Day 310 - Zoe

Day 310 - Zoe (1st person I approached)
November 06, 2014 - Most days, I take a few moments to appreciate how grateful I am for this project. The people I meet, the stories I’ve heard, the connections and the sharing. But it goes deeper than that as well. I’m well aware that people become comfortable and put a certain amount of trust in me, as a stranger. And I guess to some extent, trust in the person I present to them. Me, in essence, it’s all I know how to be. 


I have a bit of a chest cold and wanted to get today’s story earlier rather than later. It was forecast to be stormy weather this afternoon, so I went out during the lunch hour and hit up a local delicatessen. That’s where I met Zoe. She was eating, and on her lunch break. When I asked her to chat with me, she said she had limited time before needing to get back to work, but agreed to talk to me for the time she had available. We said five minutes.


Born in Vancouver at Grace Hospital, Zoe is the oldest of three girls.

“We were each born three years apart. We all look alike as well,” she said, looking on her phone for a photograph of the three of them together. Sure enough, they do bear a striking resemblance.

“I get people I’ve never met coming up to me and they’ll say something like ‘Excuse me are you related to…’ and they’ll mention one of my sister’s names. They’re usually always right,” she says, smiling.


Her parents are both Doctors.

“My father is from South Africa. I grew up with a close circle of friends that I’ve know since early childhood. Our parents were all friends. They are either Jewish, or doctors or from South Africa. Three of them live within a few blocks of our house. We call it the triangle. There’s five of us now who are all still close. One friend we met in high-school, but the others I’ve always known,” she said, telling me about each of these friends. 


“I liked school. It’s funny though, this is something that we, my girlfriends and I, talk about frequently. High school got really messed-up. It started with the kids in our year. It seems everyone who grew up on the westside (of Vancouver) knows everyone else. It’s a tight knit circle. There was so much abuse that was happening, and no one was talking about it, or if they were, no one was doing anything about it. I had so many friends my age, from about fourteen right through to the end of high school, that were sexually abused. Guys mistreating the girls, and it seemed to be like an accepted behaviour. Some girls who would turn against these girls who had been abused, in case they made things difficult,” she told me, with an urgency in her voice.

“It was like sex was being used as a tool for popularity. For example, there was a girl that had sex with a guy at a house party, and the guy's friend video taped it, and it got all around the school. The school, in trying to handle it, made it feel like they just wanted to sweep it under the rug, rather than say ‘This is wrong!’”


“Everyone had eating disorders too. I certainly did. I was in St Paul’s (hospital) a few times because of being sick,” she said. When I asked if Zoe would be okay if I wrote about this, she replied

“Yes, please do. I want you to. These things need to be spoken about. It needs to be brought out into the open." We spoke further about current events related to abuse, and eating disorders. We talked for a while. 


I mentioned to Zoe that I didn’t want to take up her entire lunch break.

“Oh my,” she said, looking at the time.

“I have to go, I’m going to be late getting back to work.” And here’s where I recognized how fortunate I am to be making these connections. It already felt like we were friends. I asked Zoe if she would mind if I walked with her towards her workplace, so that way we could continue chatting.

“No, that would be great,” she said gathering her belongings. We had about six blocks to walk. We headed out and got back on track chatting.


“After high school, I wanted to go to McGill (University, in Montreal, Quebec), but I didn't get in. I went to Concordia (Montreal) instead. I just wanted to get away from Vancouver and from my parents, like most teenagers,” she said. Zoe was taking a liberal Arts program.

“I dropped out in the second semester. I wasn’t going to class, and it wasn’t working out. I was just messing around. I became sick, and so I came home,” she said. 


Zoe’s eating disorder was taking it’s toll.

“I didn’t want to go into treatment. I started to get better, or at least get things under control. I worked for a while. Ironically, I worked in restaurants as a server,” she said with a quiet chuckle.

“I went to (a Gulf Island) and worked in the lodge there. It’s where we went for summers when I was growing up. The lodge liked to hire staff who had stayed there before. I got room and board and worked there for two summers. There were a lot of drugs going around. It’s a small island, there wasn’t much to do after work. I did drugs recreationally, but I was never addicted to anything,” she told me.


“I went to Langara College and took an Art History class. We went on a trip to Italy with the class. I travelled around with a friend for a while, after the school part of the trip was over. I relapsed and got sick again. I had to come home. Everyone was shocked when they saw me. I guess I was… well I looked, I looked gaunt and skeletal. I was binging and purging. While I waited to get into treatment, I managed to gain back the weight I had lost while travelling, but obviously I was still sick. When I did finally get into treatment, I went into an outpatient program. You stay in a treatment house, and go into the hospital as an outpatient, then do personal work and therapy at the house. I looked better, but did I actually deal with the situation, what it was that was making me sick? I don’t know,” she said, with raw honesty. 


“I was working again and then I went to Israel on another trip. I was there for a couple of months. And, I got sick again,” she told me. We talked briefly about how it seemed travelling didn’t seem to be such a good idea for Zoe.

“Yeah. It would seem that way. I came home, I didn’t want to go back into treatment, I just didn’t want to do it. But I did."


Zoe went to Capilano University, in North Vancouver.

“I took a few sociology classes. I liked that. I applied to go to UBC (University of British Columbia) and it took me a long time, but I managed to get my degree finished,” she said with satisfaction in her voice. Zoe got her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology.

“And now I have my first real, big person’s job. I’m working in a lab that’s doing research in HPV (Human Papillomavirus). I’m a research coordinator. It’s a fairly new job, I've only been here for about eight weeks. I’ve done some work before as a researcher. In this job, I’m not doing any research myself,” she said. 


We had arrived outside the building where Zoe worked. I took her photograph. We shook hands and I thanked her for her time and for sharing her story with me. Then I asked if I could give her a hug. I clarified that by saying ‘Actually, can I have a hug, please?’ Zoe gave me the warmest, friendliest hug. I am fortunate to receive these amazing gifts, everyday, from people who were once strangers. #notastranger