May 17, 2015 - Jillian (2nd person I approached)
The first person I approached was interested in my project. We spoke a little bit about her upbringing and the struggle she had to complete her education. However, now that she’s a teacher, she wasn’t comfortable sharing her story. It was okay if it was going to just be chatting with me, but there was a definite need to not have her students read about her personal life story. Something which was a completely reasonable consideration. We had a short conversation about a political article she was reading in her morning paper, and then I left to find today's story.
Jillian was sitting outside a home-decor store, listening to music, albeit only with one earplug in. I explained to her what my project is about and asked if she’d chat with me.
“Yeah, sure. I’m just waiting for a phone call, about some paint. We’re painting my place and we’ve had a bit of an issue, so I’m trying to get this sorted out,” she said, by way of explanation. Jillian told me she had managed to get most of the paint off of herself. She did find a small area with a splash of lovely pink paint on her elbow, and laughed, telling me “That's the colour of my bedroom!”
“I was born in Kamloops (British Columbia). I remember always being able to smell the pulp mill wherever I was in Kamloops. The mill sits up near the top of a ridge, and then the wind carries the smell down into the valley. Scents are like that, bringing back memories. Chanel No. 05, always reminds me of my grandmother. Pulp mills always remind me of back in Kamloops,” she said. Jillian has a brother who is five years younger.
“I spent a lot of time looking after him. My parents split up when I was very young. My mother took off, and so my brother and I lived with our father.”
“My mother got into drugs and became an addict. She was hooked on heroin. My Dad worked a lot and wasn’t home much. So it was just me and my little brother,” she told me.
“My mother moved down to Vancouver, and we'd come down and spend time with her. Sometimes she’d be trying to get clean, and we’d spend a month with her dealing with everything that was involved with that. It was like I was the parent to my mother. Things would just be getting good, and then we’d go back home to my Dad. That was what time with my mother was like,” said Jillian.
“I remember when I was ten years old. It was Christmas Eve and my Dad got a call from my mother saying that she was in a bad way. Her boyfriend at that time was abusive and used to just beat the shit out of her. I remember her arriving at my Dad’s some hours later, and she had on this really lovely red sweater. She always took care of how she looked and what she wore. She always had on high heels, nylons, a nice skirt and top. This red sweater, I think it was Angora, it was so soft and pretty. But she was covered in blood. I spent ages picking pieces of glass out of her back,” she said, somewhat flatly. Jillian had a protective kind of detachment about her. Not unfeeling, yet a ‘this is what it was’ sort of manner.
“I knew then that I would always feel a responsibility for my mother.”
“Elementary school was good. I went to school in Cache Creek and Kamloops. I always did really well. Even when I had the same teacher for two years that hated me. I just didn’t take any shit and I asked questions. I always got A’s and B’s though. I was a good student,” she said.
By the age of fourteen, four years had gone by without seeing her mother.
“She had moved to Kingston, Ontario. I missed my mom and wanted to see her. I went to live with her in Kingston. She had been clean for three months. April 22, 1996. That was the first time I had seen her in those four years. The date stuck with me because it was a big day for me, to see her again. My little brother stayed with my Dad,” she said.
“Kingston was tough. It was hard making the adjustment. I hadn’t lived with my mother in almost nine years, and she was getting clean. I never felt comfortable there. Not long after arriving, my mother told me she was pregnant. My brother is fifteen years younger than I am.”
Unbeknownst to Jillian or her mother, her (now) middle brother, back in BC, had gone into foster care.
“He was a week away from becoming a ward of the court. My mother made some calls, and managed to get him out to Kingston, and the three of us lived together, with my mother’s boyfriend. The father of my youngest brother,” she said.
“High school was a living hell. I didn’t fit in. I got picked on and bullied every single day. I was that girl from BC and they all thought I’d be different than I was. I was prettier than some of the girls there too, and they hated that. I was having difficulty coping. Between living there, my mother, and school, I started to withdraw. I was getting depressed and was isolating myself. I left school in grade ten. I was okay if I was at home, but I didn’t want to be going out and dealing with people. After about a year or so of this, I knew something wasn’t right. I pleaded with my mother to take me to see a doctor. I was diagnosed with manic depression. The doctor wanted to put me on a litany of medication. But I had seen what drugs did to my mother. I didn’t want anything to do with that. I had my share of experimenting with drugs, but I didn’t want to be on medication long term, that’s for sure,” said Jillian.
“What helped me,” said Jillian, with a bit of a giggle in her voice,
“Was a telephone psychic. She taught me how to meditate. I practised and used that every day. It really helped me. I did research as well. I mean I didn’t have a computer, but I read self-help books and got together some tools to help me get through it all. It helped me to be able to cope with whatever was going on around me, and not draw me into it.”
“We moved back to Vancouver when I was eighteen. A family road trip, in October!? Such a crazy time to drive across the country, but we did. As soon as we got back, I went to work. I got my first job and I worked,” she told me. Jillian had a few different jobs, ending up working in debt collection.
“A friend got me an interview with a company that he was working with. I got myself all gussied up and I was looking really good. I soon realized that I didn’t have a clue what I was talking about but they hired me! I got the job and was producing good results. Then I was poached by the competition,” said Jillian.
She’s been working for the same company now for almost thirteen years.
“I love my job. It’s my career and I’m good at it. This is the best employer I’ve ever had. When the time came for me to move out from living with my mother, my boss went above and beyond to help me out. Financially and emotionally, they’ve always looked after me. I’ll never leave this job,” she told me, smiling with confidence.
“I reached a point where I couldn’t do it for my mother any more. I had to walk away. I needed to start living my life for me, and that’s why I moved out.”
Jillian got the phone call she was waiting for about her painting situation. Sitting next to her while she spoke, it sounded like her and her boyfriend were playing the ‘No, you hang up. No YOU hang up first’ game. She was all giggles and smiles, her body language excitably animated.
“That man is such a dream,” she said after hanging up. I don’t know who actually hung up first. Her excitement was illuminating.
“This really is the best relationship I’ve ever had in my life! We met online, and spoke for about a week before meeting in person. When we decided to meet, he came in from (the suburbs) by bus. He got off the bus, and of course we’d seen pictures of each other. He made a beeline right for me, and without saying anything, he put his arms around me and planted the biggest and best kiss I’ve ever had, right on me. We hadn’t even said hello. We’ve been together ever since. That was July 26th of last year,” said Jillian.
She made sure to show me her stunning engagement ring.
“May the 05th. I knew it was going to happen, but I didn’t know when. We’re hoping to get married in August next year. He’s a bit bonkers and I love that about him! He the kindest, most caring person.”
I took three photos of Jillian and showed them to her. I thanked her for sharing her story and chatting with me, saying it had been a real pleasure. She has such a vibrant energy about her, clearly she's a survivor, replete with a hearty sense of joy about her.
“Well, if I didn’t laugh, I’d be crying, and I don’t want to cry. I have to say, talking with you, I’ve told you some things that I haven’t talked about in a very long time. Years in fact,” she said.
“It feels good, we all need to offload every now and again. But we don’t always get the chance. Thank you for listening.” #notastranger