Day 353 - Tracey (3rd person I approached) & Belinda
December 19, 2014 - There's just twelve days left in The Stranger Project 2014. Yet, I still managed to find a way to break another of my self-imposed rules - sort of. This is the first time more than one person has been in the picture that I’ve posted with the story. All shall be revealed.
I had been out doing some errands and spotted Tracey (blonde hair, on the right in the photo), reading what looked like a text book, and looking at her phone. It was her bright pink coat and scarf that caught my attention. About thirty minutes later, with my errands completed, I saw Tracey was still sitting in the same spot, by herself, reading the text book. I walked to where was sitting and asked if she would chat with me. I showed her my Facebook page, which she took a picture of for future reference. She smiled, and said she’d be happy to do anything, that would take her away from studying. I sat down and we chatted.
“I was born in Lincolnshire, England. I was three years old when we moved to Canada, so I don’t remember being there. My parents are English. I think they were just looking for a better life and that’s why we moved. My mother had relatives that lived in Canada, which was, I think how they choose to come here,” she said. Tracey is the youngest of three children.
“My sister is the oldest. She’s four years and fifty-one weeks older than I am. And my brother is in the middle. We got along as young kids, and then not as much when we were teenagers. I was closer to my brother then, because he and I were closer in age,” said Tracey.
“We lived in Richmond when we first arrived in Canada. Then my parents bought a house in White Rock. I went to elementary school there. When I was ten we moved to Vancouver Island. First to Qualicum Beach and then Nanoose Bay. We built a house there. That first summer, everyone helped out, all the family, and we built the house. I took a bus to high-school, which was in Parksville. All the other kids who lived around where we did took the bus as well, so it didn’t seem odd. It’s just how we got to school,” she said.
“To be honest, I didn’t like school. Not high-school anyway,” Tracey said quietly, almost in a whisper.
“I left when I was in Grade ten. I was definitely that rebel child. It was mutual between me and the school. It didn’t have anything to do with drugs or alcohol, or anything like that. Some of the people I was hanging out with weren’t the best influences. I was hanging out with the wrong crowd.”
Her parents had separated when Tracey was thirteen.
“I went to live with my father a little while after I left school. I only stayed with him for three months and then went back home to my mother. But I decided that I needed to finish school, but I wanted to do it my way. I also changed the people I was hanging around with. I finished school through Open Learning,” she said. The Open Learning courses consisted of English, Math and Sciences. It was the same curriculum that was taught in school, but without the school setting and environment.
“My cousin was living here in Vancouver and she had just had a baby boy. I moved over to help her take care of him,” she said, pausing to finish her sentence. I could sense, and then see that Tracey was holding back her emotions. Her face was flushed and tears were welling in her eyes.
“My father got sick and passed away. It was a difficult time. My cousin and I had some trouble between us with that,” she said, still visibly upset, yet holding back.
I said that it wasn’t my intention to trigger upsetting emotions. I also let Tracey know that I was there for her. I waited.
“Thank you," she said.
"We had a falling out because my cousin didn’t know how to handle my father’s death, or how to deal with me, during that time.” I could see Tracey working to maintain her composure.
“We lost Dallas. He died in a plane crash. Her son, that I had moved to help her with, Dallas. He was like my own child. It’s hard because I think about him every single day, but when you don’t talk about it so often, it’s upsetting.”
Tracey moved out on her own after that.
“I worked in a restaurant. But not as a server, because if people were going to upset me, I’d want to accidentally spill food on them. Then I worked in a bakery. I got a job at Safeway (a nation-wide grocery store) and did that for a few years,” she said.
“My sister was moving to Victoria (Vancouver Island), and I wasn't really happy at Safeway any more. She suggested I go live with her in Victoria, and stay there while I figured out what I wanted to do,” said Tracey.
“I took a course at a college, for like a medical office assistant. And then I got a job in an insurance office. Nothing to do with anything medical, at all. But the course helped with my confidence and learning to work in an office and improve my typing skills.”
“My sister Belinda was working in insurance and I started working for the same company as she did. I didn’t get the job through her though. I started with selling insurance. Eventually I moved into underwriting, which I’m still doing, all these years later,” she said.
“We got an opportunity to transfer to the Vancouver office, and so we moved here," Tracey said, referring to her and Belinda.
"We’ve lived together ever since Victoria. Actually we’ve lived together all of our lives, apart from the four years when I lived with my cousin and then on my own,” said Tracey.
“Ah, here’s my sister now,” she said, introducing me to Belinda. She had been at an appointment nearby. I explained to Tracey’s sister about The Stranger Project, and what we were chatting about. I asked if it would be okay if we continued chatting. Belinda offered to go for a walk, but both Tracey and I said it would be fine for her to stay with us. “I was just telling Colin about us moving over from Victoria,” said Tracey to Belinda.
“I'm happy to talk with him so then I don’t have to continue studying,” she said, patting her text book and smiling. Tracey is studying for another certification for her insurance job.
“Where were we?” asked Tracey.
"Oh yeah, then I suggested to Belinda that we should buy our own place,” she said. “Thank god for that too,” added Belinda. They both laughed.
“So we bought a place out in Coquitlam. That worked out for a while. Then Belinda was getting involved with PADS (Pacific Assistance Dogs Society). She was training a puppy to become an assistance dog. The condo we lived in was too small. We needed a place that had some green space, so we moved out to Pitt Meadows (40kms east of Vancouver),” she said. (*Fact Check - see link below.)
Tracey showed me a picture of the dog, on the screensaver of her phone.
“He’s a black Lab named Percy. It takes fourteen months to train them. And then after about another fourteen months, he was retired from service,” she said.
“He was just too stubborn,” said Belinda.
“He didn’t want to work.” Tracey said that you could see him pull away and lower his head whenever his work apron came out. We talked about some of the specifics of assistance dogs.
“The signal that his work day is over is when the work apron comes off. And then he was a completely different dog. You could see a difference in him immediately,” said Tracey.
They were given an opportunity to adopt Percy and decided to keep him.
"We take the West Coast Express into town every day to come to the office here in Vancouver. He’s the office dog. It is without a doubt, the absolute best thing to have him in the office. Everyone benefits. When he was training for work, our colleagues were mindful of the difference with n assistance dog. Being aware of not petting him and that. Although, I was the probably the worst, laying on the floor with him to cuddle,” said Tracey, smiling a huge dog-loving smile. Belinda isn’t planning on taking anymore puppies for training at this time.
“It was an incredible experience though,” she said. Tracey and Belinda now puppy-sit for others who are fostering dogs in training.
“If you’re fostering a working dog, you can't put them in any doggie daycare or kennel. They can only stay with certified, trained handlers. That way the training and discipline is maintained,” said Tracey.
I asked the sisters why living together, all of their lives, worked for them. Belinda spoke first
“Well, I know this isn’t about me. There was that four years we didn’t live together.” I was interested in hearing from both of them. Belinda continued.
“We have the same dentist, the same doctor, the same hair stylist even. We know each other and have for our entire lives.”
Tracey added, “We even have the same friends, for the most part. It just works for us. And because we know each other so well, if I’m not in a good mood and need my own space, Belinda knows to just leave me alone. Plus, my boyfriend is American, so that works really well,” she said. I asked if by 'works really well,' she meant because he's not in town all the time.
“Yes,” they both answered, laughing at each other.
I had been thinking about the picture that I wanted to take for this story, while we chatted about dogs and training. I decided I would let Tracey and Belinda say what they wanted to do. I’ve only ever taken a picture of the one person I was talking to. Even in the few situations where a wife, or boyfriend had later joined the conversation. I mentioned that as they had such a special friendship and were sisters, I would be delighted if they both wanted to be in the photo. I told Belinda that it would get posted on social media. As I was saying this, they were already rearranging the seats so they could get their picture taken. Together. Just as they’ve been all of their lives. Breaking the rules. #notastranger
*Fact Check - http://bit.ly/1AEi7wi