I recently returned to San Diego from my trip to Canada.
The trip felt different for me this time. I felt stronger than before I left. One of the objectives I had set for myself this trip was facing the many demons that appeared in my life in different places and at different times throughout my childhood and teen years.
During my last trip, I decided that I would visit the places around the city that caused me the most pain in the past. I knew this was an ambitious task, but I knew that the only way I could close off these demons was to face them head on. The great part of this adventure was that I didn’t have to this alone, unlike the many times in the past when I had no one to lean on for support.
This time, I was going to reveal my formerly secret life to not only to my boyfriend, but also to my children for support. This time, I was going to reveal my formerly secret life to not only to my boyfriend, but also to my two children, who are now 9 and 13 years old.
The first stop was downtown Toronto. Growing up I learned very early that in order to survive, one had to work. In my late teens I had quit college to support myself. I worked as a waitress at two University bars downtown. Both places smelt of stale beer from the night before, and both places were just old.
I enjoyed my job because of my love of people, but what made me sad was that they had what I wanted so badly, which was to actually attend to the University. I would always try to overhear what types of things they did at school, the teams that played soccer and who their rivals were. I was there for relationship breakups, exams, and then graduation. At which point, I would never see them again.
The drunken stragglers were always a challenge to get out. The bartender and I would typically clean the place and lock it up. The bartender’s name was Farhad. Farhad was a new immigrant to Canada from Iran. He left his country and his career as a doctor to start a new life in Canada. He could not practice medicine without going through medical school in Canada. So, he gave up his dream, like many of us, because he didn’t have the money to invest in education, and he too, needed to survive with the rest of us.
I hated going home at the end of the night, especially in the winter when the cold wind felt like a hard slap against your face. The characters usually on the subway at this time were drunks and drug addicts. I had already learned that if you don’t want these people to bother you, do not make eye contact with them. There would be times when I would still get harassed but I was able to hold my own.
I got off at Dundas Street, which is also the stop for the Eaton Center, a huge mall with beautiful architecture. My walk from the subway was about 3 blocks, which I dreaded at that time of night. I would walk past fast food joints and many times remember that I didn’t have anything to eat for dinner. Unfortunately, at that hour nothing was open. Once you passed the Eaton Center, the streets barely had any lights and were very dark and desolate. The cross street was the prime area for prostitutes, who sold themselves just to survive.
The 15 story apartment complex was a gray concrete building that always had drunks and addicts outside smoking. But this apartment was all I could afford at the time. There were trafficking deals and prostitution taking place throughout the building, people stumbling and falling on stairs. The individual units did not have doors, so people could go into your unit freely. I had a small twin size mattress on the concrete floor. There was no stove, microwave or refrigerator. Typically the only light I had was what was shining in from the main hallway.
I always slept with a knife under my mattress. Most of the time I was really scared, but you wouldn’t know it if you saw me. Showing fear would be the end of me in that environment. Petty criminals and serious predators in the building knew who the weak and vulnerable tenants were. With mixed feelings, I now realize that my not showing fear or vulnerability throughout my life is what helped me survive the worst moments in my life.
Most nights I remember dozing off, looking toward the doorway, watching for shadows, listening to people yelling at each other, then crying and playing cheap radios. One night I woke up upon hearing two gunshots. My body froze. I felt my heart in my throat. It was that night, that I decided it was time for me to move out and look for a safer and saner place to live.
My kids and boyfriend were there with me, as the movie played out in my mind. I could see from the kids faces that they could not believe their mother had had to live in a place like that. I thought a lot about that particular moment for the rest of the day.
Afterwards, we went for lunch and all I could think was ‘I pray that my kids never have to live in an environment like that’. About that time my children came over to me, hugged me, and said, ‘It’s ok Mom’. Here I was, afraid of vulnerability all my life, but showing them mine from the past and letting them see it that day, was the best move I could have made.