When I was 13 my mother banished me to an all-girls school. It was in poshy, snobby Shaughnessey in Vancouver and there were three things wrong with it: there were no boys, and it was poshy and snobby. Around this time, I was tagging along with my older brother who in my mind, hung out with the cool people: public school kids. One of his friends who’d been in his class since Grade 1 at our school, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, was a tall, lanky, blonde with an easy laugh and a fearless attitude. How I ended up at her house one day without my brother I’ll never know, but I was on the inside of one of the public school kids home’s and I wasn’t leaving. Here was another world entirely. Both she and my brother had gone ahead of me to Lord Byng High School where, it seemed to my 13-year-old mind, that everything, absolutely everything of importance in Point Grey took place and I was missing it all.
I stood stiffly in her kitchen in my Little Flower Academy outfit, my bangs drooping into my eyes, which were unblinking and contained a stunned stare as she just rang up a pizza order without asking her mother. I thought, “where will she get the money? doesn’t she need permission?” I watched as she sauntered over to her mother’s purse and pulled out a 20 dollar bill, then motioned for me to come downstairs with her. We ate pizza and talked about boys and listened to Heart’s Dog and Butterfly and I tried to sit as though I wasn’t in a short kilt that was cutting off my circulation.
I knew in that moment it was a tribe I desperately wanted to belong to.
I started to go to her house after school, not stopping at my bus stop, but continuing up West 10th Avenue to Trimble St. then over to West 8th Avenue where her family of three sisters and parents lived across from Trimble Park. I was starstruck with the whole family and the middle sister would often take me out for slow cruising in her mother’s vintage Thunderbird. Sitting in my monogrammed, maroon sweater and collared shirt, I wondered if I didn’t somehow de-value her cool factor? But she didn’t seem bothered by it and I felt like a movie star.
The Bolger’s house was everything mine was not: full of perfume, and bras, and makeup, and heels, with the sounds of Heart and Fleetwood Mac ringing through every floor of the house. The mother wore beautiful clothes, and had coiffed hair, and seemed like one of ‘us’. The father was the fulcrum, the balanced calm in the storm of estrogen. I marveled at his calm. I knew none of this crazy ‘female’ behaviour would be tolerated in my mostly male household. The high tolerance for expression gave me a kind of freedom I’d never known and I tossed off my school-girl uniform and donned dramatic makeup and curled my hair and slipped on Candy high heels and Andre Michel jeans that were so tight you didn’t bother trying to sit down in them.
My mother, I am quite sure, was heartbroken at my transformation. But I was so hell-bent on the glamour of it all my heartless teenage self gave not a care to what my family thought. Mrs. Bolger’s bathroom had Erno Lazlo in it. Mine had grease smears and leftover shaving bits and Irish Spring.
One afternoon, the youngest daughter and I skipped out of school and collectively decided that drinking Apricot Brandy would be a good idea. Highway to Hell from ACDC had just come out and we had it rattling the windows, playing air guitar and singing at the top of our lungs:
Don’t need reason, don’t need rhyme
Ain’t nothing I would rather do
Going down, party time
My friends are gonna be there too
I’m on the highway to hell
No stop signs, speed limit
Nobody’s gonna slow me down
It was an anthem that called me to stand on the small ledge by the kitchen with a see-through to the living room and leap through the air playing my air guitar in a hair tossing, legs extended fit of rock-god tribute. I landed on the couch and went right through the rattan, splintering the middle supports. Of course, it just made my best friend fall to the floor laughing.
In this family, I was not seen as strange or unusual or eccentric. If anything, I was often too serious and contemplative; it was a good balance with the youngest daughter, my closest confidante throughout my teen years, who in her unpredictable way brought wild, and nearly always inappropriate laughter into my life for many happy years. It also gave me siblings in a way I had never experienced. Since my older sister, nearly a decade older, had moved out of our house at a fairly young age and I had only one brother I had grown up close to, having three sisters and two parents extra gave me a feeling of security in a world that often was terrifying to navigate alone at fifteen with an aging mother and no father.
I wince a little now to remember Mr. Bolger, in a rare and unforgettable moment of anger, yelling at me at 3 am to “Call your mother right now Margaret” after I had sauntered in after some forged ID situation at Club Soda in a White Russian haze. In his moment of anger however, I realized that these parents did see me as part of their fold and it gave some order to the often chaotic life we led as teens by the poolside with our carefree, entitled, kind of attitude that life would always be as it was during those seeming endless Vancouver summers.
Recently, as I tried to find a place to live in Vancouver after nearly 15 years of being away from my hometown, I was remembering our lives then as I drove through town, how we grew up in Point Grey just expecting we would always live there, with a short walk down to Jericho Beach, driving down Point Grey Road in the Thunderbird, making pan-fried hot dogs in our bikinis, eating Chinese at Varsity Grill , hosting parties that spilled into the street, and singing the entire Fleetwood Mac collection until dawn.
We never thought that our worlds would not resemble our childhood’s in any way as we grew older; the reality was–is–that we would not even be able to rent within 10 km of our childhood homes on West 11th and West 8th Avenue.
The Vancouver we grew up may no longer exist but Jericho is still there, and English Bay, and West 11th (though so much character has been torn down it’s a wonder I recognize it) but more importantly, the faces that I knew are still there and I am comforted that this, at least, has not been affected by an inflated real estate market. Stories are made and lived by people, afterall, and I am happy to be going home to re-visit old ones and create many new ones in the city I will always call my home.