Chapter 8: Dry-docked Barnacled Heart

when i was living in the shack by the sea, i remember someone asking me via email, how my heart was.  i said it felt like it was dry docked and full of barnacles.

i remember working on a cruise ship in australia and they had to dry dock it for a few weeks taking it from sydney to melbourne to work on it and scrape the barnacles off.  that is what it felt like with my heart.  it needed work because it had been in the sea of grief (not the best metaphor but u get it) for far too long.  and in the sea, it was roughed up a bit and sore.  at the shack i did want to remove the barnacles tho i did not know how.  yet it was the one place i cud truly grieve.  i let it all out till the walls shook from my wails and tears.  no room mates, no neighbours close enough to know.

i do believe some of my love did leave my heart with each passing, as rita said.  there was just too much and in too short of a time.  one death after another, then andrew, bloody hell.  he wasnt sposed to die.  he was smarter than that.


once i completed my documentary, ‘be my junkie shadow’ i wanted to show it in the neighbourhood where it was filmed.  i heard about a class called ‘humanities’.  it was a ubc class offered to local residents of the downtown eastside.  it gave them a chance to experience a class situation in the hood.  i also thot it mite be my toughest audience because these are the locals.  they may know some of the girls in the doc and they mite be protective of them and their territory.  these were their people.  And many of these people do not have edit buttons.

i went to talk to the coordinator of the program.  he was overseeing a class when i arrived.  andrew, i spotted him.  wow cute.  we met and chatted and were immediately attracted.  he was a tall brunette all in black, smart and handsome.  good combo.

he lived in the hood, worked in the hood and was taking courses at ubc. thru the dynamics of setting up my screening in the dtes, we got to know one another.   one nite he took me to see the fireworks and we stopped for chocholate cake first.  he loved chocholate.  we laid on the beach together watching the fireworks and he walked me along the sea wall back.  another time he came for a visit at the shack i used for a studio behind murray’s old place.

then we were dating.  he told me his story.  he was a full on coc addict for 3 years and for 3 years he was clean and for 6 years he had not been with a woman.  yikes – to the last part.  he said while he was an addict his love was drugs.  when he got clean he was focused on being clean.  and then me.  iiee.

he was sweet and brot me flowers and fun things.  we laughed heaps.  i remember him laying near me and i called him a walrus and he said cu cu ca choo. laughter.  i remember another time he was on my bed and i got up to answer the phone and it was for my room mate rain.  i yelled for her and then i said to him, ‘dont freak out’ and took a flying leap onto the bed and landed on top of him.  he did freak out with some kind of a yelp and flailing arms thing and then we were both laughing hysterically.

but then i hear, ‘kat . . ‘

and i answer ‘yeh’.

‘cud u please hang up the phone.’  oh

i had left the phone off the hook in my bedroom before the big leap so rain and her friend heard the entire thing.  more laughter.  and rain said it sounded like we have so much fun.

we were together just a few months before i pulled out my little breakup kit.  we remained friends but he kept his distance after that.

one nite i saw him at a bar that i wud not think he wud be at.  out of the hood.  he was drinking.  i went over to him to say hi and he was drunk but more than that.  i am good at spotting what flavor of drug people are messing with but with him i cudnt suss it out.  this was not just alcohol, there was something else becuz he was too groggy.  alcohol mixed with drugs for depression can even cause drowsiness and i thot that cud be the case.  he was also being affectionate with me, something he hadnt shown since we were together.  wtf is up.  i was so disturbed by this and had such a bad feeling.  he was an alcoholic and was an addict.  he shud not be touching either of these.  bloody hell.

he told me a few bad things went down.  one getting mugged in his own neighbourhood, the hood he had given so much back to.  he claimed he got hit in the head with something when he was robbed and that has messed with his memory.  he was no longer working at the cafe which he began and was manager of for years.  i believe he had finished all his studies at ubc at this time.  he spoke to me about falling off the wagon.  he said it was temporary.

when i first met him he said he was like the poster boy for the downtown eastside because he had kicked and stayed down there for years giving back to the neighbourhood.  and he gave back in such a beautiful way, treating the locals with respect and kindness.

soon after that it was new years eve and i just made a weird nite of it by walking in and out of parties that i was not invited to and just going into bars and being a fly on the wall for a bit then walking out.  i love observing.  i was doing that downtown and worked my way to the hood and decided to stop in to see if andrew was ok becuz i was concerned about him.  i got in the front door and went up to his floor.  i knocked on his door and he barked ‘whos there’.

‘its me andrew’, i say.

then the tone of his voice mellowed.  he comes to the door and i said i just stopped in to wish you happy new year.  i cud see down his hallway was a mess, he was a mess.  but he gave me a smile and at one point asked me in for a drink tho the place was a mess.  i cudnt go in.  i thot it wud embarrass him for me to see his place like that.  he was always very spic and span and meticulous.  his apartment was all black and white and silver.  no colors.

he was found in that apartment.  i was devastated.  especially because i had seen him move back down that slippery slope.  when i was dating him i implored him to get out of the hood.  ‘you had done your time there now, it is time to move on.  it is like a vortex down there.’

i kept running partly because of andrew.  he started a running club in the downtown eastside.  how cool is that.  running helped him kick.   i started running with them becuz he wud wake up at 6:30 in the am and go out and run and i wud be awake after that anyway, so i thot, i may as well join.  the idea was to prepare for the sun run.  we never ran the sun run together.  but i decided after he died that i wud run it for him.  i wrote his name and the year he was born and the year he died on the back of my shirt i wore during the run.

i wud talk to his spirit when i ran along the ocean beach esplanade on the coast.  he was funny and i wud laugh at things he wud convey to me.  i thot how i must have looked if anyone saw my face as i was running along the beach.  this look of concentration and then break out into a smile or laugh.  he watched over me esp while i still did work in the hood.  it felt like he brot work to me actually.  i worked on two or three documentaries in the hood after he passed tho i cud not go down there for a long time after he died.  too many ghosts for me.  too much sadness.  often i wud use the cafe where he used to work as a type of headquarters for the doc crews.

he shud not have died.


denise wasn’t supposed to die either.  she was smarter than that too.

i did not meet denise, she met me.  word got around that i was doing interviews with women in the downtown eastside who were addicted to drugs and some were sex trade workers.  she found out and approached me and asked me if i wanted to interview her.

now, denise looks like my mother and once i got to know her she felt like my older sister.  she did not look like an addict or a sex trade worker yet she was both.  and she was hooked on heroin.  she looked like someone’s mom, and she was someone’s mom.

she had a soft voice and was very well spoken and smart and well read.  reading was her escape from incest and abuse from her father when she was young.  when she was older it was drugs.

we got on well.  we became friends as i revisited the area and did a follow up interview.  out of all the women that i interviewed in the downtown eastside, i was most hopeful that she wud get out.  i told her i wud help her if she wanted to kick.  i knew she loved learning and school.  i managed to get her enrolled in a class at ubc that was geared for people from the hood.  i accompanied her on the bus and helped her enroll.  she wasnt ready for it.

she was on the path to getting well.  she was cleaning up and doing things to make her life better like having her teeth worked on and she went to the hospital and had hip surgery and she was letting her hair grow.  she looked beautiful and she was getting ready to go home to see her two boys.


i remember a cool incident with her.  it was close to xmas and i was in my big purple camper van driving down hastings street and i spot her.  she was outside the hood which surprised me cuz the girls dont venture far.  i pull over and say denise, hop in!  and she does.

i pull out a table and a small bottle of brandy – which is what i used to stay warm while sleeping in my van in the winter.

‘do you feel like a little nip?’ i ask her and she says sure and i pull out some glasses and pour a shot.  we toast and then she starts coughing and i smile, ‘too much for ya ha?’

and then she starts telling me about the presents that she bot to send home for her boys.  she thot of them both individually.  she pulls out 2 watches that were 2 different styles, one for each of them – likely bot on the street.  she said she is going to go to the bus station and use the photo booth and take pix of herself for them.  and there was at least one other thing she was adding, maybe a necklace.  she was really happy that nite.  we had a good laugh and catch up.  and she got a little view into my weird world becuz there she was sitting in my living room/kitchen/bedroom.

denise was found overdosed in her hotel room.  that was before the safe injection place was open.  she may have been saved if she injected there.  but who knows.  what if what if what if.   what is.  that broke my heart.

the man who called me about her death said that my phone number was the only thing she had with her when she died.


while i was working in the downtown eastside before moving to the sunshine coast, i went to a healer there.  he felt the energy around my heart and asked, ‘when is the last time you cried?’  i told him that i cant because if i start i wont stop.  it felt like flood gates.  and if i opened up the gates water wud flood everywhere.  and indeed it did.

and that is what happened in dry dock once the flood gates were released.  i wanted to remove the tightness around my chest from all the pent up emotions that i did not know how to let out.  i only knew how to cry silently.  i did not know how to wail.  wail like wendy’s italian mom at wendy’s funeral.  ‘MY BABY!!!’ she wailed.  ‘I WANT MY BABY BACK!’  she wailed.  i love italians cuz they are so expressive.  good on them.  but they sure do yell a lot.

i did not want the barnacles, i wanted them to go away.  it was the weight from the pain of grieving that had them parasite around my heart.  and barnacles are hard and sharp and cling to a rock like they have been cemented on.  and they are arent easy to remove.  something like cancer praps.