt in Nova Scotia took care of the arrangements for the service. Transporting a body is more complicated than we expected, that’s for sure. The funeral home had to accept the body when it arrived in Nova Scotia. But getting the body transported? Only Canada Post are permitted to transport deceased folk,” he said. I found that baffling.
“I’ve heard the expression ‘Late for your own funeral' many times before, but this was first time I actually saw it happen! My mother arrived after the service was over. Mum was late for her own funeral.” #notastranger
Today’s story is sponsored by Moii Cafe, 2259 Cambie Street, Vancouver