The evening I keep going back to was sometime between Jan to Mar, 2019. Gemma and I have arrived at her building after a drive, we get out of the car, I walk her to the door and, as we start to say good bye, Julie comes out the glass door.
Reframing what happened, what it meant, and the long-term upshot of not acting when “doing SOMETHING” would have saved both of them–the reframing provides me with satisfaction of knowing how the story should have ended (or the encounter at least). Everything that hinges on that brief moment.
“Oh, hi Julie. How … are you doing,” Gemma said. Julie looked gaunt, tired. She had makeup on, and a coat that I admired, and high leather boots on the skinniest legs, except that I couldn’t see the legs for the boots. I had seen Julie before. I found from Facebook Messenger, Aug 28, 2018, I had left the book, Orange is the New Black with Julie to pass on to Gemma, and Julie messaged Gemma to hand it on. But here was going to be a conversation.
I thought, Poor thing, she looks like a former lady-of-the-night, broken down and, sadly, she isn’t taking care of herself. If only she would decide to look after herself (how naive). I should have known better. Gemma had an eating disorder, obviously Julie had an eating disorder too. My thought was, “Ask about her fine coat, it is top quality, it reminds me of the fabric and tailoring in the dress that I got in Italy years ago,” but I didn’t ask. I recoiled. Visually my response was to look away and then look from one to the other with only mild interest.
“Oh, I’m alright. Just going for a walk I guess. How are you?” Julie asked.
“This is my mum,” Gemma introduced us, and I acknowledged hullo. I was feeling uncomfortable. I think I felt visual pain on her behalf, but annoyed with Julie for not taking care of herself, impatient that the conversation was happening–signs that I needed to act. Ache with regret. I waited until the two had greeted, commiserated about “Okay, and not bad,” with some undercurrent of understanding. But I decided for myself that Julie had lead a rough life and that the two of them hardly knew one another. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Stop me if I’ve told you all this already, but? What if I had acted? Worksafe for safety on the job says, “See, Think, Do,” See it, think it, do it. I see that Julie is in terrible shape. I think: Julie is in trouble, I must help. I do “an intervention,” so that Julie is not left vulnerable, so frail that I must have known she could not last long in her present physical condition. I don’t know when this was, January? March? Julie died mid-April.
“Julie,” I would say, “That is a beautiful coat. It reminds me of a dress I bought in Europe, beautifully tailored. I have never owned anything like it since.”
“Oh, thank you,” Julie would say. “I made this myself,” (I learned later that Julie took courses in design and fashion construction), or she said, “I got this in Italy a few years ago. I am into fashion, I like nice things.” People who are emotionally stuck, with anorexia for example, cannot label their emotions–it did not occur to me that I was experiencing any emotion.
“It is so nice!” I gushed (was I too tired to put thoughts together? Was I so visually shocked that I could not be polite and helpful?) “Julie, I feel sad.” I got her attention. “I am worried about you. I think you have been bullied … by anorexia. I can take you to safety. Gemma and I just got back from a drive–the car is right there, see? You and Gemma climb in the back, buckle-up and we will go to the hospital, near where I live.” She would have said no. No she wouldn’t have. Gemma would not help me. Yes, she would have. Gemma was trapped–if Gemma got involved in helping Julie it would trigger her own anxiety about anorexia and she would feel like it was pulling her under.
The two girls, women, in the back of the car. Every night I drive the two to the alternate hospital–a second opinion, new venue. Evening surrounds us, city lights, we cross the bridge, right lane into North Vancouver, up Capilano to the Upper Levels, three exits until Lonsdale, down Lonsdale, slide into emergency and quietly, friendly, invite the two to come inside and register at the desk to be seen, treated, feeding tubes, vitamin k, hydration.
The most recent addition to this nightly saga is that–maybe in real life Julie waited for her moment to exit through the main entrance of their building. I feel Julie may have waited for Gemma–with her mother and a car. Julie may have thought, “Gemma’s mother will help me. Take me to safety.” I reframe things that happen, I make stuff up–but I believe it is possible this is true.
Until I saw their correspondence (same building, but using social messaging), I didn’t think that Julie knew Gemma. Their communications back and forth, Gemma was so kind–Julie began by sending a Photoshopped painting that she had come across that resembles Gemma (a proper oil painting, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, that was altered to make the subject look in worse shape than anyone could be in). Gemma saw it and agreed, it looked like Gemma, but then kindly asked, “How are you?” It is all there.
Then a half year later I knew Julie was in trouble. I didn’t think to do something, it didn’t cross my mind. I did not think one inch in front of me. Instead I was relieved when they finished chatting. For another half year I didn’t think about the meeting, until after Gemma died. Then I realized, to save Gemma, I, we, would need to save Julie first. Even Erin–with two additional allies may have been okay. If even one thing had been different, nothing would be the same.
The expression, “one thing lead to another …” down that same rabbit hole. Life, instead of looking forward imagining a future, is looking back imagining a past. I think the only cure for being this stuck, is service to others. It has been mentioned down the ages. Filling life, which may have helped Gemma with her OCD, can be the answer for what I’ve got. Sure hope so. She believed in God. I thought I never would understand. But I do. God have mercy.
Their dialogue. Aug 6, 2018 Julie messaged Gemma with the distorted painting, to communicate, “does this remind you of anyone ???!!!” and “even her little hands look like yours !!!! how uncanny.”
“Oh my god! Ha! Where is this from?,” replied Gemma.
“I think from a digital design site …it has peoples’ portfolios done with [A]dobe programs,” Julie said.
“I want to look healthier but yes the resemblance is uncanny! Especially when I had longer hair!” and “How are you Julie?”
“I know and also the painting is such a classic style and i know you love to read…. I’m not doing very well to tell you the truth. Something is really bothering me lately but i don’t know what !! ” and “Even your hair in your profile picture is the same style and texture as this image !”
“Ha yes! You’re right about the hair! I’m sorry you’re not doing well. I’m in [hospital]. I’ve been here before but not for a few years. I’m doing the right thing though and using the support. There is always a bright side- I’m taking this as an opportunity to jumpstart my recovery, and also to learn about health care/occupational therapy (my career goal),” replied Gemma.
Julie wrote, “Oh dear…yes i am all too familiar with that place. Good for you for taking advantage of the resources. I always thought it was weird how they made me go there so much and then the outpatient program suddenly ended. Sometimes the hospital is a safe place to be. I used to have to go there at least 4-6 times per year but that ended in 2012. I never thought i would EVER say this; but i kind of miss it. I hope you get a little bit of nourishment b/c you are so capable and adept at so much. it’s really quite rare…but i guess alot of very intelligent people suffer “
“How come you don’t have to go anymore? Are you not with VCH?” Gemma asked.
“I am with vch but I’m on my “step-out”…plus it is very hard for me to trust care providers because of issues in the past so i don’t know if i want to “step back” in.”
Aug 8, 2018, “I think I understand a bit how you feel. It’s hard for me to trust doctors who have certified me before. Even though I know it was to save my life. I hope you continue to look after your health and best interests, and to pursue your wonderful artistic passions dear Julie “
“Yes…it is the most terrifying thing to me. It made my ed so bad. I hope you are tolerating things. Let me know if you need anything or if you ever want to chat i’m here. Just went to the quest store in new west. Such a cute little town here “
“You are a tough cookie Julie. You have been through a lot of hell but you’re not alone. I know it’s hard but it is the eating disorder that creates all this shit and fear for us. Quest in new west? Is it a new one?”
“Pretty new i think it’s always got nice veggies for SO cheap. Yes i know ultimately it is the ed that is the culpit …but i get suicidal from any weight restoration so it’s hard for me to find motivation for anything beyond maintenance. Would like to put more stuff back in my life….ie work & school …. Are you going to be in any groups at vch? I have to go back soon or it will be past the 6mo max for step out.”
“I liked insight into action. I’m so sorry that happens to you with weight restoration. That is incredibly painful Julie. Maybe when you are healthy again and no longer need to restore those thoughts would diminish?”
“…unfortunately for me it doesn’t work. I know alot of people suggest that your brain gets better when u get better nourishment but of all the years (25+) that i have had experience it’s only made things worse. I wish it were not like that b/c i love my family very much.” and “You would be such a good occupational therapist !! Vancouver definitely needs more that’s for sure !!!”
“Thanks Julie. My goal is to recover from anorexia and to help others. I love talking to you and I appreciate your honesty. You can always be honest with me. I know how difficult this is. And it’s different for everyone. Hold on to your truth “
“That would be lovely if you could recover. You are so smart and charismatic. So much to offer the world …and you have alot of life ahead of you too ” and “Omgosh forever waiting for the 17 oak errrg”
“Yes I know the feeling! I used to take that bus when I was an inpatient at Children’s to my choir practice downtown at Christ Church Cathedral. It takes forever”
Julie replied, “It just broke down too!”
“Ack typical “
“That must’ve been weird in childrens hospital. Did you always live in vancouver?”
Aug 12, 2018, Julie messaged, “How have you been doing? Do you ever get panic attacks? I have been getting really horrible ones l8ly”
“Nope I’m ok! I’m getting through my Saint Paul’s stay. Although it’s mentally and physically the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I feel awful, I have good support through friends and family and I’m fighting the thoughts myself. I have some autonomy I feel despite being certified, and I’m working hard to get stable. I’m sorry to hear about the panic attacks Julie. What do you think they are about? Is there anything that helps? Can I do anything?”
“I don’t know why….usually i get them if i’m feeling weak in body but not tired in brain. There has been no hot water for about 2-3 days except for a brief hiatus last night. Can’t wait for bedtime and it’s only 4 want a shower !!!!”
“Hot water is important! What are they bloody thinking turning it off for that long!? Did you get any notice at all?”