Research — Chapter 2

IMG_0604I no longer had to think about acquiring experience to get accepted into veterinary medicine, so I focused the next summer on getting a job in town. I could save a lot of money by simply not having to pay rent in two places. I liked my apartment, it was close to down town, walking distance to the university and there was a farmer’s market, grocery store, fast food and a laundromat all close by.

I realized that I might qualify for a Natural Science and Engineering Research Council or NSERC award, so I applied and was awarded a scholarship. This money allowed me to shop around the university, with my pay cheque already covered, and see whom I wanted to do research with. I interviewed three professors. One was doing research on cancer, or rather was doing research on fruit flies but had recognized that there was more research money for cancer than there was for fruit flies and had learned to word the research in terms of cancer.

Another professor worked with lizards and other cold-blooded animals and had made the same funding discovery. If there was a mechanism for cold-blooded animals to grow back a leg that had been cut off, it might in some way provide clues as to why tumours grow. It is possible.

The third professor was doing anatomy, congenital defects and sex differentiation. The research did not seem to be any more interesting but I appreciated his enthusiasm for having a student during the summer and, let’s face it, his honesty. He was not pretending to be trying to solve some puzzle that would get him funding.

What I experienced that summer was the end of a research era. I did not know it at the time. I guess you never do. The mundane, the normal, the everyday soon becomes the past and quite irretrievable. The lab that I was working in was staffed by several professors, technicians and students. These professionals had been trained in the traditional fashion.

Coffee and tea were made on a schedule and everyone sat together to have it. This occurred every morning and served the purpose of bringing everyone together to get to know one another while they shared a break in the middle of their work day. When you are working on research and you pull yourself away to have coffee, you talk about your research.

The importance of this did not become apparent until I was doing research again, much later in my life, and this did not occur. Without this morning coffee, where you could address the smallest, simplest question immediately, there was always a delay. More than there being a delay, there was a requirement to set up an appointment with the professor that you were working with and prioritize your questions so that the most important ones got discussed first.

The secondary thing was that unlike having a formal appointment with someone, these coffees were casual so the conversation ebbed and flowed with what was going on in the outside world as well as within the lab. Great discussions and insights were possible because focusing on answers and solutions was not the point. Anyhow, I only recognized the value of these unstructured discussions in hindsight.

I tried to “break-in” to the social life in town. I found out that their softball teams were structured very differently from my hometown. I went out to one of the first meetings of a couple of teams that were looking for players and I was totally unknown. I don’t know if I came across as bookish or simply unfamiliar. I know that I went out to a couple of games but I was never played more than the minimum and never actually got the chance to show these women that I could actually play ball. So, I just stopped going.

Most of my friends were also university students so they had all gone home for the summer. I met a couple of nice people in the lab and I met one guy at a professor’s birthday party on campus.

This professor learned that he was revered simply because he was the teacher. He had used this to his advantage in order to impress the students. He was naturally entertaining and regaled us with stories more than presented material. He had managed to flawlessly combine the material with the stories, so you came away from his lectures both entertained and informed.

He had announced that he would be celebrating his birthday at the one bar on campus and I had made note of this and taken the time to show up at the bar. There were several other students there and through a series of car-pooling arrangements we headed off to his house for his party.

He lived in a house that overlooked a man made lake in town. This particular town had no natural bodies of water and someone decided that damming up a river until a muddy lake formed was a good idea. Even now, the occasional person dies by jumping off of a boat, getting their feet stuck in the mud and drowning, but I digress.

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Doctor — Chapter 2

IMG_0216The summer before, I had been living in my hometown. One of my best friends was living there as well as all of the people that I knew in town. I was dating a guy and my sister still lived there. I was close to many of the people that I worked in the restaurant with. They all knew that I was awaiting my letter from the veterinary college.

I had envisioned a great celebration and proudly walking around telling everyone that I had gotten into veterinary medicine. There was some debate in the restaurant about whether or not I would ever actually be accepted. The feeling was that a waitress could not become a doctor. This is peculiar. With the exception of royalty, no one really knows what they will do as an adult. Everyone must be young before they are old and that would often include doing various minimum wage jobs.

I was confident that I would prove them all wrong when my acceptance arrived. Being an athlete, I was always chosen for sports teams including the city softball team and the elite swim team in town. As a gifted student, I always won the scholarships and entrance exams. Many of my friends, that applied, did not even get accepted into university. It was just a matter of having patience and waiting for my letter to arrive.

Receiving the rejection letter was sobering and surreal. It forced me to face the fact that I might not ever get into veterinary medicine. Could the cook at the restaurant be right? It was one of the first times that I had not been chosen for something. To be faced with the possibility that my dream of becoming a veterinarian might not come true was quite a blow to my self-esteem.

When my acceptance letter did arrive, during my stay at the veterinarian’s farm up north, it was anticlimactic. I had already travelled to my hometown that summer to realize that there was no one there anymore. I did not feel particularly close to anyone that I was living with and it is understandable that there was a certain amount of tension between the women in the house.

I had gone down the lane to get the mail that day and I had found the letter in the mailbox. I stood at the end of the lane and read it right away. You don’t need to open these letters to know what they say inside. If they do not admit you, all they send is a form letter written on a single piece of paper in an eleven inch envelope.

On the other hand, when you get accepted, an entire package comes. You need to make decisions about accommodations, choose courses, be familiar with outlines and you need to reply accepting the offer, which requires another envelope to be included inside. When the package was huge—especially relative to the summer before—I knew that I had been accepted but I wanted to read it anyhow.

With full knowledge that I had been accepted, I walked back to the house. It was almost mealtime so I carted all of the mail up to the kitchen and put it on a side table. I took the envelope up to my room and put it with my things. I did not tell anyone. I did not want to share this news with people I barely knew and didn’t really like. I had just received life altering news and I had no one to share it with.

At this point, I had already completed two years of a bachelor of science, or B.Sc., and it was possible to complete the courses that I needed to get a general B.Sc. as well as do my pre-vet year. The other option was to go to school part time and work the rest of the time. I chose the former. There was some benefit to having a B.Sc. as well as a doctor of veterinary medicine, or D.V.M., but honestly, at this stage of my life the B.Sc. was more of a label marking me as someone that was not successful during her first attempt to get into veterinary medicine. I’ve gotten over that now.

So I settled into third year in my two-bedroom apartment with the commuter roommate and focused on my studies. All of the pressure to get really high marks had been eliminated. They used to kid around in class and say, “Do you know what they call the person that graduates at the bottom of the class?” Wait for it…..

Doctor.

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Lambs to Slaughter — Chapter 2

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The fall colours are beginning to highlight the greens with yellow and orange. It is still quite warm out and was over 80 degrees yesterday. My pool is still open and will be for a couple of more weeks. I’m sitting out back, partly because I know that soon it will be too cold to sit out here and partly because it is a beautiful morning.

I still needed to get “on-farm” experience in order to pad my application for veterinary medicine, so I got another farm job. This farm job was with a veterinary student that was graduating that year. He had inherited a family farm and was headed back to that home to establish himself as one of the local vets. A man that worked in the veterinary teaching hospital, at the university, caring for the animal pens made the introductions and I got hired right away.

When I arrived, I landed in a surreal place that was hard to piece together. The house was huge. There were several people that had been living there while the veterinary student had been away at school to help maintain the property and care for the animals. The new graduate had also found several programs and projects that provided funding and made it possible for him to hire other individuals that could come and work for him or for their own experience.

The summer was composed of going on vet calls, caring for the animals on the farm and helping him amass building materials for the new veterinary clinic that he hoped to build on his property. As a new grad, he kept a copy of Mereck’s Manual on the front seat of his truck so that he could review it before he went in to see the animals.

There was a “farm gate” business of selling lambs in the spring. This was a particularly good farm for lamb. According to the families that would come to buy the lambs, lambs raised on a hill were the tastiest. I cannot attest to this fact one way or another, but we regularly had large extended families come to the property to buy lambs.

This was quite the social event. Those most knowledgeable about the best attributes of lamb would select one of the animals to purchase. While this was going on, the women and the children would set out blankets and tables and chairs and prepare a feast. The impression that I always got was that they had travelled a long distance to get there and they were all famished.

The lamb would be slaughtered, hung to bleed and cleaned while the families waited. Some of these aspects can take a considerable amount of time and while waiting, the meal would be served. Once the meat was sufficiently processed that it could be transported home, all of the tables, chairs and food would be packed away and the families would leave.

It turned out that the man that I was working for was somewhat of a lothario. I found myself, multiple times, waiting in the vehicle while he squared up a bill with one of the clients in the house. This became somewhat of a joke and I started to remind myself to bring something to read while in the truck.

I began to wonder how many of the females in the house were sleeping with this guy. There was one small spat between the woman that had lived there while he was in university and a woman that had come to work for the summer, but I did not hear the details.

One long weekend, I had made arrangements to go to my hometown. I had contacted several people to say that I was coming and to ask if I could stay with them. All of the other inhabitants of the house were away that afternoon and the guy that owned the farm had agreed to drive me into the city so that I could catch the train.

At one point he went into his room, which was on the main floor next to the livingroom and laid down. I went to see where he was and when we would be leaving and he asked me if I wanted to come lie down. That was it? This worked for this obviously busy guy? Anyhow, I restrained myself, not wanting to cause any tension between myself and the other women living in the house.

When I got to my hometown, it was as like I had never called ahead. My one friend, that had said that I could stay with her, said that she had asked her mother and her mother did not think that it was a good idea. Really, you didn’t ask your mother when I called to see if I could stay here? My cousin turned out to be out of town that weekend, so I’m not sure why she said that I could stay with her.

Luckily, my sister had a place down by the beach and I stayed with her for a couple of days. She was not expecting me but she was glad to have me. She seemed high strung and unable to relax, but the only real evidence that she was not OK was that she had never actually unpacked into the place where she was living. All of her boxes were there and some of them were open, but she had not moved in. She had been there for several months.

The working part of my summer was cut short because I still did not have a place to live in the fall and I had to go back to the university town to find a place. Other factors included the fact that my stay at the farm included room and board and I ate more than average, according to the woman that bought the groceries. Also, I had only taken that one weekend off, so if you blocked all of my days off together, there were a couple of weeks together that I had coming. And let’s be honest here, I was not as valuable on the farm as I could’ve been, “come lie down”, hadn’t worked, so there was no one there that wanted me to stay longer.

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Admission — Chapter 2

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The only thing that still remained unresolved was my application for veterinary medicine. In order to apply to veterinary medicine there were several things that you had to complete. First, you had to fill out the paperwork and sign a release saying that they could access your marks. Then, you had to write an essay explaining why you wanted to be a veterinarian and finally you were interviewed by a panel of professors that would evaluate your suitability as an applicant.

The essay that I had to write was a disaster. I wrote it while I was still working on the dairy farm. I was not given time off or allowed to leave the farm, before I quit the job, so I had to make due with what they had on hand. What they had on hand was an old typewriter that was in need of repair.

When you insert paper into a typewriter, the paper goes down the back of a barrel that is slightly longer than the paper is wide and it is guided to go around this barrel and come up at the front of the machine. The paper is held snug against the barrel as you type. The typing mechanism moves to the right the distance of one letter each time you hit a key stroke. At the end of each line a bell rings to let you know that you have five spaces left before the end. When you reach the end, you use a return paddle to move the paper up one line and move the typing mechanism back to the left so that you can continue.

This particular typewriter had something loose inside. As I typed the page would shift down giving it a droopy appearance. The essay had to be typed, that was stipulated in the application, and I had no other typewriter that I could use so I would type a bit and then try to pull the paper up to where it was supposed to be. It is painful now to think about this.

I likely could have used a typewriter at a local library or hired someone to do the typing for me, but I did not know this at the time. Even though the farmer’s wife was a teacher, she did not offer any insights into how to improve the appearance of the essay. It brings into focus how much of a disadvantage students are at if their parents did not get any higher education. So, my essay was probably a frightful mess.

The interview went OK, but I have learned that unless you know what they are looking for there is no way to tell if you have given them what they want. They asked me some specific questions about the Pre Vet Club. I had been elected to its board, but I had never done any work. I did not know what I was supposed to do and the other people on the board never let me know.

In general, my marks were all good except for two courses. During grade 12, I had made the mistake of taking grade 13 biology. The high school I was attending went on strike the year that I was in grade 12 and we missed several weeks of classes. Many of the people that I was in grade 12 with never did graduate, or did not graduate that year, because the teachers were on strike so long that the students got full time jobs and then it didn’t make sense to go back to school.

The drawback for me was that the instructors for first year Zoology assumed that you had learned the material in grade 13 biology. I had not. I had been given the credit, so it would appear as though I knew the stuff, but I hadn’t even seen most of it before. The course amounted to a huge amount of anatomy of various creatures and it required a lot of memorization. I am explaining this in a great amount of detail because Zoology was my lowest mark, by far.

The other course that I got a poor mark in was an accident. It turns out that this particular professor was the father of a woman that would later become one of my best friends, but I did not know her at the time. There was a mistake in recording my mark. When I calculated how poorly I would have had to have done on the final exam to get my final mark, I would have had to have received less than zero. I knew it was an error. I went in to see the professor and he acknowledged that it must have just been an error and assured me that he would change the mark. He never did.

So, I waitressed for the remainder of the summer and eagerly anticipated a reply to my veterinary application. I knew that I was going back to university regardless of whether or not I got accepted. I did not get accepted.

The letter that came with my rejection said that I could go in to the office of the veterinary college and find out why I did not get in. So, I decided that I would do this. In those days, computer paper was about 20 inches wide and had edges that were separated from the main paper by perforations. These edges had holes in them. The holes fit over the mechanism that moved the paper through the printer. Computer paper was not similar to regular paper in shape or texture. When I went in to see why I had not been accepted, the man explaining it to me pulled out this long piece of computer paper that was probably three or four feet long.

Each line of the paper had a name followed by the overall average that the person had on the test scores. This was followed by the mark given for the essay, the average mark from their course work and the mark that they received for their interview. The most important mark was the overall average and the list had been organized with the highest average at the top and decreasing averages below in order.

Some very talented individual had taken the time to highlight a large block of names in pink. So, when he held the paper up, there were a bunch of names at the top, followed by a huge area of pink and then the vast majority of the names were below the pink area. He explained to me that the people in the pink area all had the same overall average. About one third of the way down the pink area was a bold blue line that had been drawn in to mark the bottom of the list of accepted applicants. I was in the pink, just below the line.

Being that close is a strange feeling. I was just as good as a group of students that were accepted that year (based on the way that they were evaluated). Unfortunately for me, my last name was not ‘Abbot’ or ‘Burns’. Several things could have put me above that pink patch: taking grade 13 biology in grade 13; having the professor actually correct my grade; and having a decent typewriter to do my essay on. Any one of these things could have given me a fraction of a point advantage and I would have been accepted. I did not know if I would ever be accepted. It felt like there were a few fail-safes to make sure that I did not get in that year.

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Milk is For Cows — Chapter 2

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I would get up in the morning and help the wife make breakfast. She was a teacher in town, so she would leave right after breakfast and I would go out with the men to milk the cows and do the chores. At break time, the men would come in and I was supposed to get the coffee and food out and then clean it up. When I was done doing this, we would go out and do more work on the farm.

This pattern occurred at each break and mealtime. The men would plop themselves down, often complaining about how tired or overworked they were and I would be expected to get them food and clear things up and go back to work when they did. Interesting.

When I asked to have an evening or a weekend off, I was told that they couldn’t spare me. This was not consistent with what I was told by the fella from the Farm Labour Pool. I called the fella that had interviewed me and brought this to his attention and he was evasive and said that there wasn’t anything that he could do. He represented the farmers, not the people that he hired.

A few weeks into the summer a guy that I had been dating before I went to university decided to come up and visit me at the farm. I explained that I couldn’t get away so he took it as an opportunity for a road trip. The family that I was working for acted as though they had struck gold. Here was a strong, healthy, young man that had just showed up on their doorstep. When he asked if he could stay for a night or two I was worried that I would be back in the closet. The “spare room” that I had stayed in when I first arrived and they had company staying with them in my room.

They welcomed him with open arms, originally. Then came the dreaded day of the misunderstanding. In case it is not clear at this point, I did not grow up on a farm. Some of the things that would be considered common sense are actually learned and so common that most people already know them. It is only common sense, once it has occurred to you.

I was asked to plow a field. I don’t remember exactly what type of equipment I was using or what purpose there was to plowing this field. My fella came with me and it seemed like a lovely day to be out on the land, even though the roar coming from the motor of the tractor was deafening.

I was supposed to go back and forth on the field and drag this piece of equipment in rows. Not actually having any experience with this, I decided it was best to be thorough and to overlap each row a bit. This was wrong. The most efficient way is even to leave a small patch between the rows. So, instead of needing to go back and forth lets say 10 times, I needed to do it about 15 times because I was overlapping. The proper way to do this was never explained to me.

When I got back to the house the farmer was furious. I had taken a considerably longer amount of time than I should have. When I tried to explain that I was not doing anything wrong and I thought that there must be a misunderstanding he started to yell and scream.

I have been treated poorly before. I thought nothing of driving my mother to the States to go drinking and driving men home for her. I know what it is like to work hard. I worked full time while going to high school, so none of that seemed to be too crazy, but I draw the line at being accused of lying, being yelled at and most importantly being called names because he figured that we were plowing, just not the field. I packed up my stuff and left the farm shortly afterwards.

I did not leave the farm without more drama. The farmer’s wife was emotionally distraught. They had finally found someone that was willing and capable of taking care of the cows so that they could get away for a while together. I’m not sure what she felt this respite from the farm would have done for her quality of life, but she desperately wanted a break from the day to day labour of taking care of animals.

She pleaded me to not go. These situations are difficult for me and I know many people that would have made a different choice, but I had learned already with my mother that just because it might “kill her” did not mean that I was less important than she was.

Yes, I felt sorry for this woman that worked all day as a teacher, lived in a house that was desperately in need of some organization and cleaning; that lived with a man that was so oblivious to the world around him that he simply could not understand how she felt, but that was not my fault. I had been mistreated for a few weeks at this point and being accused of lying, being yelled at and being insulted were enough for me to leave. I will never know if she ever got away from the farm for any length of time, but I would never wish to trade places with her.

I drove back to my hometown and knew that my first priority was to get a job. So, I went straight to the restaurant that I had worked at before I started universityl. I was surprised to see that they had gutted the place. It was no longer a burger joint with a diverse menu. It was now a prime rib restaurant with a bar and softer lighting. It had the same owners.

As if the universe was congratulating me for standing up for myself, I walked up to the restaurant to find it closed. From the door I could tell that they were having a staff meeting inside. The owner could see me through the windows on the side of the restaurant and came to the door to let me in. I told her why I was there and she told me to take a seat. I would be paid starting now. I had arrived at the first meeting to let the staff know the ins and outs of the new restaurant and I could have my job back. When I pitch in a little to take care of myself, the universe pitches in a lot.

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Second Class Citizen — Chapter 2

IMG_0103After first year there was no thought given to returning to my home town. I had some friends there, but no place to stay. I needed to get a job that would help me get into veterinary medicine. Let me introduce the Farm Labour Pool.

The Farm Labour Pool was a loosely arranged group that was based on the mutual need of the farmers to have summer help and the university students to get practical on-farm experience. Veterinary students were not the only ones that needed this experience. There was also an Agricultural Program on campus, affectionately called the “Aggies” or the veterinary wanabees and a Diploma in Agriculture which, was a two year course to give farmers a broader perspective after highschool, before they returned to the family farm. These fellas, and yes they were all fellas as far as I know, were called the Dippers.

All three groups needed on-farm experience and the Farm Labour Pool was the link between the students and the farms. I went to my interview, which as I remember it was for any of the farm jobs and I was told that the farmers that wanted help actually wanted someone that was already in the veterinary program.

Perspective has a way of changing the understanding of a situation. In hindsight, I now know, that this may have been on the farmer’s wish list, but in reality, you could make more money waiting tables. Why you would choose to work on a farm and do 10-14 hour days, six days a week, instead of living in the city and making more money and having a social life? It did make me feel like they were ‘doing me a favour’ by getting me a job on a dairy farm though.

The reality of this job was another matter. I had never experienced what it meant to be a second class citizen before. The first day that I arrived at this job I was told that they had company staying with them and that I could not move into my room yet.

The room that they offered me was a closet. No window, but it did have a light suspended from the ceiling by a long electrical cord. It was equipped with a chain that you could pull to turn the light off and on. It also had a cot that just fit along the one side of the room with the foot against one wall and the head of it against the other wall. To be fair, I was not in this room for very long.

If I had already been accepted into veterinary medicine I would have been quicker to say, “Wow! Sorry! I didn’t mean to arrive before you were ready for me. When will my room be open?” As it was, I was once again traveling with my car full of all of my belongings and I had no where else to go, so I stayed.

I have learned over the years that when you are confronted with the same problem over and over again you should recognize that you must have gotten it wrong the last time. We are given multiple opportunities to make the right decision, take the right action and see the truth that is right in front of us. When we don’t make this connection, we get another opportunity to make a different choice, again and again. It is humbling to write this now, but this summer was not the last time that this happened to me.

I would again be treated poorly and instead of taking immediate action to stop it, I would become introspective, re-evaluate my expectations, justifying inaction and generally let it go on way too long.

I had to move off of my lounge chair and over to the patio table with the umbrella. It is so hot out here that I was sweating profusely and not only was it uncomfortable, but I was starting to worry about getting water into my computer. So, I am now in the shade. The app on my cell phone tells me that it “feels like” 95 F, with the humidex and all.

The humidex is the same concept as the wind chill factor. In the winter it feels colder if there is more wind so it may be 40 F out, but it feels much colder because of the wind. The humidex recognizes that when it is really humid it feels hotter than it is. It is not even noon yet.

I mentioned that I was treated like a second class citizen. The closet is not how this ended. In a traditional farmhouse, the men did the outside work and the women did the inside work. Now, all women also worked outside but only after the inside work was done.

I was hired to help with the milking of the cows. The cows liked me. I heard that the amount of milk that they were producing actually went up when I started to milk them. The farmer’s wife mentioned this during one of our meals and her husband was quick to down play it and say that any change will cause them to produce more milk. I have no way of knowing if that is true or not. I didn’t stay long enough to see if the novelty of having someone else milk them would wear off.

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University — Chapter 2

IMG_1090University was my first experience with “salad days”, which denote happy, fun filled days with lots of salads. I always think of BBQ’s where you are asked to bring a salad and there is cole slaw, potato salad, and macaroni salad—all of the ones that are implicated in food outbreaks. I worked hard in university. The classes and labs themselves were a full time job without the study and homework that was required in addition, but I felt like I had purpose and that my time was in my own control.

As I try to write this there is a black bird cawing away in the distance. This is my totem animal. As soon as I wrote that it stopped calling to me, so it must have wanted to be mentioned. I often get “messages” or rather stories that apply to my life from these birds. I don’t know if they are crows or ravens, but I have never known, so there is no advantage to knowing now. Don’t worry, they have never told me to kill anyone, the messages are usually more like, you are supported, or things will work out.

I am sitting on my back deck and it is hot and humid, very hot and humid for 10 a.m. on a Saturday in September, but we’ve experienced hotter than average weather all summer. I have to remember to appreciate this weather this time of year because it will be gone all too soon and it will be too cold to sit out here at all.

My focus in university was on getting into veterinary medicine. I stopped telling people this very early in frosh week, because everyone that I met was trying to get into that program and it became too embarrassing. I just told them that I was in biology, which was true.

I also swam on the varsity team and made a lot of friends. The women in my suite in residence were all very academic and so we seldom went out as a group. I did, however, go out with them a couple of times. As a group of girls will do when they are all living together, we would all cycle together and there would be times when the energy was so strong in our residence we could not help but all go out.

I have read stories about all of the girls in a boarding school getting pregnant on the same night, and although this is likely an exaggeration, it is supported by biology. We would all have the desire to go out at the same time because we influenced each other’s hormonal cycles. Interesting actually.

In second year, I shared a house with three other women. One of them had been in the same suite as me in first year and she had made all of the arrangements with the woman that had rented the place. We all lived together that year but did not get to know each other very well. I had chosen the room in the basement. Initially, the one woman said that she would take it and pay less than everyone else. I jumped at that. I would pay the full one quarter of the rent and stay in the basement. It was perfect for me. I had the basement, my bedroom and a small bathroom with a shower all to myself. I was essentially alone again and it was a great year.

By third year I had a two bedroom apartment that was the main floor of a house on the “good” side of the tracks near downtown. I rented it with a woman that I met at off campus housing. We were both looking for a place and we hit it off. She turned out to be a pretty good roommate. She was taking humanities and did not attend classes on Monday or Friday. She would travel home on Thursday night to work as a waitress in her hometown and would not come back until Tuesday after class. This apartment was about a half hour walk from the school, which turns out to be a perfect amount of exercise for me.

Finances had forced me to get rid of my car after first year. When I calculated how much I would reasonably spend returning home, which was occurring less frequently, buying groceries and going places, it did not make sense to keep insurance on the car. I know that I left the car at my cousin’s place but I do not remember if I sold it to her or if I just gave it to her. It was not worth very much at the time.

So, I walked everywhere, which suited me just fine. The university town was a moderate size and you could walk to the three essential areas: downtown, the mall and the university, in under an hour so there was never any reason to take a bus. I did rent a taxi a few times after doing a large grocery. I could walk there with a roommate and split the cost of a taxi for us and all of our groceries on the way home. That just left buying perishable food occasionally, which was not a big deal to carry home.

I stayed in the two bedroom apartment for over three years and it represented one of the longest times that I had stayed anywhere since I was 15 years of age, but I am getting ahead of myself.

My focus was on getting into veterinary medicine and so my goal in the summer was to get the experience I needed to get accepted. They needed large animal vets. “Large animal vets” are vets that work with farm animals intended for food. So yes, a chicken is considered a large animal and surprisingly, a horse is not. So, they were selecting students bases on their “large animal” experience. After first year, I took a job on a dairy farm.

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Residence — Chapter 2

IMG_0760I’m trying something out of the ordinary. I went out for lunch and brought my computer, so we’ll see how that works. The atmosphere is totally different and I can expect interruptions, which are not as much of a problem when I’m writing at home. This is a fairly new, chain restaurant in town. I’ve been to one in a near-by city and its chef is better. But, it still has a good menu.

When I was driving to university for the first time I entered a type of calm peacefulness. Everything that was important to me, possessions that is, was in the car with me. It is a strange experience to have all of your worldly belongings with you. A simple car accident could have destroyed everything that I held dear to my heart. On the other hand, I felt mobile and self-contained. I was meeting all of my own needs and everything that I wanted was with me.

The drive felt endless, I was soon past the neighbouring city, which was about an hour away and I was onto a major highway that I had seldom driven on. Unlike my hometown, the university town was not right next to the highway. I drove for a very long time down the road into town. I kept expecting signs that would tell me where to go and there were none. I know that they have signs up all over the place each fall when the students come now, so I’m not sure why there were no signs then. Perhaps the signs go up later. That was the first day that the residence was open and maybe the signs did not go up until closer to the first day of school, which was frosh week away at this point.

I had to stop and ask for directions at a gas station. I was humbled to find out that the university was on “College” street. Go figure. My residence was at the back of campus and I arrived to a flurry of activity. Students were volunteering to help all of the residence occupants move in. There were boxes and possessions all over the place. There were mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers helping the students carry their possessions up to their rooms.

This particular part of this residence was only three floors high so there was no elevator. I was on the third floor, room 311. Elevens play an important roll in my life and occur at a frequency that greatly exceeds random chance. Seeing an eleven usually gives me a feeling like I am in the right place at the right time, or perhaps that I am being taken care of.

What I soon discovered was that the students that were hired to help the new residents get to their rooms were told that the most important people there were the parents. They had been strictly guided to not get side tracked by all of the new students. I guess it is to be expected. The parents are the ones that are paying the bills and the ones that are most likely to complain if they feel that they are not being treated well. Unfortunately for me, I had no adults with me. I was essentially invisible to these attendants.

I had a large hope chest that my most recent, long term, boyfriend had made for me one Christmas. When I was packing up my things it seemed like the perfect thing to pack with my possessions. Not only could I use it as an end table when I moved into my residence room, but I could store things in it. It had never occurred to me that I might have to carry it, by myself, up three floors to my room.

I was about to get a lesson in assertiveness. I stopped one fella and asked him if he could give me a hand. He took one look at my chest (hope chest that is) and declined. He said something about coming back later. I looked around knowing full well that I would not be able to get this trunk up the stairs without some help. There did not seem to be anyone in charge.

I went into the residence and asked the guy at the front desk how things were organized. He said that I should just grab someone to help me. I tried again and I was unable to convince any of the students to help me with my things.

I finally went up to one of the fathers, that was being assisted by a young guy and I said, “Can I borrow this guy? I’m here by myself and it has become clear that these students were told to only help out the parents.” The student looked horrified. I did not have to carry any of my stuff up to my room.

Residence was the ultimate culture shock for me. For as long as I could remember, I had basically been alone. As a preschooler, I watched t.v. and played in the back yard alone. As a preteen I came home and made my own lunch and got myself off to school in the morning, alone. When it was just me and my mom, she was seldom there and in the final bit of high school, I was either at work, at school or asleep which is essentially being alone even though I was usually surrounded by people while awake.

In residence I had a roommate. This was not optional for first year students. They guaranteed a residence room for all first year students, as long as you were in a double. I don’t believe being in a single room was an option, but I could be wrong. When my daughters went to university, they alternatively wanted and did not want roommates but the rules were different at each university and they did not have to have a roommate.

So I went from having no one around to having someone in my bedroom. There was no place that I could go and ensure that I would be totally alone or even have some modicum of privacy. I am embarrassed to admit that I used to take a shelf out of the closet and put it across the sink in one of the washrooms so that I could do homework in relative quiet and privacy.

My roommate was too immature to be in university. She was an American. Her explanation for being there when she was clearly too immature to be on her own was that her father was about to retire. The company that he worked for would pay for his children’s education as long as he was employed, but not after he retired, so she had to go to university before she was ready. She told me stories of private schools, attended with movie stars’ children, and living on campus miles from her parents.

She had recently been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and was not managing well. During her year with me she more than doubled in size. She was not liked by the other girls in our residence and chose not to be in the common areas of our suite.

On a particularly bad evening, when her blood sugar was out of control, she was seen buying rounds and rounds of beer for one of the university sports teams. There was a bar in the bottom of one of the men’s residences that took meal cards. Meal cards were the currency of the on-campus restaurants and dining halls. The idea was that at the beginning of each semester you had to estimate how much you would be eating and buy the appropriate amount from the meal plan. These cards were then to be used for food, except at this bar where they could be used to buy beer.

I was lucky that the residence room I was in was part of an apartment style residence. I did not have to buy a meal plan. Everyone that was living in traditional residence had no choice but to buy a meal plan and eat at the dining halls. Eating meal plan food on the university’s schedule probably would have been the death of me. We had kitchens and I was able to cook for myself.

On this particularly unfortunate winter evening there was about an inch of snow on the ground and it was quite cold out. I got a call in the middle of the night. My roommate had “sobered” up in the middle of a gang bang and had ran out of the room without her coat, her shoes or her purse. The fellas were able to locate her because she had left all of her identification and her room keys when she fled. The fella on the other end of the line asked me to go down to the front of the residence and open the door for her so that she wouldn’t be stuck outside all night in the cold with no shoes.

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A Move of My Own –Chapter 2

photoI’m now in the family room. It is a large room with three leather sofas, a large screen TV, a fireplace and three garden doors across the back wall. Garden doors are the same size as a regular door and they swing open normally, but about eighty per cent of them is glass. These particular doors do not all open. The centre has a lattice that makes them look a little like french doors, but the lattice is between the two panes of glass and there is no bevel.

The doors provide a view out the back of the house. From here, I can only see the tops of the trees and some of the houses that are on the other side of the green space. It is the perfect view of the sunset and that adds a certain drama to the room at that time of day.

I usually do not write this much in a day, but it is a Saturday and none of my children are here. I have the whole day to myself and it feels quite satisfying to be sitting on my computer committing these stories to the page.

The day that I left for university is etched on my brain the way any significant life changing day later becomes stylized in your memory. By this time I had another Ford Capri, I believe this one was a 1974 model and I was never as attached to this one as I had been attached to my first car. It was in better shape and much more reliable than my first car but not as beloved.

I had packed the car full of my possessions and anything that wouldn’t fit in my car had been left at my sister’s place. I had ended up staying with her near the end of grade thirteen and for the summer before university. She had a spare room and even though she was married at the time, it was OK that I stay in that room.

During that summer she moved from the one side of the semi, to the other side when it became available. I had begun to believe that I would never stay in any place very long. There had been numerous moves over the last few years and at the very least I was becoming more efficient at it.

It is a liberating experience to be leaving the world that you know behind and going to an unknown place where anything can happen. Unlike those that make this sort of move in order to find new jobs, or try a shot at acting or living in a big city, I had a plan. I had been accepted into university and I was going to become a veterinarian.

In hindsight, this was probably not the best career choice for me. I did not have a lot of people in my life that could guide me as far as career choices or educational opportunities were concerned. My only experience with the guidance counselors at school was not positive. They had become aware that my parents had separated and called me down, out of class, to speak to them. Getting called out of class is never a good sign when you are in school and it exposed my family problems to all of the people that I went to school with.

I don’t know if they ever considered making an appointment with me and having me come at a time that was convenient, but they didn’t do it that way. Public humiliation, in the form of being called down to the principal’s office was what I experienced. When the meeting with the counselor and my sister commenced it only got worse. Divorce was fairly uncommon in the seventies. Birth control, which provided the first opportunity to leave a marriage, or choose not to be married, had only been around for about ten years and was only becoming mainstream at this time.

The increase in divorce may not have been a result of birth control but it was definitely related from a temporal perspective. The seventies were the era of swingers’ parties and sexual freedom; freedom that had never been experienced before. This was the first adult generation that could have sex without the fear of an unwanted pregnancy.

But I digress; the way that the counselor saw our predicament was that we were going to be in a state of utter confusion and emotional turmoil. Our best bet, if we wanted to survive in the world, post divorce, was to get our high school diploma as quickly and easily as possible. She recommended that I drop down from my university level, grade thirteen classes into the four-year program. Interesting. My sister took this advice. I did not.

Another tool that was used at this time was a type of aptitude test. By filling out questions like, “Do you like the smell of turpentine?”; they decided whether or not you should choose a job as a painter. I filled this out and there was a notation on mine. A computer generated question of whether or not I had filled in the “sex” part improperly. Another female friend of mine, who later became a doctor, experienced the same thing when she got her results back.

This test said that I should become an engineer. There were a few other suggestions but this one makes the best story. When I spoke to some people that I knew, including my father, about this option, I was told that this would be a mistake because trains were going out of fashion. You can’t make this stuff up!

The good thing about my singular focus on becoming a veterinarian was that it took all of the decision making out of this time in my life. I had a focus. I had a goal. When my boyfriend wanted to get married right after I finished high school, I knew that this wouldn’t work for me because I wanted to go to university. It also meant that I only applied to one university and that was where I was driving on the day that I left for school.

I remember driving down the newly built four lane divided highway that had no stops and no distractions at the side of the road. I had a clean, clear feeling of having everything that was important to me with me in the car. I was leaving the drama, the history and the conflict behind and I was taking the next step out into the world. I had a good feeling that life was only going to get better. The problem with having all of your worldly belongings with you is that a simple car accident could have destroyed everything that I held dear to my heart. On the other hand, I felt mobile and self-contained. I was meeting all of my own needs and everything that I wanted was with me.

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You Get What You Need — Chapter 1

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I’ve moved again. I had to get up and walk around. I’ve started some coffee and there are leftovers warming in the microwave. I’m now sitting at the patio table that faces the same direction as the lounge chair, so the view is the same. It is definitely warmer.

If this ordeal in my bedroom had been isolated, it would have been enough of a reason to question the safety of remaining with my mother. It was not. She repeatedly put me into situations that put my safety at risk. We lived in a border town and there is a large international bridge connecting it to the United States. On more than one evening, she asked me to drive her to the States. She knew that she would be drinking, so she did not want to drive home. Unfortunately for me, she met up with someone one night and left me in the bar alone. I made it home safely but it is difficult to understand, from the perspective of being a mother myself, how anyone could reasonably think that that was an OK thing to do.

Also, we would go to the horse races together and she would tell someone that I would drive them back to our house, in another city. On one occasion, my passenger thought that the purpose of us being together was for me to get him off. This almost caused a car accident because I was trying to drive at the time, but again, I did not have the experience or insight to know how to handle the situation any better than I was managing. After pulling over, which I had to do because I was going to drive the car either off of the road or into on coming traffic, and not giving him what he thought he was entitled to, I vomited on him. That killed the mood.

She would have parties in the house and I would find groups of people on my bed, glass in the pool, things in disarray. I told her that I was not going to tolerate this and that if she kept inviting these people over, I would move out.

I started to have nervous problems. I know now that these vision disturbances are part of the “aura” that people that get migraines experience. Your vision narrows to a type of tunnel and everything outside of the centre of your vision looks almost sparkly or like you are looking down the centre of a kaleidoscope.

I went to our doctor and explained the problem to him and he suggested medication. I asked him if I should just leave and he was adamant that that would not be OK because it would “kill my mother”. Interesting. I should be medicated and stay but I shouldn’t leave. I chose to leave.

The first option that presented itself was that my best friend at the time was living by herself in her mother’s townhouse. Her mother had remarried a man that lived in a city an hour away and she felt that allowing her daughter to stay and finish high school, while she moved to another city, was a good idea. My friend and I agreed that it would work for both of us if I moved in with her.

In order to do this, we travelled to the other city, sat down with her mother and her mother’s new husband and outlined our proposal for how we thought we could manage things. I would contribute to the expenses. I was working at a restaurant as a cook making deep fried seafood, or rather, fish and chips and I could share the cost of groceries, utilities and rent. We would both go to high school together and my friend would benefit from the company and my vehicle.

We stayed the night at her mother’s place and in the morning it was decided that this was an acceptable arrangement and I could move in. I immediately told my mother that I was moving out. Which resulted, of course, in her putting herself into the hospital. I started to pack up my things and make arrangements for the move and my friend called and said that her mother had reconsidered and I could no longer move in. Her mother had envisioned me having multiple parties, bad company and who knows what else and decided that her daughter was better off alone.

I was faced with a mother that already knew that I was leaving and so I made other arrangements and moved out. In order to pay for my room and board, I needed to work full time. I did not want to quit high school and I found out that you could not collect any of the social safety net monies while attending school, even though I had no choice but to contribute to unemployment insurance, while I worked and went to school. Welfare was not an option because I was too young and they wanted me to live in a girls home. I had had enough of knowing people that were living on the edge like this and declined.

It turned out that I could work from 4 p.m. until close at 11 p.m. at a restaurant not far from the school. This gave me a full time income and the luxury of having a safe place to live. If anything becomes apparent when I look back at my life, money has always been available when I’ve needed it. This is the first example that really springs to mind, but it was essential that I have an income and the perfect opportunity was there for me. Despite the bad things that are inevitable in any life, the universe does make sure, “you get what you need”.

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