March 25, 2015 - Jazzy (3rd person I approached)
For a number of different reasons, I’ve been laying low the past few days. I usually like rainy days and if I’m at home, I feel comfortable and cocooned. Not today. I felt like I was slipping into a deep grey hole, and I needed to get out. Despite how I was feeling, and the rain pouring down, I headed out to find a story.
I saw Jazzy in an alley off of Hastings Street. There was a stream of water pouring out of a drain-spout, forming a large puddle in the alleyway. Jazzy appeared to be playing in the puddle, tapping and splashing her feet in the water. She had earphones in, with her hood up, and didn’t hear me at first as I said hello. Turns out she was cleaning her shoes, not playing in the puddle. When I got her attention, and told her what I’m doing, she agreed to chat with me.
“I just have to stop at my place first, come with me,” she said. This was unusual. We walked down the street a bit, Jazzy telling me she jut needed to grab something and then we could chat. She invited me in and at first I told her I would just wait on the street. She seemed puzzled by that.
“This is my place right here, just come in,” she said.
Jazzy lives in a shelter in the DTES (Downtown Eastside). It’s staffed with a person at the front desk who buzzed the security door open. There was a small reception area, with the staff person behind a glass-enclosed counter. I went into the lobby with Jazzy. She introduced me to the woman working at the desk. I told her about my project, saying that Jazzy and I were going to have lunch and chat. Jazzy needed to take some medication, which was dispensed by the staff member she had introduced me to.
As we walked out of her shelter, Jazzy casually put her arm in mine. It was such a small gesture, and yet it was powerful to me. It meant she felt safe and comfortable. Jazzy told me that the gentleman always took the outside of the sidewalk, and the lady walked on the inside. I joked that the reason it went this way was in case a car ran off the road, the gentleman would be the one hit.
“Yeah, and then my job is to be the one who screams,” Jazzy said, laughing. She threw out a little scream for effect.
We were almost at the diner, when Jazzy suddenly disappeared. The door to a women’s resource centre had opened and she jumped in there. I waited and a minute later, she reappeared. She had two small, brown paper lunch bags in her hand. She gave one to me.
“They always have baked treats in there,” she said, smiling.
“I wanted to get one for us.” She gave hers to a man standing on the street, and insisted that I keep mine.
“I was born in Grand Prairie, Alberta,” she told me when we had sat down.
“My mother named me Jazzmin, with two z’s. But everyone calls me Jazzy.” She has one brother, seven years younger. They have different fathers.
“I spent a lot of time looking after him. Changing his diaper, feeding him, playing with him. My mother was out a lot of the time. It was just me and him,” she said.
Jazzy’s father met her mother in Mayerthorpe, Alberta.
“My mother was thirteen when she first met my father." They got married when her mother was sixteen years old.
“I don’t remember too much because I was just little, but he used to beat my mother. I remember her with black eyes and bruises. She had to move to get away from him. We took off to Edmonton,” she told me.
“My Mushom (moo-shoom), that's 'Grandpa' in Cree, my Dad's father, used to beat him with his cane when he was a boy. I don’t know why.” I asked Jazzy if she had any memories of time with her father. She said she remembered once going to the (First Nations) reservation he was from with him, but that was about it.
“My Uncle, though, he was incredible. They called him Texasgate. He was on the Council for the Sturgeon Lake Reserve. He was my favourite. I loved all my family. They were my family, but he was my favourite,” she told me, excitedly.
Her mother moved to Edmonton, taking Jazzy with her, to escape her abusive father.
“I grew up there, in Edmonton. Even though I was born in a small town. Are you writing this down? I was born in a small town, but I was really a city slicker. A simple looking girl, a city slicker,” she said. When I asked why she thought of or referred to herself as a ‘simple looking girl’ she told me it was
“Because of my First Nations background. I’m just a plain looking girl. Nothing special. I’m a simple looking, city slicker girl.” I said I disagreed, but Jazzy wasn’t having anything to do with it.
Since I started this project, over a year ago, I’ve not taken notes. I like to remember the conversation and write the story later, from memory. However, since starting these chats over lunch, I’ve found the conversations get deeper, quicker. Sharing a meal with someone, the conversation seems to be more intimate. So I've been taking notes on my computer, while we’re talking and eating. It's something I'm adjusting to; I prefer not to take notes. But I want to be sure I’m getting the many details correct. It's also less pressure to remember these hour long chats. Jazzy asked me to turn my computer around and read every word as I typed my cryptic notes. It brought about a collaborative feeling between us.
“I liked school,” she told me, enthusiastically.
“I was the class clown. Everyone came to school to laugh. I liked Social Studies, the teacher had a nice haircut. And I like gym class. My teacher was really sexy,“ she said, laughing.
“Well, he was.” She left school in Grade ten.
“I ran away. That’s why I left school. I ran away. I ran because I could. I saw an opening so I ran,” she said.
“Write that down.” I asked a couple of times why she left Edmonton.
“I used to beat up my little brother. Because I could. I was always the biggest kid in my class at school. I was in charge when she wasn’t around. So I would beat him up,” she told me, with a quiet defiance.
“It wasn’t because she was gone no. She went out to meet men. I was left at home. That’s just the way it was, so I would beat him up.”
Jazzy came to Vancouver.
“I would stand around outside of the bars on the DTES. I’d wait for the men who would come down to this part of town. Not for sex. I waited to find someone who would take me home and give me a place to stay,” she said.
“I never prostituted myself. I went back to Edmonton once. I went to make reconciliation's with my little brother,” Jazzy said.
“Of course he accepted them, he had too. I’m his big sister.”
She got a place in a woman's shelter in Edmonton.
“It was a real nice place. You only had to go out during one time every week. They would spray the entire place to make sure it stayed clean. But most shelters you have to be out all day. Not at this one,” she said. Jazzy stayed in Edmonton for seven years.
“I came back to Vancouver for the weather. I didn’t have money for winter boots and clothes and it was getting cold again, so I came back out here.”
“I was standing outside of a bar and I met this guy named Mike. We would talk and laugh. He took me to his place for a visit. We just hung out and talked. I went back to his place three or four times before he offered me a place to stay. He became my best friend,” Jazzy said.
"Did you write that? Oh, sorry, I shouldn’t be talking with food in my mouth. I’m sorry,“ she said, covering her face with her napkin.
“My mother came looking for me once. She found me. She told me my brother was crying for me, and she wanted me to go back. I told her to go away, she was drunk and I wasn’t interested,” Jazzy said.
Mike and Jazzy were roommates for three years.
“There was never any romantic interest. He was my buddy,” she told me.
“Until he talked me into assaulting a cop. There was this big situation went down at his building where we lived and it was confusing and I didn’t think. I did it. I assaulted a cop,” she said.
“I got sentenced to a year in jail. But they put me on CSO (conditional sentence order). I didn’t have to go to jail. I had a curfew, to be in by 10pm. And I had to keep the peace,” she said.
“Then I met this kid. I was trying to help him out. He was young, and I was gonna teach him some stuff. He lived way the hell out in I don’t know where. I got caught out after my curfew. Then I breached my conditions again running an errand for a friend,” she said.
“I went to jail for two weeks. I breached some more. The judge, put her name down. Why aren’t you typing this?” I told Jazzy I didn’t need to include the judge's name.
“But it’s her name, you should include this,” she explained. Jazzy breached her conditions a total of eight times. The judge told her she couldn’t do anything more for Jazzy, and she spent three months at the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women.
“I was there for eighty-two days.”
When we first sat down in the diner, I had asked Jazzy if she was high. She seemed a little unfocussed and restless. She was talking quite loudly.
“No, I don’t do any drugs,” she said. Fast forward to this point in the story, and Jazzy tells me,
“I got out of jail and I had been clean for three months. By clean I mean no drugs, looking after myself, and not on the streets,” she told me.
“Within three weeks, I smoked a bit of speed. Make sure you write I was talked into smoking a bit of speed,” she dictated, watching as I typed her words.
“One thing lead to another and it just got out of hand,” Jazzy said. She had finished eating and was putting the condiments back in their holder at the edge of the table. She grabbed a napkin, wiping where her plate had been. She stacked her dishes into a neat pile and moved them to the other edge of the table.
Looking right at me, she said “I assaulted myself.”
Her arms were folded on the table in front of her. I sort of expected her to lift her sleeve to show me razor cutting scars. No.
“I was downtown and I had been high and awake for three days. I was a mess. All I could hear was a throbbing sound in my head. Ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom. I could hear other things too, but mostly the sound in my ears. It started to drive me mad. I walked past a Korean fast-food restaurant. I went in and asked for a pair of chopsticks. I went to the nearest alley, between two buildings, and assaulted myself,” she said.
“I started with the chopsticks. I inserted them as far as I could up my ass. That wasn’t enough. I had really long sharp fingernails and I worked my fist inside and twisted my fist around and scratched as hard as I could on the way out. I was trying to grab hold of my insides and pull them out,” she told me.
“It was so painful, but I didn’t really feel it. I looked down and saw that there was blood everywhere. My clothes and my hands were covered in blood and shit. I knew I was in trouble. This wasn’t good,” she said.
Jazzy walked to St Paul’s Hospital, about a mile away from where this happened.
“They called the police. Everyone's concern was that someone had done this to me, and they kept asking me over and over again to tell them how it happened. I was in hospital for nine days,” she said. This was last October.
Jazzy now has a colostomy bag. She wanted me to photograph it. I didn’t feel it was necessary.
“Well, how about if you take a picture with me holding my shirt up like this so you can see it,” she said. She lifted the hem of her shirt, showing me the colostomy bag, which is taped to her waist and then bandaged in place. I told Jazzy I didn’t want to photograph her that way, that I wanted to show a photo of her, with her beautiful face. She got up and came over to where I was sitting, to get a better look at what I was typing.
The shelter she is living in is specifically for folk who have had surgery, or an injury and require medical care.
“They take really good care of me there. And I can stay as long as I need to,” she said. I asked if she was receiving any support to help her through the trauma she had been through.
“I’m seeing people, yeah. The police officer who came to the hospital that night came by to see me yesterday. She wanted to check on me and make sure I was doing okay and getting the help that I needed,” Jazzy said.
I asked how she was doing with regards to drugs.
“Oh shit. I’m never doing drugs again. I’ve been scared straight. That was a terrifying experience. I never want to do drugs again,” Jazzy said, with certainty.
"Thank you for sharing my story. It's important," she said. As she left the diner, she walked slowly toward the door. I watched her, completely blown away at the strength of the human spirit. And bewildered. Jazzy got to the door, turned around, and gave a little wave. And then she blew me a kiss. #notastranger #beinghungrysucks
Today’s story is sponsored by the Save-On Meats diner, and their charitable organization, A Better Life Foundation