Kathy, My Late Friend

I saw Doreen H*** in London Drugs yesterday, she
looks the same as she always did, except fainter, as though she had a
veil of vagueness around her. She was talking with a pudgy middle-aged
man who was wearing a club jacket and a mullet. He was probably Douglas, her only son. Douglas did not look faint in the least.

Doreen H*** is the mother of my late friend Kathy. The H*** family of six lived in a tiny old house near the housing project in Southeast Vancouver where my family lived. We moved there from our apartment on Hastings Street in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver when I was three years old. I did not like living there, I wasn’t used to being around other children (of which there were many); I was used to being by myself and looking out my window down onto Hastings Street.

Kathy’s family’s tiny old house had a bit of poor w**** trash sensibility to it. At least I sensed it, and I don’t know why I got that impression, I just did. Maybe I saw a likeness between the people in that house and my poor y***** trash family. Maybe I sensed their shame.

Kathy was one year ahead of me at school, so three years older, big (overdeveloped) for her age, blond, bold and brassy, and I was small (underdeveloped) for my age, dark-haired, shy and sassy, nothing at all like Kathy. My older half sister said to me, "Stay away from Kathy. She’s bad." I did stay away from Kathy, not because she was a bad girl, but because I was intimidated by her. I stayed away for many years. Kathy and I never spoke while my family lived in the project.

When I was ten, my family moved to a house not too far away. My half-siblings were already well into high school at K********, where Kathy went. The next year when I started high school, I went to T*******.

Kathy was kicked out of K******** and transfered to T*******. By this time I had become somewhat bad, and spent a lot of time cutting class. The first time Kathy saw me sitting outside smoking, she came over and spoke. We quickly became smoking friends, then class cutting friends, then friends outside of school.

Kathy and I were an incongruous pair, she was firmly set in the hormone-driven clarity of her overdeveloped teenhood, and I was just barely into my underdeveloped adolescence. A floral metaphor? She was a rose in close-to-full bloom and I was the bud of a forget-me-not. She was a party girl and I was not. She used to hitchhike, by herself, between cities. Then, as now, I was shy and didn’t meet people well. Then, as now, I was obviously odd. Then, as now, I was not so good at having fun.

Kathy’s best friend was June, who was also from the project. June and I had been in first grade together and both had skipped a year. June was much less odd than I was, and she and I were never close. After my family moved I didn’t see June until we were both in a pile of teens in the back of a truck on our way to an after party for Alice Cooper. A few months later Kathy told me that June had died of an overdose – she and June had been at the house of a dealer, and that when the heroin came out, Kathy had gone home and June had stayed and gotten higher. When she had started to OD, the people with her didn’t call an ambulance, because they didn’t want to attract police attention. Kathy was upset and angry. Very angry.

Kathy testified at the inquest. There was even a photo in the paper of her testifying. She knew that it might not be the smartest thing she would ever do, but she thought she had to do it. Kathy was brave.

Kathy’s mother, Doreen, at early middle
age, seemed like an ancient and uptight tiny bird creature with her
shoulder length hair partially teased up and held with a clip in back,
and the rest flipped up like Lesley Gore’s. She had the most nasal
voice of anyone I’ve ever met, high and pinched (to match her uptight
appearance), nagging. When she answered the phone she lowered her voice
and slowed it down, put a bit of intonation into it, in an effort, I
assumed, to sound alluring and pleasant. Sexy. Embarrassing to Kathy. Embarrassing to the people who called there. Not sexy, just embarrassing.

Doreen was more than a bit nagging, and she and Kathy squabbled a lot. In her final year of high school Kathy moved away from her family to live with Frank, who was from Edmonton. He was goatee’d, blond, slim, good-looking in a back-up-member-of-the-band kind of way. He always had lots of drugs to smoke and he drove a fast car. Several of Kathy’s druggy friends suspected that Frank was a narc, and I suspected that he beat Kathy. No-one was absolutely certain about Frank. One can never be certain about these things.

Frank supported Kathy in their West-End apartment with the very nice view. Frank didn’t appear to have a job (though if he were a narc, he would have been hard at work all the time, we just wouldn’t have seen it). Kathy told me that he got money (lots) from his mother every month, and that he had tried to buy a house in Surrey, but even with having his mother pay the down-payment and co-sign the mortgage the bank refused. His mother’s good credit did not buy him everything he wanted.

After Kathy had graduated and started working, I changed schools and went  to P**** G***, across town. I spent a lot of time on the bus every day, and I was pretty busy studying and she was busy with her life. We drifted apart and I continued on with my life, only occasionally  heard through mutual friends what she was doing, partying, leaving Frank, having a career in the armed forces, living.

Ten years later one of my friends told me that she’d read in the paper that Kathy had been out partying and had left the bar. She wasn’t seen alive again, she was found murdered, execution style, in a park in North Vancouver. The case has never been solved. Conjecture was that it was payback for
testifying at the inquest, or a Mr. Good-Bar situation, or a jealous
ex…the usual suspects for a life and death like Kathy’s.
Whatever, whoever, whyever, does it really matter? Really, Kathy’s life killed her.

I was too shy to attend the service and I was not polite enough to send a card. I have seen Doreen from time to time, but I have never spoken to her. I was told once that Doreen had been a temp in my job before I got it, and she’d wanted the job, but that no-one could stand her and that she had been telling everyone stories of a murdered daughter, which no-one had believed. I was able to confirm the existence of a murdered daughter. I did that much for her.

I thought about breaking silence when I saw Doreen and Douglas in London Drugs yesterday, but I didn’t – I was on my way downstairs to look for something, which I didn’t find. As I stood on the escalator back upstairs, I told myself that if they were still there, I would approach them. I would say, "Hi Mrs. H***, I’m Cassandra, I was a friend of Kathy’s." I would tell her that I was sorry for her loss. I would say the things that I didn’t say when I should have said them. It would be awkward, but I would do it.

When I got back upstairs, I didn’t see them. I looked for them, but wasn’t able to find them.

Phew.

~ by thiscassandra on Sunday 30 December 2007.

2 Responses to “Kathy, My Late Friend”

  1. I remember Kathy from my last year of high school at T******* (1972/73). She was in one of my art classes with that horrid Mr. B. I liked her – found her easy to talk to and didn’t understand why people called her “Crazy Kathy”.
    In 1975 I remember getting my very first pair of eyeglasses and immediately meeting up with some friends at a bar – if it wasn’t No. 5 Orange then it was another bar near there. It was a sunny autumn day. I was having trouble hearing the people at my table and every time I said excuse me to get people to repeat themselves I also had to take my glasses off to hear better. Anyway, Kathy joined us at one point and I remember being really happy to see her (it would have been two or so years since school). Everyone was a little high and that was the day I understood why they called her “crazy” but it all seemed so good-natured and playful that crazyness. I really liked her and can’t say that I knew her at all really – just a few friendly encounters over the years.
    When Kathy was murdered, and also thinking of A. and B. who were murdered together previously in 1971, I wondered how many of the people I knew would be murdered over the course of my lifetime. It already seemed like such a lot but all these (ahmm) 37!!! years later and these remain, thank God, the only murders in my circle of acquaintances.
    I remember June too but from Grade 3 and where were you in 1963? It just occurs to me that I don’t remember seeing you from end of grade 1 to Grade 4 when we were both at the Big T******* not the little annex. I do recall you skipping a grade around that time.
    Wasn’t Kathy just out of the army and driving cab when she was killed?

  2. Now that you mention it, I have a vague memory of someone telling me she was driving cab, but other than one awkward chance meeting in Kerrisdale, I have no firsthand knowledge of her post high school.
    Yeah, the murders of A & B were quite upsetting. Everyone was upset about it, even those of us who barely knew them. It just didn’t make any sense.
    After first grade I went to the big T*******, where I stayed until they reopened T******* Annex A primary school as W******* elementary school. I transferred to W******* because my family moved to the neighbourhood.
    Crazy Kathy, eh? Well, I don’t think she was that much crazier than the rest of us, just way less inhibited. She wasn’t completely self-destructive though, after all she did leave the dealer’s house when the heroin came out. Some people wouldn’t have.
    Did you ever meet Byron? I met him through her, and then Jan through him.

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