Josephine "Jo" Caplin's biography Not My Fate: The Story of a Nisga'a Survivor (Caitlin Press) is told with love by author and close friend Janet Romain. Born into abandonment, instability, and substance abuse, Jo is a survivor of intergenerational trauma and the foster care system, and her story of survival told with sensitivity and care in this book.
Jo phones and tells me the story of the CMHC offer to fix her house.
“That’s not going to work for you,” I say.
“No kidding. How much would I have to pay every month if I had a mortgage of twenty-six thousand dollars?”
“Depends on how long you take it over.”
“Say ten years.”
I get out the calculator and go 26000 divided by 120. “Two hundred sixteen a month principal, and you can probably double that because of the interest.”
“How much is double that?” Jo talks in a little girl voice when she asks questions like this.
“About four hundred fifty.”
“But Janet, interest is only a couple per cent, it can’t be double.”
“Yes it can. It’s not straight 4 or 6 per cent, they figure it out for every year and add it all together; it’s always like that.”
“Well that’s criminal. I might not be a math expert, but I know that’s a hundred per cent interest, not four or six. How can they get away with that?”
“It’s a monopoly,” I assure her. “But what about the roof? Back to plan A? Are you even talking to Newt these days?”
“Yeah, he phones me when Sadie’s not home. He’s getting weirder, sometimes he talks like I just walked out the door last week. He wants to talk about all the things we did together, and he keeps saying his memory is getting bad, but that’s all he does is remember things.”
“Does he say anything about your money?”
“Oh yeah, he says he’s selling the claim.”
“Maybe he’ll come through yet,” I say, though I am not holding out much hope.
I am surprised when Newt drives in the very next day and even more surprised when he tells me he’s come to give me a cheque for Jo. He walks in with the chequebook in his hand and has a coffee while he visits. He says he’s giving me the money so I can pay for a roof for Jo. I must look surprised because he says, “If I send it to her, she might take a notion to go spend it on something else she doesn’t need.”
Inside I’m livid. He lived with Jo for years, and she left him with a suitcase of clothes in her hand, nothing else. She made a way for herself before she met him and has for the fifteen years since, and she can be trusted to look after her own money. What an asshole, I think, but outside I smile. What’s the use of judging him now—he is what he is. He keeps repeating that he can’t remember anything, all the while doing just as Jo says—remembering all kinds of things. It’s annoying, like he’s trying to pump sympathy from an empty tub. When he leaves he writes a cheque and hands it over. He says to make sure she uses it for the roof.
He’s barely out of sight when I call Jo. “You won’t believe it. Newt was just here and he left five grand for you!”
Jo starts screaming. “Whoo hoo! Half is better than nothing!” and yells some more happy in my ear, and I am pleased to be the bearer of such good news. I put Newt’s cheque to me in the bank and send one to Jo. If she wonders why it’s coming through me, she doesn’t ask and I don’t say.
* * *
Janet Romain is Métis-Canadian. She was born in Vancouver, but has lived most of her life in northern BC. She worked in a variety of jobs from short-order cook to lumber grader, but eventually bought land out in the country. She has three grown children and currently lives with her husband near Fort Fraser. She is surrounded by gardens and wildlife, just a stone’s throw from where she grew up.
Grandpère is her first book while Not My Fate: The Story of A Nisga’a Survivor is her second book with Caitlin Press.
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