Layne Johnson, February 2007
“I was daddy's little girl. A much-wanted only child. I remember weekends with my parents at the zoo. Daddy would swing me up on his shoulders so I could see the lions. We would imitate the monkeys, Daddy sometimes holding his arms out so I could hang from them and pretend I was swinging from branch to branch. After a while we'd always get thirsty, so off we'd go to search out an ice cream sandwich and a bottle of Coke. Mom never approved of that. She was all for packing tuna sandwiches and bottled water to bring with us. But Daddy always said “Tuna sandwiches and water don't go with the zoo, Mary.”
I went to the best schools my parents could afford. I wore trendy clothes, was popular, and I was a good kid. When I was in high school I began dating this really cute guy. He was fun, daring, and utterly charming...and wanted to be a singer. I wanted to be a fashion designer. I had my life all planned out; how I was going to school to be a designer, I would move to New York to start my business, and one day I'd be famous. Joel didn't really fit in the plan, but that was okay. We were still in high school and it was enough to have fun for now.
Near the end of my grade 12 year my dad died in a hit-and-run incident. The police never found who did it. Amazingly I managed to graduate, but without my dad nothing seemed to matter. I remember sitting at the kitchen table one Sunday morning watching Mom frying pancakes, and we were talking about the future. Most of my parents' savings had been used for Dad's funeral, and he didn't have life insurance. Mom had gotten a job at a drugstore but it didn't pay very well. Not even enough to cover mortgage payments. We had to sell the house and move to a smaller one in a more affordable neighbourhood. All of a sudden college, fashion designing, and New York seemed unattainable. And at this point I wasn't even sure if that was what I really wanted.
I got a day job at a dollar store and an afternoon one at a coffee shop that hosted live musicians on Friday nights. Joel landed a few gigs there. After graduation we'd kind of broken up, but he was often around anyway. He offered his help to Mom and I if ever we were to need it, and told me that our changed circumstances didn't matter to him at all. One day he wrote a song for me...and another, and another. A month later he asked me to move in with him. He said he loved me, wanted to take care of me, and wanted to help me fulfill my dreams. I said sure. Life was almost bliss for about six months. And then reality set in. Joel's career refused to take off. We had no money. My dreams were drifting farther and farther away, with no glimmer of hope that I could ever reach them. And then the dreadful discovery that I was pregnant.
Because of our financial situation, Joel insisted I have an abortion. “We can't afford a baby. We can't provide a good life for one at this point,” he said. So on a wet Tuesday afternoon I did. I was depressed for months after that. Joel was patient with me for a while, but finally one day he told me to go visit my mom for the afternoon. I didn't want to go, but he called a cab for me and sent me off anyway. I hadn't seen my mom for months...I wouldn't return her calls. I didn't want to talk to her. How could I tell her what I'd done? I couldn't do that. So that afternoon we just talked about surface things. I only stayed an hour and then went back home. But home wasn't there anymore. The door was locked. I heard music from inside. I pounded on the door. Joel opened it a crack and peeked out. “Let me in, Joel! It's raining.” He slipped an envelope out and closed the door. The lock clicked. “What is this? Let me in!” I yelled and pounded the door again. He turned up the volume so he could no longer hear me. I pounded and yelled till the neighbours threatened to call the police on me. So I picked up the envelope and left.
I walked for a while in the rain, and finally stopped under a shop overhang to open the letter. The letter inside was wet and the ink ran, so most of it was illegible. What I could decipher basically said that he could no longer handle my depression, I was holding him back, and he didn't want to see me again. Ever. I spent the night out in the street.”
The next night the police reported a Jane Doe found behind a dumpster: an apparent suicide.
I was once like you.
This is not a true story, but it has come about through reflection on several conversations I had with people I met in Downtown Vancouver, and a poem a friend wrote recently. Thank you for reading.