By the time I was twenty-three years old, I had lived in four different apartments; all dumps, and by my own choosing. At the time of this story, I didn’t have a fixed address and was crashing with friends and acquaintances.
But one fine day, a friend of mine offered to let me move in with him and five others. It was like someone threw me a life preserver. Their rental house was in need of serious repair, but at least it wasn’t another lonely apartment building.
I took a corner of the basement, found a job washing dishes again, and started regaining some stability in my life.
All the other tenants in the house seemed to welcome me, and I did some household chores to ensure their favor. I tried to stay out of their way, out of their view, and out of their house politics.
But inevitably, I succumbed and waded into the zeitgeist of 371 Springer Avenue, Vancouver B.C.
Besides myself and my friend Dean, there were two couples living in the house; Sheila & Tim from Ontario, of whom I didn’t often see, as they were usually working. Then there was Andrea & Bonnie from Burnaby; a young, gay couple who tied the place to together.
But the one who made the biggest impression on me, by far, was Andrea. Everyone called her Andy, and sometimes “And” by the drunken swarmies, who were completely devoid of diction.
She was the sharpest of the bunch and the biggest. The biggest in personality, wit, and girth. She stood about 5’5″ and was as round a person I’d ever known. She would laugh out loud about her obesity; almost loud enough that a perfect stranger might believe she thought it was funny.
Her sense of humor was so sharp, and quick; no one ever dared mince words with her. Well…some tried, but they soon found themselves red-faced, and the laughing stock of the room. Andy had a special place in her heart for bullies, and if there was ever one in her midst, she gave them a verbal pantsing that left witnesses wondering who the real bully was.
Andy was even gifted with a great singing voice, and under the influence, she would provide our party guests with a Karaoke performance that would send shivers up their spines. She could do Janis Joplin so perfectly it gave me the creeps.
But that’s not the only thing she had in common with our dear departed Janis; she could drink like a South route drunker, and smoke pot like a mourning Rastaman. When the house was really cooking on a weekend night, she was the primary go-to-person when the heavy-gunning party animals came to roost.
I, like everyone who knew her, realized that her personality was larger than all East Van.
Being a light sleeper, I was the first to wake up whenever there was a stir in the house. One night I was awakened by the sound of Andy’s voice on the kitchen phone:
“When? – I’ll be right over – I’m calling a cab,” she said, emotionless and business-like.
I heard the phone hang up, and then deep sobs. I heard her go down the kitchen landing steps, and into the backyard; then more deep sobbing. I got up, put on some jeans, and took the basement door to the backyard.
I walked up to her in my bare feet, and asked, “Are you OK Andy?”
“My dad died tonight,” she said flatly, tears running down her face.
“I’m so sorry Andy. I know how close you were,” I said, trying to console her in a small way.
“Thanks, Brent, tell everyone I won’t be around for awhile. Bonnie is on the night shift, and I’m taking a cab to my mom’s house.”
“Sure, I’ll spread the word,” I said, in compliance.
Andy was gone for a week, and the house felt like an empty vessel; devoid of action and life. Her absence was felt by everyone, especially Bonnie, who wanted to be with her partner, but knew it was something Andy had to do on her own.
A week and a half later Andy showed up again. She was obviously still in mourning, as she wasn’t the same girl we were used to. No longer did she “party hard”, and no longer was she cooking up her masterpieces in the kitchen (did I mention she was a great cook yet?).
Long gone was the boisterous card, who kept everyone jumping and entertained. She stuck to herself, and her pattern of life was completely different. When she got home from work, she didn’t have her routine drinks and cigarettes, and she didn’t crank up the music. Now, she just got changed into comfortable clothes and beelined for the backyard.
She was growing a garden.
One day, when I woke up, I went to her garden to wish her good morning, and bring her some tea (another new habit she had).
“Looks amazing Andy!” I said, seeing her garden for the first time.
“Thanks, I’ve always loved growing things.”
“What brought on the gardening?”
“It’s just one of the ten new things I have to do.”
“What ten thi-”
“Oh! I gotta go! Forgot I had an appointment with my counselor!” she exclaimed, as she jumped up and ran back to the house.
She never explained her ten things to me, and knowing Andy, there was a good chance she wouldn’t tell me anyway. But, I had a front row seat in her theatre of life, and I was a fascinated spectator (after all, people watching has always been an obsession of mine).
Ten New Things
As the days, weeks, and months rolled on, I began to see a pattern in Andy’s new lifestyle. When she announced her “ten new things” to us, Dean started taking notes, and I started my own internal tracking. A few months later, Dean and I had pretty much figured it out.
1.) Got Up Earlier: She got up at least two hours before her nine o’clock work day at the dry cleaner. She quietly moved about the house, in an effort not to wake anyone else up.
2.) Cleaned Up The House: With her extra morning time, she cleaned the house, worked in her garden, decluttered everything, and got rid of all the night-before empty bottles and cans left lying around by her roommates.
3.) Drastic Change in Food: She made a drastic change in her diet. She always did most of the cooking, and we all chipped in for the groceries; which Dean and I would procure from the grocery store, as per her request. I remember seeing her new lists, and Dean commenting on how it had changed. No more chips, pop, booze, white bread, fatty stuff, etc. – and a LOT of vegetables. It didn’t go over well with all the roommates, but since Andy was willing to take the effort to prepare the food, nobody complained to her about it.
4.) Made a Budget: On the fridge door, Andy had a household budget drawn up, which included a tally of all the rent money coming in. The budget wasn’t a personal one; she had that in her own journal.
5.) Stopped Partying & Over-Socializing: This was probably the biggest change of them all…well as far as her roommates were concerned. The typical complaint was, “She’s no fun anymore!” But we all knew it was the right thing to do, and it didn’t stop us from destroying our minds and bodies on a regular basis.
6.) Weekly Plans & Journal: This one was obvious. Every Sunday, she would sit down in the backyard with her journal. She wrote down all the things she had to get done the coming week, and all the things she wanted to get done the following week. She wasn’t secretive about this habit and would share her ideas with the rest of us. Andy was still very much the leader of our household, even with her drastic changes.
7.) Exercise: As part of her morning routine, Andy would go for a 45-minute walk, and then start exercising in the living room area when she got back. I remember hearing the noises coming from her body, as I listened from my basement lair.
8.) More Sleep: After work, she would go sleep for an hour. This really changed our household, because this is usually when she was drinking and smoking, and spooling up the evening party. We were left with picking up the slack for her, and our self-abuse continued unfettered – albeit not nearly as much fun.
9.) Grew a Garden: And of course the garden. She toiled in the earth every day, and most of what she grew, we ate in her meals – meals that were starting to get more delicious by the week.
10.) Counseling: Andy started seeing a counselor as soon as her father passed away. She didn’t hide this fact, but she didn’t advertise it either; she was the strong one in the eyes of anyone who knew her, and she was content with letting the fantasy linger.
Encounter on The Sea-Bus
I left the house a year later, but I kept in touch with Dean over the years. He stayed in the house for another year longer, and then they all moved out. I have no idea whatever happened to the others, but Dean kept me up to date on Andy’s life.
He told me Andy stuck to her “ten new things”, and never went back to her wild ways. Once in awhile, she would bang out her Joplin imitation, at the insistence of others, but that was it. Her and Bonnie broke up, and she moved to West Vancouver with a new partner.
I went to visit Dean around five years later at his new home. He was married to a co-worker by then, and his life had cleaned up a lot.
“Hey! Ran into Andy the other day!” he shouted, as we were driving across the Lion’s Gate Bridge, with the top down on his convertible.
“No shit man!”
“Yeah! I would never have recognized her if she didn’t tap me on the shoulder!”
“How is she doing!”
“Incredible! She’s lost ALL that extra weight! And you know what we always said about her!” Dean yelled, as we slowed down through Stanley Park.
Everyone used to comment on how beautiful Andy’s eyes, and face were. Along with her olive complexion (thanks to some Greek blood running through her veins), and long eyelashes, she always made a striking impression. Her girlfriend Bonnie, from those days on Springer Street, used to say, “If she ever loses that weight, it will be the end of us – I won’t be able to fight off the competition.”
“Just like Bonnie used to say man! Holy crap!” Dean continued.
“So does she seem happy? Everything going well for her?
“Oh yeah, she’s an editor for the Georgia Straight now, and she’s writing health books – her first one was published last year – think it’s doing pretty well.”
“That’s awesome man! She’s going to be a huge success – everyone loves Andy!” I finished, before Dean continued catching me up on his life.
Everyone Loves Andy
Yes, everyone loves Andy, but the most important thing was that she learned to love herself. It helped that she had the willpower to change her life for the better; that’s what most of us mere mortals struggle with.
I’ve never met someone with as much willpower. I’m glad I had a chance to live with someone who possessed this kind of fortitude. It was like every minute of every day, she was laser-focused on her plans and goals.
But there was a trigger.
We found out later that her father had died from a massive heart attack, brought on by obesity. This is what started Andy’s transformation, and carried her through her future evolution.
Reminds me…I have to get out of this chair and go for a walk.