Be My Junkie Shadow

katandbernadettekat and deedee (Bernadette) – photo by Chris Young

kat’s 2002 documentary, “Be My Junkie Shadow,” is a loving clear-eyed receptive sweet stark portrait of women who have lived and worked in the downtown eastside neighborhood of Vancouver.

At one time I tried to persuade kat to upload her documentary onto YouTube. I didn’t come close to persuading her.  The women kat interviewed had not agreed to have their stories distributed in such a way. We knew that five of the seven women had died since the documentary came out (kat could not track down two of the women she interviewed); even so, kat wanted to respect the wishes and the privacy of their families, particularly their children.

“Be My Junkie Shadow” is available in numerous libraries around Canada, including Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s and Public Safety Canada’s.


kat, I think my very most focused pitch, as an editor, was the one I made to you at the Christmas Party. I told you that if you left town, women who could relate to you and no one else as an artist and reporter, would die, with their stories not heard. You had to stay. Give them a voice. I was insistent. I believed I was telling you the truth. Time has shown the two of us that I was. Alishia’s complaint against God. Deedee’s warm reasoning and wisdom. Angel’s strong joy in the face of demise. They speak forever. Against death, as it were.

– Bob [Basil]

the interview i did with deedee where i asked her about her kids around xmas time, was rather ruthless.  it was a good lesson for me.  christmas is such a tender time. that was one of my first interviews.  she had actually approached me.  she came up to me while i was speaking with alice in the ovaltine and asked me to interview her.

it reminded me of when i was taking photos in new york.  i was taking shots of homeless people and someone got mad at me and i said ‘but this is public place, i am allowed to shoot outside’ and they responded ‘but this is our home’ and i realized how invasive and insensitive i had been.  a great lesson.

after that, i always said to women before i turned the camera on, that if there was anything that they did not want to talk about just let me know now and i won’t go there or if they say something they didn’t want me to use i wud edit it out.

and come to think of it i remember working with a journalist and she was going to use material that was very hurtful to deedee and jessy and i insisted that she take it out of the piece.  thank god she did becuz it wud have hurt the women (who trusted me) and it cud have hurt their families.  another good lesson.  she did not have to sensationalize it at their expense.  the women’s stories were amazing without that.  they were great spokeswomen for the piece.

whenever i asked deedee about her kids she would get chocked up and cudn’t talk. almost all of the women got upset when they spoke about their kids.  not a big surprise. they feel a lot of guilt and know they have hurt their kids because of their addiction. often they haven’t seen them for a long time and sometimes they were taken away from them.

i do remember another xmas when deedee was all excited about some presents she had put together for her boys.  each present very thoughtful to their characters.  she also wanted to take a picture of herself in a photo booth and asked if i wud drive her.  that was the nicest time i had with her.  she was with me in my van – my home at the time.  and we were sitting on my couch having a nip of brandy.

i laughed that she choked with her first sip.

‘too strong for ya!’

she was in great spirits and we giggled a lot and it was so spontaneous cuz i was just on my way to jet’s place and spotted her on the street.  i yelled and pulled over.  ‘hop in my dear.’ and she did.

she was a sister man.  i loved her.

so yeh, with regards to my own ethics, as i suddenly found myself making documentaries, i strived to not make gains from other peoples’ misfortunes.  there is a very fine line and i have lost my balance a few times esp with some of the very controversial subjects i tend to work on.  it’s tough.

i went into it blind.  i had no idea how to even hold a camera nor did i want to.  nor did i know how to conduct interviews.  i was persuaded by you bob!  shall i forgive you?  or thank you?  the jury is not in yet.

yes, that certainly changed the course of my life didn’t it?  yes speaking of dead summers. i had one the year i worked on ‘be my junkie shadow’.  i somehow lost a summer so that is like it being dead.  working on the project in the dead of summer. hmm.

i often think about my draw to the macabre.  i often get asked about it as well.

you know i really don’t remember what you said in your office but you took a long time saying it.  i remember tho, you saying at the premiere screening that ‘kat has a very strong will.  she has the will of that wall there.’

i really really did not want to do it.  i remember that clearly.  i had just come back from my california in my big purple van and planned to turn it rite freakin around and go back down again.  i had just finished my cd and was doing the music thing.

so i guess that was a pivotal time for me.  that changed my course drastically.  dam you.

you convinced me to interview women in the hood.  you said i am the only person that can capture their stories and that they will not be told unless there is a means to that happening and you believe i was the means.  gosh, i do remember what u said, after all these years.  what xmas was that?

i am sure it was the office party where that scottish guy started crying and poured his drink down my back as he hugged me.  laughs.  i think you worked on me for an hour.  i remember sitting down and looking straight at you and saying, ‘tell me why you want me to interview these women?’

well, i am a hard sell and you got me.  this has been a very hard road bob, did you know that?

all my life i have been exposed to drug addiction.  i have never been a drug addict and i don’t think i ever will be.  i am an observer.  i document.  i watch.  i listen.  i am a conduit for the information to go from one source to another.  i am a means for an audience to see what the women tell me.  i am the liaison between a camera crew and the downtown eastside.  but yet, i am just so much more.  laughs.

it is such an easy thing really.  if you want someone to talk all you have to do is ask questions and then listen.  the thing for me is that i have to ‘want’ to know their stories. and i did want to know these women’s stories.  i wanted to know how they got down there and i did want other people to know, to understand and to hopefully have some compassion for them.  that was my goal once i started.

i remember promising you ‘five’ and i held up my hand, ‘five’ interviews and then i am going back to california.  i did more than five and now i have a slew of docs that i have worked on and yagga yagga.

once i met the women, i liked them and i wanted to see them again so i opted to do second interviews and i got to know them even more.  some of them became friends. angel, deedee and jessy in particular.  then i started to just visit them and say hi and catch up a bit.  if i was working on other jobs in the hood i wud run into them. angel was often in front of the carnegie selling and i wud sit on the stone window sill with her and catch up.  she wud keep selling drugs as she chatted with me, not losing a beat.

we featured her in quite a few documentaries actually.  she loved helpin out.  i still laugh when i think about her coming to my screening for ‘be my junkies shadow’.  she stood at the door after and thanked everyone that left for coming to her movie.  she even made it into a review.  she came to quite a few screenings and was often very vocal, making comments as it ran and she wud pipe up when someone wud ask a question in the audience.  she was cool.  two or three of the women that were featured in the doc came to that show.

so, with regards to death, the downtown eastside has been a really hard mission for me. it is one thing dealing with death but it is another watching someone die.  i find that excruciating.  i think there is nothing harder that i have ever had to do than watch someone die.  and in the downtown eastside, it can be a really slow death.  an arduous death.  and we know how the story ends, we just don’t know when.

it was painful visiting angel in icu.  that was not the strong feisty woman i knew from the hood. she was gone and what was in her place was this dying woman.  it hurt like hell to see her like that and i wish i cud get rid of the image of her in the hospital bed looking like she was 86 not 36.

angel taught me unconditional love.  she taught me to say i love you instead of goodbye. what a present.  i passed that on to jessy. and now jessy and i say ‘love you’ when we hug goodbye.

with deedee, she died overnite.  an overdose.  what was most heart wrenching for me was that i really believed that she cud get out of the hood.  i had the hope that one of the women that i befriended in the hood wud get better and get out of there. it hasn’t happened yet and i think i lost most of my hope when deedee died.

and with jessy, i just never know.  i think her ticket is up and she bounces back. she is hanging on to life.  even with the recent fire, she almost died.  bloody hell.  how much can happen in one persons life?  i shud ask her how many times she just about died.  but do i want to know?

she won’t be around much longer.  i will be a mess when she goes.  she is a sweet soul and her innocence was taken away from her at such a young age and it was replaced with a rage that i saw the first day that i met her.  how did she stand a chance with such a horrible start.  i have a lot of respect for her.  she is always positive.  she doesn’t complain even if she is in pain.  and she is a decent human being.  she helped me love with out boundaries.  to love someone for where they are at today and not where they could or should be or you mite want them to be.  wow.

i guess those are pretty powerful lessons, but it was a really hard road.  it still is.  i thot i was escaping by coming to the sunshine coast but it followed me. the first person i befriended was a recovering addict.  wherever you go there you are with the same issues before you.

the women in the hood ask me what i am doing down there.  they know i don’t use yet i am comfortable being down there and they are comfortable around me.  i share an affinity yet i am not sure why.  i had a dream once that i was in a food line up.  it seemed like i was homeless and i may have been an addict.  maybe i was in a past life.

there is something so raw and real about the downtown eastside.  a lot of those people live for that moment.  shannon just popped into my mind.  her beautiful smiling face.  another woman that said i love you instead of good bye.  how come the rest of us mortals don’t do that?  and now shannon is on the other side.  so often she britened my world when i was down in the hood.  thank you shannon.

i haven’t even said that to my parents yet i can say it to these women.  they taught me that. maybe becuz they know that what little time they may have left on this earth is precious.  it can happen in an instant or it can slowly but mostly it happens.  will i finally say it to my mom when she is close to the end?

they claim that when you care about someone and hear there traumatic stories and know their tragedies, that you take on some of that energy.  how can you not.  it becomes part of your world. like me calling jessy’s scars her atlas.  it is a map of her world.

it certainly has been a journey.

i think if i continue in this field i would like to speak to the kids that are at the fork in the road and help to deter them from going down the path that leads to the downtown eastside.  i want to hang onto hope.  i guess i am already doing that a bit with showing my doc at schools but i like one on one too.

‘if you follow her tracks you may find her dream’ – a line from one of my songs about the women in the hood called ‘still have my dreams’.  but i don’t want the track marks to be from shooting drugs, i want them to be track marks in the path that leads them to their dreams.

that wud be sweet.

the relax shack


the shack
the relax shack

yeh i grieved
if those walls collected
my wails it wud be
an eerie soundtrack

i have fond memories
of the shack
even tho it was hard
to live there
esp in winter
summer was fine
cuz the sunshine
heated up the space

the winter was
pretty unbearable
esp the first one
i was even snowed in
with no provisions
that was the last space
where i wud suffer
for my passion
i decided rite

after that so many deaths in such a short time. i just had to get out of the city.  it was deedee’s death that did me in. …

how can u grieve when u live with someone.  i don’t know how unless you can cry with them.  i wouldn’t even allow myself to cry becuz i felt like it was like this dam and it wud burst and the flood wud be uncontrollable.

i was seeing a healer in the hood.  he asked me what was wrong with my heart as he felt the blocked energy around it.  he asked me when the last time i cried and i
old him that its on hold and i cudn’t cry cuz i mite not stop.

i felt there were barnacles on my heart and going to the shack was like dry dock and i cud take care of it there somehow.  scrape them away and let the sun at this crusty pink organ that is sposed to help me love and feel and breathe.  i also just needed to get away from the hood and all that was associated with it.

before moving there, kinda like goldilocks, jet and i had ‘entered’ the place to make sure it was the rite spot .  even slept there to make sure that it felt rite. and we left everything ‘just the way it was’.

one of the first things i noticed in the shack was a sky blue sign that said ‘balance’.   that was what i wanted.  it was the only thing that i left on the walls besides perhaps my sadness.

yeh, the dam broke there and i cried for so many deaths.  my nana u, deedee, angel, my high school friend lisa, and aunt edna.  and then one more kick in the ass with drew’s death just when i was beginning to get better.  i was a train wreck.

i wanted to be anonymous there and i was.  i didn’t talk to anyone but the dogs and occasionally the people at the end of their leashes.  i had a door mat that said ‘go away’ instead of welcome yet my first visitors were jehovahs.  guess they are illiterate.

but i was like a cat going back to the comfort of friends homes for warmth in vancouver.  the shack had no heating and half of it was not insulated.  not fun. cud see my breath.  wore gloves to write sometimes.  i was also doing bicep curls with this silver 10 lb plastic dumbbell to keep warm.  my arms were getting big as the winter grew colder.

it is interesting living alone.  i learned how to burp out loud again among other rude things u don’t want to do in front of a roommate or people.

i had that amazing panoramic view, still do just a different angle and now i have comfort.  i had great sunsets from that place and i was very creative. i loved how brite it was and liked all the wood around me – wood floors and cupboards etc.  and a fireplace that did dick all but looked nice.  like some men i know.

i liked laying on the couch at a time in the afternoon when the sun wud hit my face. i learned how to nap again.  that was a feat in itself.  truly.

i always wanted to live in a shack by the sea and there i was.  and it was there that i wanted balance in my life, and to learn how to relax – hence the ‘relax shack’.

i was on a jack kerouac theme – dharma bums in particular, which led me to reading about tao.  i was also reading fairy tales for escapism from a plethora of booksabout heroin addiction.  bloody hell balance.  running and jumping in the sea in the summer helped heaps.

i had a special place i liked to sit along the beach called ‘the magic stump’ and when you sat on the stump you could ask it any questions and it wud give you the perfect answer.  i also found a secret path in the woods and i had the ocean beach esplanade to walk or run along.  i felt like i was in a movie when i first went up there.  it felt surreal, so beautiful.  i was living my dream.  one of many of them. i wud often think about drew when i was up there. esp when i went for a run.  i knew he wud love it.  i wud email him and ask him to come up for a break.  i wud thank him for teaching me to run.  but he really put a wall up once we broke up.

so yes i did grieve.  i learned how to cry out loud again.  and learned how to burp out loud again too.  both useful in their own right.

‘thus the master travels all day
without leaving home.
however splendid the views
she stays serenely in herself.’
tao te ching by stephen mitchell

i felt like
i was
a dharma bum

i spent many nites
drinking wine by myself
and occassionally
i imported
a friend.

kat josey 1Josey and kat


© 2018 Bob Basil and Estate of Kat Kosiancic