When I was 23, I created a small miracle. I took one step to change my life and a perfect sequence began. I was living in Woss (located between Sayward and Port McNeill) and had outgrown my circumstances in every way including the isolation and my eight-year high-school relationship. I knew for months I wanted to leave, but with a two-year old toddler, I felt stuck and afraid. My family had long since moved to Montreal, I hadn’t worked for three years and we were broke. Leaving the camp was always on my mind but where would I go and how would I do it?
My dad paid my way to Montreal in October 1986 to help my sister cope after her boyfriend’s fatal car accident. I helped her as much as I could and with family and friends’ support she began to recover from the tragedy. I wished she could understand my plight but she was obviously too distraught. When I got back to BC, two women from an employment program came to Woss to talk about a six-month course to help women re-enter the job market. There would be job skills, government subsidies, on-the-job training and daycare allowance for those who needed it. You had to have been unemployed for at least three years to qualify. I sat, stunned, thinking This is it. Here’s your chance. There would be an information meeting in Campbell River in March and then we could fill out an application.
My sister came to visit that Christmas and we helped each other: her to move on from her loss and me to get a grip on what to do. I had huge doubts – I didn’t have any money and how could I take Joel away from his father – and a lot of questions: Where would I go? Where would we live? Where would I work? What about daycare? Getting into the job-training program was a long shot and I was miserable, restless and worried. Michele encouraged me to make a list because I’d get all worked up about how to take a step, any step. After she left I looked in the paper for places to rent in Campbell River and I circled some. That’s when I knew absolutely that I was going to go through with leaving.
In the middle of January I told two close friends that I was leaving Woss, and told my family who urged me to move to Montreal. Mom said she’d baby-sit while I worked or went to school but if I’d wanted to live there I would have moved with them in the early 80’s. My friend had a sister in Campbell River whom he thought could help me somehow. I had met her twice on trips to Campbell River and she was the only person I “knew” there. Gloria and her family offered me their heated camper to stay in until I found a place. I would leave in two weeks. That night at home I thought, You’re really doing this. You can’t turn back now. I knew everything would be okay but I was so scared. I started to pack my two-year-old’s toys, happy one minute and crying the next. His dad was being so understanding (at first) and it made me cry more. I kept reminding myself I was capable and needed to be on my own.
Three times I left and twice I turned back: once because I thought my little Honda with pink primer spots would break down and the second time because I got scared. The third time I drove to Campbell River to stay with strangers, look for a job or be accepted into the job program, find a place to live and find daycare for my little son. I had $300.00 and a promise from Welfare once I had a “permanent address”.
I’m forever graced by how everything worked out after that. I found an apartment in a four-plex just down the road from Gloria and her family (who had us stay in their home instead of the camper). When I first walked by I thought, This won’t do because a front window was broken but when I went inside, I could smell paint and lemon cleaner and the landlady was really friendly. The yard was huge and the place cost only $280.00 a month. Nothing I had seen was as nice or affordable and I moved in on Valentine’s Day 1987. I went to the general meeting for the job re-training program on March 3rd and filled out my application. There were 150 applicants, 50 women were interviewed and of the 20 picked, I was one. I received financial assistance, daycare allowance and three months of job training where I was hired after two weeks. (I’m still there – don’t tell anyone!) At the end of the program the coordinators told me they weren’t sure why they picked me, saying I might not have needed this program. Gloria offered to babysit Joel and ended up starting an informal daycare in her home.
I was ready for this big change and I still know that one step is all it takes to lead me beyond what I can conceive – that a bit of faith and courage can take me a long way.
Christine Goyer-Swift finds expression through writing and dance, and inspiration through long walks and solitude. “Writing is a window into my life, recording, witnessing and continually emerging.”