Wendy Carlick has a carload of women howling with laughter as she recounts the first time she got on a pair of skis only to roar downhill out-of-control and fly over a jump. The windows are steaming up as we shriek with glee.
Carlick’s beautiful Kaska features glow.
“See Roxanne, it’s like I told you. We all have stories, funny stories,” she smiles broadly.
Yes, weeks before Christmas, Carlick began telling me stories from her life. Then the tears welled up as she recalled her murdered daughter Angel. I told her to stop. I couldn’t hear anymore. Christmas is too cruel a time to think about our children not with us. It’s beyond cruel to think about Angel.
Now with the days getting lighter and the juggernaut of the holidays over, Carlick does what she loves most – she shares some of her story with me.
Stories are a way of communicating, but they’re far more than that, she says. It’s a form of socializing, of remembering and it’s something that knits family together.
“We have a lot of people stay with us. People come in from out of town and sit down and have a story to tell us, or we have stories too. We communicate that way.
“It’s the only newspaper we know – we tell each other stories of what we remember when we were kids, teenagers and how it used to be. And now we’re adults and it seems we’re worse – alcohol and the other stuff we do on the streets.”
The streets. Carlick and her lesbian partner have lived on the streets for five years. Her teenage daughter Angel was no stranger to the streets either. She was slain nearly three years ago. But life wasn’t always so grim.
“I’m from Good Hope Lake, BC. I came here in March 2004 when my daughter was starting Grade 10. Before I moved up here I had three jobs and a house and a Ski-Doo and a truck. I hardly drank. All I did was work. I worked part-time for Canada Post and as a janitor at nights.
“My son was getting mad because I was never home – but I always had clothes for them. Social services was after me, so I grabbed my kids and luggage and came up here.
“I moved up in here and stayed with my nephew for two months, but ended up at that youth shelter in the old Fort Yukon hotel.
“I finally got into Whitehorse Housing. It only lasted a year because a lot of my kids’ friends always hung around and there was always big parties when I was out. There’d be 20 kids – Angel’s friends, cousins, my relatives. The landlord couldn’t stop it.”
They were evicted and the family split up. Carlick’s son went into government care; Angel lived with friends here and there and Carlick was homeless. In summer, her and Nora, her partner, slept in bushes around Whitehorse. In winter, they’d sleep anywhere they could indoors.
For more than a year they’ve shared a bachelorette apartment, but often hang out with their old gang that roams the streets looking for a drink.
I’ve worried about them getting beat up, especially because Carlick has a congenital limp.
She admits it happens, but not as much as it used to. Sometimes it’s over booze, sometimes for being a lesbian. It’s happened in front of the Roadhouse off sales and in their own home.
“Yeah, sometimes now we watch those Survivor shows and laugh. It’s so silly compared to what we’ve survived. But if a guy hurts us, the men on the street go beat him up. They protect us.”
“At first when I moved to Whitehorse, some girls tried to beat me up because they were jealous. But after awhile they know who’s who and we all got along. Sometimes when people are drunk they call me down (for being a lesbian), but when they sober up they apologize. What else can you do? We’re friends.”
In May 2007, her 19-year-old daughter was murdered. Angel had been living with a friend where she slept on the hide-a-bed in the living room, but never made it home one night. Her remains weren’t discovered until November of that year. The killer has not been found.
“After I lost my daughter, everything changed. I drink more every day. Music really hurts me because I think about Angel every day. I walked around with her that day (the day she was killed). We were looking for shoes for her graduation. She already got her dress. I got a lot of her stuff and I don’t know what to do with it. Her furniture. I got lots of her toys.”
Carlick says she wants to quit drinking, but both her and her partner dislike detox and Alcoholics Anonymous. They say it’s too negative. Each day, though, her body aches.
“My family is getting mad at me for walking around at night. I go from bar to bar to say hi to my friends so they know I’m OK. We find a place to sit down and warm up. If they get too drunk I walk around more. One time last winter I walked around ‘til five in the morning cause I couldn’t get in my house. I’m 45 and not getting any younger. This isn’t kids stuff anymore.”
When Carlick has had enough, she visits her 81-year-old mom who now lives in Whitehorse. The Kaska elder gives her wild meat, candies, gifts and most of all – stories.
“I sit with Mom. We watch TV and she asks me questions about my friends and stuff. She tells me stories too, lots of stories – about who she met at bingo, about the old days, about her growing up along the Liard River. Yeah, I like listening to her stories. I want to write a book on the story of my life some day.”
Roxanne Livingstone is a freelance writer who lives in Whitehorse.