Picking up where we left off from Barrieland: Moving In (Part 2)
Disclaimer: This is Part 3 in a Series. Please read the Full Disclosure Disclaimer on Part 1 before proceeding.
And then, if you haven’t read them yet, please read the previous posts before continuing to gain full context:
I moved into my new Barrie dwellings the same way I moved out of my King City digs; I borrowed my dad’s car for the day and packed as much as I could for what would be several trips back and fourth by myself. It’s a little annoying moving by yourself, but if you start the day with a positive attitude and take your time, it’s not the worst thing in the world.
Barrie is about a 30 minute drive from Vaughan if there’s no traffic, which fortunately that day there wasn’t any, on any of the days I moved.
I actually did this move over the course of a couple days, because I also needed to purchase a few things and do some set-up which in itself takes a bit of time.
The most annoying thing I had to move and later assemble was my new bed. I bought one from Ikea that had 4 under-bed storage to make the best use of my limited space in the small bedroom, because the one thing I didn’t want to compromise this go around was that I wanted a Queen mattress.
Although, I was already pretty frustrated having to buy another mattress so soon. I bought one for myself when I first moved to Toronto back in 2014, but only used it for 1 year before I moved in with Matt and we chose his (better) mattress over mine. I ended up giving my old mattress to my parents who put it up at the cottage, and nobody offered to help me purchase a new mattress this go around. I’m still a little sour about it, especially when I realized they haven’t updated the mattress in my childhood bedroom since I was literally a child. It all just feels like such a waste of money, to me.
Anyways, as it turns out it wasn’t necessarily the best choice for this particular room because the walls curve in at the corners, meaning that two of the drawers weren’t able to function (read: open) without hitting the walls. I ended up using those storage drawers for things I wouldn’t need for a while, like extra blankets and extra cloth (because the linen closet still wasn’t completed with those shelves Skippy said would be put in).
I suppose we can start this post with a mini-tour of my old apartment. I definitely have photos from my first walkthrough of this space, or at least I was reasonably certain I did, but I can’t locate them right nw. So these ones are from some of my final weeks living here; mind the mess, we were on our way out the door not long after this.
I can’t remember if I met the upstairs neighbours on the very first day I was moving stuff in or if it was a couple days later, but I recall them stepping out of their door which I’d have to pass every day to get to my own.
There was a woman and a man at the door, and the man was sucking on a cigarette.
New neighbour: Hi, I’m Rhonda.
I held out my hand, which James shook, and introduced myself as Jaimee thinking to myself, and saying aloud, “that’ll be easy to remember.”
Rhonda: If you need anything, just let me know.
That was pretty much the first interaction, pretty standard, pretty short, and I figured I’d meet the kids at some point somewhere down the line.
I wondered to myself if James was the father of the kids, or a boyfriend, but didn’t ask, and internally said to myself, ‘these two make an odd pair’.
What can I say, I make fast judgements sometimes.
By ways of explaining without trying to be rude, Rhonda is a pretty large woman and James is quite short and average weight, which is what I meant, you know, internally, to myself.
When I first moved in, about a week later Rhonda approached me as I was walking by her door again.
Rhonda: Hey, this is the old key for the apartment.
And she handed me a key, to my own apartment.
Which, for several reasons I thought was very odd. The main one of course being, why did this woman have a key to my newly renovated basement suite at all?
On Mark’s last visit when he walked me through the apartment, he did mention something about the door to upstairs. In the photo gallery above you can see that there are keys in the keyhole; that’s on my side of the door.
I’d lived in a basement suite before at my old Junction area home, but there was a key difference between that house and this one. In the Junction, we had a shared outside door which led to the stairwell which housed our laundry at the bottom, and to the main door, so I actually had two keys to that apartment; one for outside, and one for our suite.
The upstairs tenants in the Junction had the option of either door, but because of the way they utilized the upstairs, furniture blocked the otherwise main entrance, which is why they also used the side door.
Skippy explained that the key was in the door in my suite as an emergency measure, in that if there were a fire in my apartment, I had an alternative escape route.
I guess this makes sense, so I never questioned it, and I always assumed he had checked the lock to ensure the upstairs tenants couldn’t get in. I myself never touched this door even one time, never touched the keys in them either (there was never a fire, so I had no need).
I later suspected that he actually didn’t verify that the upstairs tenants couldn’t get in, because on a subsequent later visit, he made sure to check it and I watched him do this. This was after I had already been living there for over a month, going on 2 or so.
And also because of the whole, upstairs tenant handing me a key to my own apartment thing.
Of course, I asked Skippy about this one day, and it alarmed me that he seemed to imply that yeah, they might’ve had a key. I still don’t understand why that would ever be the case, and why he didn’t seem to think it weird that I’d be asking about this.
I mentioned earlier that Skippy asked me not to change my address, which again, because I wasn’t sure this was going to work out when I initially accepted the place, I complied with. Typically I change my address within 2-3 weeks of moving prior to this (ask Service Ontario).
So it was extra odd to me then when Skippy messaged me one day to tell me he had a mail key for me.
The basement apartment was officially official; it had an address.
58-1 Hawthorne Cresecent.
Skip: Here’s your mail key!
Me: Great, for all that mail that’s going to my parents house still.
Something odd started happening with the upstairs tenants at this time (and this was right when I moved in), Rhonda started coming down to my door to hand me mail.
Rhonda: There’s some mail for you in our mailbox, here you go.
The first of several envelopes she handed me, which were all addressed to the same name: Jamie W.
Odd, I thought.
Again, I now had my own mailbox, so if I was getting any mail, it would go to my box. Also, my name isn’t Jamie. Nor does my last name start with a W. (It was like a Ukranian or Polish similar name; it ended in ski if I recall correctly).
I thought about how Skippy had told me that there was a tenant in the suite before me and before the renovations.
One day I asked him over the phone if he remembered the name of the previous tenant, assuming this mail, this mail that was going to the upstairs tenants’ address, was for that person, since they wouldn’t have had their own mailbox at the time in their illegal apartment.
He couldn’t remember their name.
Extra odd, I thought. Surely if that persons name was Jamie, and my name is Jaimee, he would remember this.
I later asked him about this because I couldn’t internally let it go.
It was around this time I realized that Mr. James who I’d met earlier was a common guest upstairs. So often in fact, I assumed he was definitely this woman’s boyfriend.
I wondered if James had been the previous tenant and then moved himself upstairs after the renovations. I wanted to ask him what his last name was to verify, but never did.
I didn’t press Skipper on the issue for a few days at least, and then I reached out via text.
This whole text conversation is strange to me because again, Skippy initially told me it was only 1 person that lived in the prior basement suite, which is something Rhonda and her kids in their own way also verified in later conversations, and there was the whole “Jamie W getting mail to this address but apparently not living upstairs thing” and the whole “but there is this guy James who does”. But now it was a family, and the guys name was Quinn and Quinn was a nice family? Not a common name; my coworker Paul has a son named Quinn, though. Bizzare.
Typically my practice when I get mail that isn’t my own is to then write on it in sharpie “No longer at this address” and throw it back in the mailbox for the post office to deal with. I did this with at least 1 envelope and this seemed to put an end to Rhonda delivering me mail that wasn’t mine.
Moving on to speak about those renovations, though… remember how I said how stoked I was to be moving into a fresh, clean, no-deep clean required suite? I was wrong.
The patio area where Dakota and I would hang outside was the biggest disaster. Skip explained that during renovations they had to knock it all down because it was like a greenhouse (For weed, or other herb plants? You decide). And the people who did the work obviously did so in such a hurry they left glass and other materials all over the place. I spent weeks trying to clean this up; no picture though, because I was trying not to give my “friend” and new landlord a hard time, especially since he let me move in early without charging me extra and expressed in these initial text messages:
Pretty standard questions for a new tenant. I was asking about the different bins because in Vaughan we only utilize garbage, recycling and green bins, no separate bin for cardboard like Barrie does.
He also acknowledges here that actually, yeah, he knew about James, which I found odd, because he hadn’t mentioned him at all before I moved in. And just to further iterate, even just from these messages you can see Skip seems confused about who he’s talking about regarding the former tenant or what the situation was there, talking about him as a single person and not a family. And I was confused as to why he had his own bins for his illegal apartment, but that certainly explains why my upstairs tenants ended up owning so many of their own after the fact.
Then things got weird fast with my new upstairs neighbours which I expressed to my landlord right away.
When Rhonda came down to my door, which was already feeling far more frequent than it should have been considering we didn’t know each other at all, she handed me a big tote bag (like, not a normal tote, one with a flat bottom that was more rectangular) full of random dog food. She also handed me some canned dog food, and some giant Milkbones.
Rhonda has a small dog that I had met briefly, a weird dog, but nonetheless, a dog.
When I asked her why she didn’t want the food, she explained her dog wouldn’t eat it, and that the giant Milkbones were too big for her. Rhonda’s dog has a weird name; Snewfie; and is a cross-breed that I can’t remember the name of, but I think she called her a “Pomeranian-ski” or something like that. She’s definitely part-Pomeranian.
I took the food but put it into storage as I otherwise have food for Dakota. And when I went to move the food she gave me from the tote bag into a plastic bin for better storage, I noted it was full of random stuff that shouldn’t be in there: children’s toys, a single flip fop, garbage from the dog food bags.
I found this odd, of course; as a dog owner I take great pride in making sure my dog gets good nutrition and wouldn’t ever have these types of items in Dakota’s food. But I didn’t suspect there’d be anything wrong with it at the time, just that it was strange she had so much and so many different types.
This is how quickly I started to learn that the electricity in this apartment was improperly set up. As it turns out, I’d blow several fuses while living in Barrie because seemingly almost everything is connected to the same single fuse.
Every time I’d blow dry my hair, every time I’d vacuum, and so on. This would trip my internet so it impacted my days with regular inconveniences.
At some point, I also got a text from the upstairs tenant who had blown a fuse in their kitchen. When I investigated the fuse box though, it wasn’t at all clear which one had tripped, and normally this is very obvious. I assumed it was the same one though and for good measure flipped it, to which they responded, “still not working.”
I don’t believe any tenant should be responsible for the power in another tenants suite, so I responded back that she should contact her landlord.
My landlord early on in the game was also repeatedly asking me if things were okay in the suite, which at the time I didn’t think much of, but looking back now on an exchange like the one below, seems odd, even for a “friend”. Like below where he asks me, when he has already asked me and it had only been 2 days since moving in, if I’m “still enjoying it?!”
It’s been literally 2 days, man. I didn’t respond. I don’t have time for stupid nonsensical conversation like that, #SorryNotSorry.
I found the follow-up message genuinely funny although in retrospect it could definitely be taken as strange. But I imagine even doctors doing surgery need to have fun…. or, wait, are they even allowed to listen to stuff like this in surgery? I genuinely don’t know; Maybe it helps them stay focused, like it often does for me.
Imagine though you’re a band and you find out one day a surgeon made a literally deadly mistake in the operating room while rocking out too hard to your tune? Sketch. What would you even say when you heard the story, you know what I mean?
Random Fan to Kurt Cobain: So, I, I was listening to In Utero while I was uh, putting back together someone’s spleen when, uh, I slipped and the needle just sort of fell in the wrong hole, you know what I mean?
Kurt Cobain: Which song?
Random Fan: Uh… it might not have been on In Utero. Uh, it might’ve been on… you know what, Nevermind.
I don’t remember exactly when I met the upstairs tenants kids, but it was also a pretty standard basic introduction like, “This is “X” and this is “Y”. I didn’t ask their ages and was unsure of that for some time.
But it wasn’t long before I started hearing strange noises upstairs that put me on high alert.
Skippy at one point early on offered to bring me a camera to put in the suite to keep an eye on Dakota; I used to have a Furbo but I sold it after moving out of King since I needed the cash. I told him that’d be “sweet”, but if he hadn’t been a friend of mine there is no way I would have accepted a camera from a landlord; it’s a strange gift to give a single woman living alone in a new city.
Generally speaking, if you’re a landlord reading this, just don’t offer this to your tenants, it sets a weird tone for the entire relationship and I imagine this doesn’t look good from a legal point of view if you later down the line have some issues with your tenant, so save yourself, and them, the trouble.
Eventually he sent me a Wyze cam, that I didn’t set up for a while and barely used, but it becomes important later on in this retelling.
At some point Skip was even going above and beyond, sending me listings for things like cars to buy even though I couldn’t afford one, nor did I want one at this stage in the game. Again, everything was basically within walking distance, and I prefer to walk to get my exercise.
He sent me a text at one point about a Subaru with 330km on it that was listed for $3000, but said it might be able to get negotiated down from there. Mark is a great negotiator; I never responded to these messages because I had already told him I wasn’t looking for a car.
This was something I’d dealt with previously, where people who know me would suggest I get a car or go behind me to try and source one for me. For example, when I was moving out of King City, I randomly got a text from my brother’s fiance about her car, saying, “your mom said you were looking for a car, I’m selling mine.” – I wasn’t looking so I said thanks, but no thanks.
In between our normal conversations about his schooling, Skip would check in about how things were going, like if the appliances were working fine. It was still early and I hadn’t used much of it at this point. As it turns out, I wouldn’t use the dishwasher much at all because when you’re a single person living alone, by the time you have a dishwasher full of stuff you’ve also run out of cutlery and plates, so it just isn’t very practical and I didn’t want to run half-full loads and waste the water.
Since I had just moved in, there were a few packages that were coming to the door for me, but of course, so many delivery drivers don’t read the instructions properly so these would often get left by my upstairs neighbours doors instead. They’d regularly come down to my door to bring these to me, and I would repeatedly tell them they could just leave them by the door, since I get alerts when these things arrive, and I both didn’t want to burden them with my stuff and felt uncomfortable with them coming down and interrupting me while I was trying to work.
I’m generally a pretty friendly person, but when I’m working, especially on a creative project or otherwise my actual job-job, interruptions can really derail my day. Plus, this was my personal space and it was quickly starting to feel like people were infringing upon it.
Some of this had to do with the fact that the apartment wasn’t ready when I moved in of course, but even into April I was getting visitors from handymen, plumbers, and Skippy’s ex who appeared to be some sort of property manager for him. To be clear, I had only met his ex like literally twice before this; once at my old Davisville apartment, and once at my wedding, which meant we weren’t friends and I wasn’t particularly comfortable with how frequently Skipper was telling me to contact him.
I don’t know exactly how or where Mark was sourcing these people from; the electrician, the plumber, and so on, but I was quickly starting to feel like all of these people were either brand new to their jobs or paid so low they didn’t care about them at all.
The plumber when he arrived was actually in my suite for an insanely long time trying to find where the water meter might be, and I’m not expert but when he started looking in the ceiling I started to help him to move things along.
In this basement suite, there were all sorts of little electrical boxes all over the place; in the ceiling, in the walls. And this might be normal for new renovations, I’m not sure, but housed within these boxes as I quickly discovered were all sorts of phoenix connectors.
The reason I mention this is because I’m very familiar with phoenix connectors and their usage (audio), and a couple weeks into me living here, these same connections would later disappear. I really wish I had photos, but I wasn’t hyper-documenting my life at the time, like I do now.
That plumber from the text messages? Didn’t solve the issue. Another plumber had to come in the following day and I had to show him as well where the water meter was in a standard row-house.
You just can’t buy good help in Barrie, Ontario.
Can We Meet Dakota?
The kids from upstairs starting making their presence super known to me. They were very polite and pretty charismatic, they weren’t shy at all and would say hello to me every time we passed outside, and often would come to the top of their balcony and speak to me from there, or begin to make their way down my stairs.
The big thing they really wanted to talk about at first was Dakota.
Kids: When can we meet Dakota?
I explained to the upstairs tenant that Dakota wasn’t used to children and that he hasn’t spent much time around them so that makes him skittish; not that he’s dangerous, but he does also have separation anxiety and when he’s around people he’s unfamiliar with, specifically small people, this triggers his anxiety.
Since we had just done quite quickly 2 moves, disrupting both of our normal routines, I wanted to give him ample time to adjust to his new neighbourhood and the sights and smells.
This meant for weeks I would have to dodge that question.
Kids: Can we meet Dakota yet?
Me: Not yet, sorry.
Kids: But when?
Me: I don’t know.
Kids: How about now?
Me: I’ll let you know when.
Kids: When might that be?
I didn’t want to give them a time estimate and then have them be disappointed if I changed my mind. As it turns out it’d be a while before they were introduced, which happened in the front yard on the driveway as Dakota and I returned from a walk and the kids were outside playing.
We took it slow and I tried to teach the kids the correct way to meet a dog; no sudden movements, like him smell you and come to you first.
This was also my first real interaction with the kids, with the younger one quickly running inside to grab one of their stuffed animals to show it to me. They had a little cat toy.
Me: That’s cool. Dakota and I have to go inside now, he needs to get some water after his walk.
Professionally dodging interactions with children is one of my new favourite past-times. I’m just kidding about this one (kind of), but really, since I don’t have kids and my siblings have no kids, these interactions are uncomfortable for me, too.
The weather was awful during these months. Normally we do get some freak snow storms in March, but it had been particularly bad this past winter, especially with the amount of rain, which meant I was spending a lot more time in doors than I normally like to.
I can appreciate why my landlord wanted to get a new fridge, but this new one in my opinion actually fit a little worse than the old one, and the interior storage was far less usable and couldn’t fit any of my existing products from Costco Wholesale, so I found myself pretty annoyed with him doing this later in the move-in game.
Plus, having to pull out all my items and then wait for the fridge to cool down again meant I had to worry about my products going bad, like my cream for my coffee which needed to be replaced.
I only mention this for any other landlords who are making decisions like this after a tenant has moved in; try not to.
Mark apologized for this interruption which I appreciated, but the more interruptions I was getting the more those apologies were falling on deaf ears.
It’s not really helpful to suggest I just “take my walk” because they’re call 10-15minutes before (allegedly). Not to be a dick, but this means then I have to take a walk that keeps me within 10-15 minutes distance of the house, so it really infringes on my personal freedom, but thanks for the super duper suggestion, Landlord.
Also why is the packaging my responsibility? You’re the one that wasn’t satisfied with the first fridge that you don’t even have to use. I digress.
Another thing I was dealing with often at this time was the amount of trash that would find its way into my yard every morning. At one point I woke up to find an entire umbrella which seemed intentionally placed by my fence. On other occasions, often pages of paper from the kids’ drawings, scraps from balloons, and toys, and cigarette wrappings.
I eventually had to ask the upstairs tenants to try and be more careful about this stuff; I was still picking up glass and construction materials, and the amount of time it was taking every day to comb the yard to ensure it was safe for Dakota was starting to wear thin on me.
I understand that kids will be kids, but it’s also the parents responsibility to ensure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen, especially after their new neighbour has kindly requested they do so.
The umbrella was in my yard for a couple days before it was finally removed. Here’s a text about that and how my relationship with the upstairs tenants was beginning to shape:
I may have mentioned it before but I am particularly careful about these things with Dakota as he had previously ingested a sock which wound up getting stuck in his stomach, leaving me with an $8000 emergency vet bill.
For further context as to why this amount is pretty significant; When Matt and I bought Dakota from our registered breeder, he was $2000.
I have about that much left on the credit card I balance-transferred to to pay for this. Home stretch! This happened back in 2018. It’s at $1675 or so today and I’m hoping to make a final payment by September 8th, 2020.
But that’s not really important to this story in particular, except… sort of, it is, yeah.
Our First Argument 🥰
I mentioned earlier that it wasn’t long after moving in that I started to hear strange things coming from upstairs, and sometimes the things weren’t strange so much as they were downright disturbing.
I didn’t know how old the kids were but I guess you can say I have my opinions on how children should be spoken to and handled.
It was clear from the outset this family was a bit on the aggressive side. I’d often hear Rhonda and James yelling at the kids, and not just like, “Cut that out,” but “You’re such an asshole,” “What a bitch!” and so on.
As it turns out these kids were about 6 and 9 at the time.
But those weren’t the only things that stood out to me, and I’ll preface this by saying this is an older row-house complex, so the walls, and in this case ceiling, are pretty thin. I also happen to have pretty good hearing, for the record.
What I’d hear often is what I’ll only describe here as “sex noises” which, again, I had already pieced together for myself that these two were bang-buddies, but the troubling part about it to me was that it seemed to happen in all sorts of different areas of the house, at all sorts of hours of the day.
Not that I was trying to in any way police these peoples day but, the other thing that was clear is that these people had no real routine of any sort.
Alarms would also go off at odd hours of the day, followed by the sounds of footsteps as though they were just getting up from naps.
8AM, 2PM, 3AM, you name it. All hours. Again, I wasn’t trying to in any way snoop, frankly I wanted nothing to do with these people from the outset, I even explained to them I was a bit of an introvert so that they wouldn’t feel like I didn’t like them.
The other thing I’d hear often is the youngest child waking up in the middle of the night, or just late in the evening, and going to her mother and James crying hysterically.
I’d also hear the oldest behaving in a way that suggested they weren’t exactly being kind to their sibling, if you catch my meaning.
And, I’d also often wake up late in the night (I tend to go to bed early, but I am a very light sleeper) and there would be a lot of movement going in and out of the house; this is why I suspected early on that James or Rhonda were drug dealers.
The yelling in particular though, was very difficult to avoid hearing and it was grating on me quickly.
I grew up in a household which featured a lot of yelling myself, so I sympathized with these kids. My siblings and I actually had a nanny for a while growing up after our grandmother passed away (my mom’s mom passed from bone cancer and lived in the house until that happened taking care of us so that my mom could go back to work), and this nanny was actually really abusive to us. I was too young to remember much of it at the time, but my memory of this nanny, whose name was Anita, was that I was very afraid fo her; She’d take me for long walks out of the house and squeeze my hand so hard it hurt, and I can distinctly remember telling her to stop and she wouldn’t.
You can ask my older siblings for more details, but one of the stories that comes up often is when my sister walked in on the nanny beating my brother Matt with an umbrella. She was later fired when she was caught stealing jewelry and expensive cutlery from my family.
In short, if you have to hire a nanny, make sure it’s not a shitty one.
On Wednesday May 12th, 2021, if the date on my text messages is accurate, first thing in the morning, it happened again.
Whatever the kids had done had set off Rhonda and James in a big way and I’d had enough of it.
I yelled back through the ceiling, the loudest I’d ever yelled in my life: Can you hear me? Cause I hear you. Way to talk to your kids.
They didn’t hear me.
I was floored.
Genuinely, this was the loudest I have ever said anything ever, I WANTED to be heard, louder than I’ve even ever screamed on my records.
So now I was pissed.
I texted Rhonda almost instantly after, as they continued to yell and berate the kids.
I don’t have the text anymore because shortly after this Rhonda changed her cell phone number (coincidence? I don’t think so), but my text to them was basically much of the same: Wow, great parenting. Ever think that maybe they talk back to you because of the way you talk to them?
[Sept 2nd 2021 edit: I later located the text messages and they’re part of this series if you continue reading on]
Or something similar.
And then I waited.
The yelling stopped.
I knew she had read it.
I braced myself for Hurricane Rhonda’s imminent impact.
There was a loud knock at my door.
Surprise, it’s Rhonda.
She was wearing blue sunglasses, and seemed upset with me.
I opened the door and stood confidently inside my house to address her, but enough so that she understood I was absolutely not letting her inside. At no point in my living in Barrie did I ever welcome Rhonda or James into my home and at no point did I ever step foot into theirs, afraid of what I might find.
I actually transcribed this interaction already for law enforcement and I know that my text here will read a little differently because I don’t have a totally perfect memory, but the gist is the same:
Rhonda: Do you have a problem with the way I talk to my kids?
Me: Yeah, I do.
Rhonda: It’s none of your business the way I talk to them.
(Fair point, sort of, if you’re a POS).
Me: I hear the way you and your boyfriend yell at those kids every single day —
Rhonda, cutting me off at the strangest part: Oh, he’s not my boyfriend.
Me, unconvinced, but making a note of this for later: Okay, I don’t care, leave him out of it then (although, like, why would you let some non-boyfriend who lives in your home speak to your kids this way? I digress…) but you —
Rhonda: He’s not my boyfriend.
Me, again: Okay.
Rhonda: My kids swear at me and sometimes it’s too much so we swear back.
Me: Don’t you think they might do that because you swear at them?
Rhonda: You know we hear you playing your music, I can call the city on you.
Me, now a little confused but not faltering for a second: You hear my music and will call the city on me?
They had previously told me numerous times they loved my music, in fact, both children are learning how to play instruments. At one point Rhonda even tried to give me a keyboard? I declined it. Anyways.
Rhonda: I have video (or something) of you playing music at 7AM and I can call the city on you.
Me, now literally smiling because I know she’s lying to my face. Bold: Oh ya? At 7AM?
We were clearly off topic.
Rhonda: Yeah, loud at 7AM. I’ll call the city.
Me, knowing I start work at 7AM every day and don’t play my amplifiers at this hour or even my acoustic at this stage, and annoyed that we’ve now really fallen off the point of this argument: I can call the city for the way you speak to those kids.
Rhonda wasn’t happy about this.
I’ll also mention, it was pretty clear at this point that the only times these people above me they themselves were even awake at 7AM was when James was heading into work or when Rhonda went to go buy fast food breakfast for the kids (or herself, more on that soon).
Rhonda, (and I’m paraphrasing still of course): Stay out of our business.
Me: Fine. While we’re on the topic, don’t you be coming down here to my door. If I get a package at your door, leave it there. There is no reason for you to be down here.
She agreed, and promptly left. It was a short exchange.
I then of course immediately texted my landlord because I know the way these type of people operate in that, if she hadn’t already, she was about to call him; I didn’t call him because of the whole, he lives in B.C and it was early, and I wasn’t sure if he would be busy in class or in the hospital at the time.
Here’s the initial message to him:
While I was waiting for Skippy to get back to me, I walked outside to get some fresh air and overheard James and Rhonda speaking about me on their back patio which is literally right above me, so I can hear pretty well and he wasn’t exactly making an effort to not be heard.
James: This girl thinks she’s top shit because she has famous friends. She doesn’t know who I know. I know the Feds.
Me, internally to myself, flabbergasted and unsure which part to unpack first:
I have famous friends? Oh? I guess these people have found my music and Twitter pages and have made some very foolish assumptions.
I think I’m top shit? Oh? In my $1000 a month basement suite in what I’ve now discerned as being a pretty shitty area of Barrie, Ontario?
This guy “knows people?” What kind of people? At this point I suspected he was at bare minimum a drug dealer.
He knows “the feds”? Oh? Is this guy threatening my life with federal agents because I told them they talk poorly to their kids?
Something was seriously wrong with Rhonda and James.
Then Mark called me.
I did my best to quickly explain the situation while trying not to be too terribly loud so that they didn’t hear me, but I stayed in my apartment so that they didn’t think I was trying to run off, or something.
I told him about the argument and he said more or less what I anticipated him to; For starters, yes she had already spoken to him. And then he told me in nicer words that yeah, I shouldn’t get involved with the way she parents her kids.
I explained that this type of yelling and the strange noises that I was trying to explain to him I suspected were abusive both verbally and physically happened every single day at all hours of day. He again expressed that I shouldn’t get involved, and in fact I should apologize to her.
I was stunned because I really was surprised a former York Regional Police Officer would say this when I suspected child abuse in a home he owned.
So I then used this opportunity to tell him that they had also threatened me, in that they said they’d call “The Feds” after me.
Skippy replied back, “there are no federal agents in Canada, Jaim, so you don’t have to worry about that.
Me, internally: Do we… do we have a federal government? Mr. Trudeau?
I don’t know necessarily how all facets of our government and emergency systems run but, this seemed at the very least down-playing what was otherwise a legitimate threat, even if he was lying about doing it.
Me internally: Are the RCMP considered federal…
Nonetheless, I decided to let this one go a little bit, although I couldn’t stop thinking about how Rhonda said this man wasn’t her boyfriend.
So who’s having sex up there? The kids? The adults? Strangers? The adults WITH the kids? Strangers with the kids?!
I shouldn’t have to explain why this was concerning, so I’ll just continue the story.
I ended up trying to do the “good neighbour” thing and texted Rhonda, which was not exactly so much an apology so much as it was a “cool it with the threats,” but it was phrased like an apology. I basically said that yeah, I probably shouldn’t get in between the way she parents, but that the yelling was a lot for me to listen to.
Her response was basically a, “Yeah, we’ll try to watch it.”
For some reason, Rhonda would later take this interaction as a reason to try and become friendlier with me.
I then took Dakota for a walk and called my mom to explain the situation to her privately, needing to know if there was more I should be doing or if I was in the wrong for saying anything at all. Her response was more of the same, “don’t get involved in how other people parent”. Since I’m not a parent, I took this advice seriously.
Later that night Skippy reached out to me to check in.
He basically said he was glad that Rhonda and I had texted and “worked it out,” although I didn’t feel anything had been worked out at all.
But, I told myself it was probably best not to attract too much attention to myself in this neighbourhood, and went on with my day.
An Unexpected Food Delivery 🍵
One afternoon while I was sitting outside, Rhonda came downstairs again hoisting two large plastic bags.
As she descended the steps, she started saying something about giving me the bags.
At this point I had already made my requests for them not to even bring my packages down that were delivered, so I was caught pretty off guard when she was bringing me even more things.
Me: What’s in them?
Rhonda: It’s just some food.
Me: Oh, that’s okay, I really don’t need any food.
Rhonda, pressing me on the issue and continuing her slow descent down my steps: Honestly it’s all good stuff, my kids just don’t eat it.
Me: I really don’t —
Rhonda was now in front of me with the bags.
Rhonda: I don’t want it to go to waste. I go to the food bank every month and they give us too much. My kids don’t like this stuff.
Me, hesitantly, looking in the bags and taking note of a couple key items: pudding cups, white bread…
This was literally normal stuff. Stuff kids eat.
Me: It’s really okay I —
Rhonda, pressing further: Seriously, they don’t eat it.
Me, taking the bags: Okay.
Rhonda seemed satisfied with this exchange which I wondered if she was doing as part of some sort of peace-keeping mission given our recent disagreements. After she left, I took the bags inside and placed them in the furnance room.
There was no God damn way in hell I was going to eat this food.
I googled the nearest food bank which was a decent walk away on Anne Street.
I again, looked through the bags wondering, “even if your kids don’t eat these pudding cups or rice or whatever else… surely you, Big Rhonda, with your tree trunks for legs, or little James, who at this point was looking a little thin, eat white bread.”
I made a mental plan of attack that I would remove the food from the two large bags and place them into several smaller ones so that I could fit them in my backpack and not have too heavy of a load for my long walk to the Food Bank.
Narrator: Why wouldn’t you take the bus?
Me: Essential service only.
Plus, this was a good opportunity to get some weight lifting in.
I shouldn’t have to explain why, in 2021, when someone declines an offer of food, you should just take them at their word and leave them alone. Food allergies are on the rise, even the misunderstood ones like Gluten.
I didn’t go to the food bank the same day, I waited at least 1 day, but not much more than that because I didn’t want the food to be wasted (for real, it was all new fresh stuff!)
I can’t recall if it was on this same day or just before, but one day when I walked home and was making my way down my steps, the boy upstairs called out to me showing off his new hair; it was pink.
The boy: I dyed my hair!
Me: It looks great!
Me, internally: I think a little punk rocker is being born up there.
I took note later that day when I saw his father for the first time, a very large and frankly scary looking dude, that his father had a little bit of pink dye in his hair too, and so did Rhonda, just the tips.
His sister had no dye in her hair.
I thought this was a little sad and wondered why she was excluded from this otherwise family affair.
Something Is Seriously Wrong With These Kids
One day the eldest child wanted to talk and hang out. I keep phrasing it this way to reiterate, I didn’t actually know their ages at this time and hadn’t asked anyone.
At this point I felt like I had avoided these kids for so long that they were no doubt going to think I hated them, and given all the commotion I was overhearing upstairs, I wondered if they kept reaching out to me because they needed a safe space.
This was the boy and he wanted to see Dakota, but he also had another interesting request that he posed to me.
First, I’ll mention, that any and every time these kids asked me if they could either talk to me or say hi to Dakota, if it was an appropriate time for me, I would respond, “only if your mother says it’s okay.”
I in no way wanted to be caught in a position where an angry/worried mother suspected a stranger was getting too friendly with their kids behind their back, especially given the nature of our first fight.
Which is also something the boy wanted to talk about.
The day’s exchange went like this:
As I stood outside in my backyard with a cup of coffee watching Dakota, the boy approached the upstairs balcony.
The boy: Hi Jaimee. Can I come down?
Me, hesitantly: Only if your mom says it’s okay.
The boy looked back at the door behind him, and continued on: Can we talk?
The boy: I heard you and my mom having a fight and you said we get abused.
Me, worried where this is headed: 😶
The boy, continuing: I just want you to know, we don’t get abused.
I looked up at him calmly and took a minute to really look at his face as he said and repeated this to me.
Me: I’m sorry you overheard me talking to your mom. I understand you don’t get abused.
Him, repeating: Yeah, we don’t.
Me, a little quieter now: But you do know if something is ever wrong, I’m almost always down here, right?
He seemed to understand my meaning, that being, if he really needed to talk or get away from his family for some reason, I would try to help him.
Him: Can I come down and see Dakota?
Me: If your mom says it’s okay.
He called out to his mom asking her if he could come down, as he always did when we had these exchanges. She said yes, but only for an hour.
Him: She said yeah; I’ll come down.
Me, bracing myself for an hour alone with this boy, an hour I wasn’t expecting to have committed to when I said he could: Okay.
I’ll mention also again, during this time I was very much working remotely from home and considered myself “on-call” due to the nature of my workload. Which meant I was always keeping half an eye on my work laptop inside, ready for my manager or otherwise to get in touch with me for a task. It was another quiet morning at the office.
The boy came down and first we spoke outside, but the conversation quickly again turned to pretty serious issues, and I’m not sure if the following exchanges were all on the same day, or spaced a few days apart, but in either case he brought up a lot of interesting questions in a short amount of time so I’m just going to write them in here as though they were all the same day.
The boy: We’re not really learning anything in school.
Me: How’s that been?
The boy: It’s okay but —
He wasn’t interested in school at all.
The boy: I think I might be gay.
Me, hesitantly: Oh?
The boy: I don’t think it’s a big deal. A lot of people are gay.
Me: That’s true, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being gay.
I’ll mention here that I in particular sympathize a lot with kids who struggle with this “dilemma”. I recall two particular situations in my own upbringing that feature a friend of mine, and hopefully now that he has been “out” for some time, it’s okay that I share them.
The first happened when he and I were about 8 years old. We sat on the back of my family’s basketball net on my parents driveway talking as we often did in those days. He was upset. His mother had asked him if he was gay.
My friend: I don’t know why she would say that.
He was defensive.
Me, something to the effect of: Don’t worry about it. Parents say stuff sometimes.
The second happened several years later, but we were still very young, this was prior to high school.
This same friend called me on the phone in hysterical tears; hysterical in the devastating sense, not the funny kind. He was basically hyperventilating as he told me he had yet another fight with his family; this was common then, and frankly, common now. I told him I’d meet him half-way, another common practice of ours. We got off the phone in such a hurry that as I threw on my shoes I had to ask myself which way I thought he was coming from; you can get to my house from his in two directions, and we’d switch it up often.
When I got to the end of my street I hesitated wondering which direction to start in, because the way the roads curve in my subdivision I didn’t want to make the wrong choice. I started going to the right and then stopped, deciding the other way made more sense.
And then I waited to see if he would turn a corner. But he still hadn’t shown up, so second guessing myself again I started to walk back down my street to call him back.
Then he turned the corner; he was coming from the left after all and he was walking fast now.
He fell into me as soon as he reached me, still in tears. I didn’t know what to do or so, except hold him back and tell him it was okay.
And eventually, me: What happened?
Him: I came out to my parents and they kicked me out.
Me: You can stay at my house. Let’s go to my house.
This is the first real time I’ve ever had to try and help an LGBTQ+ person through this kind of issue, and as I said, we were both young, still in elementary school.
My friend stayed at my house that night and we slept on the couches in the basement; I didn’t want to leave him alone.
I anticipated having to ask my parents if he could stay for a few days, but by morning this friend ended up speaking on the phone with his father and they asked him to come back home, so he did.
It’s hard for me to forget these situations, as I’ve considered this person my oldest and best friend all these years, and I remembered this as this new young boy was telling me the same things, although without the hysterics.
Back to the Main Story*
The boy: Yeah, I think I might be gay.
Me: That’s alright.
The boy, changing subjects quickly: I used to know the guy who lived here (looking at the doors to my suite).
Me: Oh ya?
The boy: Yeah we used to come down here a lot. I wanted to see what it looks like now.
Me, wondering now if the two topics were related, him being gay and him spending time with the previous male tenant: They renovated the whole place.
The boy: Can I see it?
Me, hesitantly, but also wanting to give him an opportunity to speak to me in the suite instead of outside where his mother might hear what he’s saying, because of the nature of the conversations we’ve now had: Sure, yeah, take a look around.
Him, before we did this: I’m thirsty, I’m going to go get some water from upstairs.
Me: Sure thing.
He brought down his own water bottle.
Him: How long has it been? I can only stay an hour.
Me, glancing at my watch, which is actually a Fitbit: Like 10 minutes. I’ll let you know when we’re at the hour.
He walked inside.
Him, in a way only a 9 year old could say this type of compliment: I like it.
He was incredibly curious about every little detail about my suite. He did a thorough tour, which I followed him through answering any questions he had. He didn’t tell me what it looked like before. He’d make comments about what it was like while they did the renovations here and how he really wanted to see what they’d done.
At one point he asked me if I had ever been to the far back crawlspace under the stairs.
Him, from inside the storage cubby under the stairs: Do you ever go like, all the way to the back?
Me, an adult knowing how stairs are built: Not really, it sort of just ends right there.
He walked all the way to the back, and then came back out again.
Like I said – thorough.
There were left over construction materials all over the inside of the crawlspace so I told him to be careful.
I watched him walk through my bedroom and back out into the hall where he stopped to walk up the stairs that led to his own suite. I had a couple toys on the stairs and I had put up my spare dog gate, because at this point I already suspected someone was entering my apartment from this very door.
I interrupted whatever strange thing he was talking about and pulled the Rottweiler dog toy from the stairs asking him: Do you think your little sister would like this?
Him: I’m not sure.
His sister was the one who showed me her cat plush toy when the kids first met Dakota.
He walked back through the hall opening the furnace room.
Me, internally: Shit, I hope he doesn’t know all that food was from his mom.
He didn’t mention it.
He pulled open my cupboards in the kitchen and looked at the mugs, very quickly commenting and pointing to a black one with white writing: I like this one!
Me, holding my “Just Chillin” penguin mug, and thinking that was a strange choice for a young child: I’m really more partial to this one.
Him: Yeah, it’s okay.
Earlier when we were outside and I was enjoying my first cup of coffee, the boy had also mentioned he had ADHD and I told him I did, too. For the record, other ADHD-people, full disclosure I have never been formally diagnosed, but uh, just look at my life as a whole, okay?
Inside he asked again: How long has it been?
Me: About 20minutes.
Him, looking at my instruments: Do you play them all?
Me: I do.
Him: How long has it been now?
Me, noting internally it had only been about a minute since the last question: I’ll let you know when we’ve reached the hour. What kind of music do you like?
Babysitting is hard, guys.
Him: I don’t know. Lots. I listen to this *indiscernible Japanese band name* a lot. Do you know it?
Me: I don’t.
Him: I like it a lot.
He noticed my work laptop on the kitchen counter.
Him: You can pull it up on YouTube.
Me, navigating to YouTube: I don’t know how to spell that, you can type it in.
I turned the laptop to him and he typed in some title that started with an “N”. He searched through the list until he found what he was looking for.
Him, as it starts to play a multi-hour segment: I like this one a lot. When I can’t sleep I put this on sometimes.
The song was very repetitive, dance-like music and the video showed random anime clips, I assumed they were part of a show I was unfamiliar with.
I had previously heard the type of music Rhonda would put on for the kids, and this was definitely more of a club-style beat than the otherwise dance-pop radio friendly hits I’d overheard.
Him, sitting on my floor: Your floor is dirty.
Me: Totally. Hard to keep it clean sometimes because of the forest and Dakota.
Him, looking at the walls: How long has it been now?
This child had absolutely no concept of time.
Him: Sometimes my parents let me drink coffee, too.
Me, concerned: 😶
Him: I don’t really know what to talk about now.
Me, also unsure of what to talk about: That’s okay.
Him, trying to fill the void: I like this song a lot.
Me: Yeah, it’s cool (it wasn’t; this is a joke, but also really, not my cuppa tea).
Him: I don’t really know what to talk about now.
Me: That’s okay, you don’t have to talk just because.
We were quiet for a minute.
Him, looking at the instruments: Can I play one of them?
Me: Sure, go ahead, pick any of them.
He picked the bass and sat it in his lap, lap-style, with the strap over his shoulders. It was a little big for him. I plugged it into my Fender Mustang so he could hear it amplified.
Him: I don’t know how to play it.
Me: That’s okay. You basically just have to put your fingers on the frets like that, hold down the string there, and then pluck it.
He played for a bit, saying again he didn’t really know how to play.
Me: You’re actually doing great, just keep moving around the fretboard like you are.
He only played for a few minutes before he got bored or embarrassed and took the bass off.
Him again: I don’t really know what to talk about.
Me: That’s okay, me either.
Him: Can I get a picture with Dakota? You can send it to my mom.
Me: Of course you can.
I still have this photo but for obvious reasons I wont post it; I promptly sent it to Rhonda, explaining, “he wanted a picture with him.”
I’m not sure we ever made it to the hour, but this was basically my first time hanging out with this boy, and I think that’s enough context for what happens later in this story.
There’s Something Seriously Wrong With Barrie Businesses
The next day I took my 3-4 bags of unwanted food and began my trek to the Food Bank.
This was the first time I would be walking out to this area so I wasn’t totally sure what to expect.
What I remember from this walk is how quickly my neighbourhood turns from a residential neighbourhood into a commercial neighbourhood full of old decrepid buildings. There’s an old train railway that runs through here that in parts is unfinished/unmaintained.
And there’s a lot of trash around.
Mostly, it’s a lot of walking down long streets with not much else on them.
Anne Street in particular is a pretty bare one and a couple times I had to stop and reach for my phone to double check if I had passed it yet or not.
There wasn’t great signage on this street, so when I finally stood outside the Pioneer Pools and looked at the sign, it took a minute to notice if there was even a sign at all on the board for the Food Bank. I wondered how any poverty-stricken family would ever even know this place existed; not everyone can afford a smartphone, you see.
Google told me that the Food Bank was actually just behind the Pioneer Pools, so I made my way down that street to find even more commercial looking buildings. It was unclear for some time which building it could possibly be, given how nondescript so many of these types of buildings are. Big white things.
I walked down the street and eventually saw a sign above a pair of glass double-doors that indicated this big white structure on the left was the Food Bank. I walked to the doors, stopped to put on my mask, pulled the 3rd bag out from my backpack and then read the sign on the doors:
“Food is to be dropped off at the back of the building just passed the gates.“
I looked to my right and it wasn’t clear where this was. But okay, I’ll play along, Barrie Food Bank.
I walked towards where I did see a gate but noted from afar it was very clearly locked.
I approached it anyway and from here I could see the back of the building. I looked around, wondering how I was supposed to get in there, and then started to make my way around the gate to where I thought there might be an opening a little further away.
Again, as I stared into this strange desolate part of Barrieland, I wondered: If I was a poverty-stricken person, with no vehicle, no smartphone, and desperately needed food, how would I know where to go?
I didn’t walk for very long before I felt like this was a futile effort. There was clearly no good place to drop off this food here, so I turned around and noticed a woman making her way to the glass-double doors. I picked up my pace and began to walk over to her.
I caught her just outside the doors, calling to her to stop her from entering so that I could ask my question.
Me: Excuse me, do you work here?
Me: Do you know where I’m supposed to go to drop off this food? (I held up the bags, and now I was just a few feet in front of her).
Her: You go around the back and —
Me: Yeah, I was just over there but it isn’t really clear where to go.
Her: What’s in the bags?
Me: It’s just some food.
Her: Is it expired?
Me: You’d honestly have to check it all yourself (I assumed this was what these people would do anyways? Apparently not?) to be honest I actually got all this food from someone else so you would need to verify that it’s all good. Most of it though is non-perishable.
Her: Something about freshness.
Me: So, can you take these, or?
Her, a little hesitantly: Yeah, I’ll take these.
Me: I can get the door for you (she took the bags).
Her: That’s okay.
Me: Okay, thanks!
I left feeling very uneasy about the Barrie Food Bank system.
I’d come back to Anne street several times on subsequent visits to the Barrie downtown waterfront, and on one occasion I made a point to go back down that little street that’s just to the right of this Pioneer Pools. It wasn’t long after I had dropped off the food, and the entire building had been torn down and already cleaned up enough that now, what remained, was just an empty lot.
I found this odd and wondered where the Food Bank could have been moved to, but never investigated it further.
This wasn’t my only strange encounter with a Barrie-area-business-intended-to-help-the-poor, but we’ll get to that later.
What Else Do You Wanna Talk About?
It wasn’t long after this that I had another encounter with the boy upstairs.
He, after having now been down into my suite, seemed to think we were buddies and was making greater effort all the time to hang out with me.
I shouldn’t have to explain why I thought it was odd that a 9 year old boy wanted to hang out with a 30 year old woman that he just met, or why his mother was seemingly super okay with him doing so every time he asked.
Typically, I declined, telling him I was busy working, which he seemed to understand was a lie.
Nonetheless I made efforts to be polite, and there came a day where both children wanted to come see Dakota.
It was a nice day.
Me, drinking my coffee, to the boy on the balcony: Only if your mom says it’s okay.
The boy: Mom, can we go down to see Dakota?
Rhonda: Only if she says it’s okay.
A strange limbo had begun.
The boy: She says as long as you’re not busy.
Me, eyeing my work laptop inside: You can come down for a bit, but not for long because I need to work.
The boy raced downstairs with a stick in hand.
The boy: Sometimes I get to drink, coffee, too.
Me, again, a little concerned: Yeah, I like coffee.
The little girl was carefully making her way down the steps behind us and the boy began hitting his stick on the wooden posts that held up the patio above us, startling Dakota.
Me: You need to be very careful with that stick, especially around Dakota. He doesn’t like that.
The boy, stopping the banging briefly: I like to sharpen these.
Me, mildly concerned but remembering kids will be kids: Be careful with that.
The girl approached and I turned my attention to her instead: Careful now, don’t run up to Dakota. He’s gotta check you out first.
The girl at this point has had the least interaction with Dakota and he was already feeling quite anxious with these two strange little beings in his personal space; one with a weapon.
The little girl was less interested in Dakota and mostly wanted to talk to me, but, and I had noticed this before, this girl had an incredible lisp and it was very difficult to understand even the simplest of words she spoke.
When she said my name, it sounded like she was calling me Katie. I’d politely correct her: It’s Jaimee.
The boy continued to bang the stick on the concrete so I turned my attention back to him; he seemed in a different mood today than our previous interactions: You need to stop that, Dakota is not a violent dog but he does not like that.
I took the stick away.
The boy: My mom said I shouldn’t have told you I was gay.
Oh boy here we go…
The boy: Was it wrong of me to tell you I’m gay? She says it was wrong.
Me: No, I don’t think it was wrong of you to tell me that.
Me, internally: But if I was someone who wanted to take advantage of a young boy, I can definitely see how telling an adult man or woman you’re gay could lead to something terrible.
I was now very nervous about talking to this child. I had already made my own assumptions about what goes on upstairs, and now he was telling me things that seemed to at least in part confirm them.
The boy: Why do people smoke?
At this point, I had taken up weed-smoking again, mostly out of boredom in Barrieland, but also because often times, whether it’s a placebo effect or not, smoking certain strains of weed helps me focus and stay on task, particularly with repetitive tasks which I did frequently.
Me: What do you mean?
The boy: Like, why do people smoke?
I wasn’t sure if he meant weed or cigarettes, but I assumed he noticed my weed pipe, and I thought he was pretty bright.
Me: Well, for some people, it helps them to smoke a little bit.
In the back of my mind at this point, I had already made a couple other assumptions based off some of my other interactions with Rhonda and James:
I knew James smoked cigarettes, that was clear; I suspected Rhonda did too.
I knew they both smoked weed, that was clear (I’d even seen some weed containers in their recycling bins, not that I was trying to look, they were just right there).
But sometimes they’d behave so oddly I suspected they did harder drugs, too. Specifically, for whatever reason (too much Breaking Bad?), I suspected they might do meth.
The boy asked again about smoking and I vaguely generalized it again, saying: For some people, smoking helps with focus.
The boy went on to say that sometimes his parents let him drink coffee for the same reason, to help with his ADHD.
I found this odd, and Rhonda, who was now up the stairs outside her door overheard him.
Rhonda: Yeah, he has ADHD and they say coffee helps with that.
Me: Yeah, I have it too, it helps me, too sometimes.
But he’s like… how old? Doesn’t caffeine stunt growth and development or is that an old wives tale now?
I personally didn’t start drinking coffee until like, 11th grade. Of course, I’d previously had pop, which is full of caffeine, so who’s to say what’s right.
The girl: Can I go inside?
Me: Not today, we have to stay outside today.
For the record, the girl never entered my apartment (to my knowledge) and this was the only time she asked.
She carried on keeping herself entertained and the boy picked up the stick again and began banging it around.
Me: You really need to stop doing that.
He knew I was serious this time.
The boy, changing the subject: How do you know like, if it’s okay to talk to someone. Like, you let me down here, and I could be a murderer.
Me, internally laughing at the thought of this little boy being a murderer, but also noting that that is a very smart question for a 9 year old: Totally. Well, I could also be a murderer.
I sipped my coffee.
He seemed to understand my meaning as he gave me a strange look with a smile as though he was debating if I was indeed a murderer, and didn’t continue the train of thought.
The boy: I’m thirsty. And hungry.
Me, internally: this boys mother gave me food and now he’s saying he’s hungry?
We had run out of things to talk about again, and at this point I wanted the kids to go back upstairs, so I told them I had to get back to work. They didn’t press me on it, and they both left.
Later that day I kept wondering about the smoking comment, especially after I receieved a series of text messages in rapid succession from Rhonda.
Again, I’m not sure I have these, but what she basically began doing at this point was trying to tell me more about her life in a way that struck me as incredibly bizarre given our previous interactions.
She started to tell me that in fact, James was not her boyfriend, (again, yeah), and that the reason she left her ex-husband (the scary looking man) was because she decided she was a lesbian.
I found it odd how this conversation happened after the boy told me he was gay. It made me wonder a couple things:
- Did he think he was gay because kids in fact at this age are this perceptive of their sexuality and he was beginning to understand that about himself?
- Or did he think he was gay because he had spent time with strange men?
- Or did he say he was gay because his mom was gay and he wanted to fit in?
No matter which way I thought about it, the fact remained it was very odd for a 9 year old boy to tell a stranger he was gay.
And then my follow-up wonders:
- Was Rhonda really a lesbian or was she saying this because she overheard my conversations with her son about him being gay?
- Why did she suddenly want to know so much about me and my life, given our disagreements?
- Why was she so okay with letting her children hang out with me if she knew I suspected child abuse?
- Why did she text me the way she did, giving so much detail at times, and other times completely no context to what she was talking about as though we were previously having an entirely different conversation?
- Why did they spend so much time in the garage?
- Did this woman have a job or was she on disability?
- Why did they have no routine?
These questions make more sense if you’re able to read the text exchanges we had; I share some of these later in this series (they took a while to compile).
A couple times, I indulged her for a message or two, telling her that I was getting divorced, but I never explained why or any other circumstances surrounding that, but her messages often struck me as so bizarre and out of the blue that I’d take a fair bit of time before responding, if I did at all.
At the same time as all of this, every day I continued to hear this family verbally abuse the children, and whatever else all those noises and feet were all about.
In particular, the young girl with the lisp received almost all of the backlash. It was becoming very clear to me the boy was their pride and joy.
I started to avoid them all as much as possible.
And Who’s This Little Boy?
On another day not long after this I met more of the upstairs clan, but some other strange happenings were going on, too.
At one point while walking in the woods as Dakota and I did almost every morning, he had run off the trail and hurt his foot.
For a mountain dog, Dakota is remarkably clumsy, to the point that I don’t trust him too close to slopes where he might stumble and fall.
I didn’t think much of this but knew I’d have to keep an eye on his paw. He seemed okay, could walk well enough but clearly had stubbed it or otherwise. I checked his toe and he didn’t wince when I put pressure, so I didn’t believe it to be broken, but maybe a little sprained or just sore.
So Dakota and I spent a few days staying out of the woods and in our backyard instead.
The weather had gotten much better and more people were using the trails, but since I was able to watch every day (this was my television set), I’d notice the same people used the trails every day for the most part. Some I’d met before, people with dogs that had made acquaintance with Dakota, others walked alone, and some in small groups.
For the most part, and almost always if I was not outside with him (inside working on my, you know, very real job for Osgoode Professional Development – York University), I’d put Dakota on his outdoor lead which was attached to a stake in the ground in the middle of the yard.
It might seem strange when you look at some pictures of my yard that I would do this, but it was for good reason that my former-landlord never considered: There was no gate at the bottom of my steps separating my yard from the upstairs which led out onto the busy street. And, the wooden fence to the right of me did not completely connect to the metal fence that separated us from the forest. This meant that Dakota could very easily get sandwiched between the wooden fence and the metal fence, or, and this was the real concern as he tried to do it at least once, Dakota could simply walk up the stairs and find himself in the middle of the road.
So, yeah, I’d put him on a lead in my backyard. Safety first, folks.
The landscape in my yard of course was very minimal (lacking even grass) but it did have two large plants in either corner. These plants are a massive nuisance as it turns out, because Dakota while on his lead and wanting to source some shade would find himself behind them, or within them, and get stuck.
This happened often but it wasn’t cause for concern because I’m very attentive to Dakota’s needs, and in particular, if this happened when I was say diligently working at my laptop or otherwise in the bathroom or something, he’d let out a quick bark to alert me of his trouble and I’d relieve him of his lead.
But neighbours are remarkably nosy, especially when it comes to a majestic stallion like Dakota.
On one ocassion I noticed a young girl who had stopped in front of the fence. I was working at my laptop, but we made eye-contact, and when she didn’t leave right away, I got the sense she wanted to say something to me, so I went outside.
The girl: Your dog is stuck on the bush.
This happened, like, every day.
Me, cooly: Yeah, it happens. Thanks.
She hesitated before leaving as if to see if I was going to take care of this important problem. I took my time. She looked back at me as she walked about.
Me, internally: This girl definitely thinks I don’t care about my dog.
The other type of interaction that happened with increased frequency in my yard was that people who would stop by the fence started giving Dakota treats without my consent, and with me in plain view of it all (see also, my big glass sliding doors, and the chair I would literally be sitting in when this occurred).
I started to wonder if these people thought I wasn’t paying attention, or if they just thought this was acceptable behaviour.
For the record, this is not acceptable behaviour, no matter if he walks over to the fence or not.
At some point during this, which I may have mentioned already, is that I was thinking about what the boy had asked with regards to smoking. And knowing he had seen my weed pipe, I wondered, and even tweeted about it that same day, if a little boy his age would know the difference between a weed pipe and a meth pipe.
Food for thought.
You’ll have to forgive me here but the story I’m about to mention I think actually happened in one of the previous interactions with the boy and girl upstairs, and it’s when I initially met the other boy who is an important one to mention.
While I was standing in my backyard speaking to the eldest, who again, was adamantly telling me he and his sister don’t get abused, and his sister was saying something I couldn’t understand, another little boy popped over to the balcony ledge.
I had never met or seen this boy before and had no idea who he was; whether he was friends or family.
This little boy, who was almost definitely younger than the girl, so I pegged him to be about 4 or at most 5 years old, jumped into the conversation in perfect English.
Little boy: I get abused.
He said it so clearly and without any hesitation that it stopped me in my own tracks and before I could even say anything, the eldest boy looked down at him saying: You don’t get abused.
And again I found myself wondering about this older boy and why he was saying the things he said, how he seemed to understand things beyond his age. And I genuinely took a moment to study the way he was speaking to this little boy.
The little boy repeated himself: I do. I get abused.
Again, this kid could not have been older than 5. He had no cuts or bruises that I could see, otherwise looked a completely healthy boy, but nonetheless, how could he even know what that word meant?
The eldest repeated, more sternly this time: We don’t get abused.
He even said something to the effect of, we maybe get grounded, but not abused, or similar.
I turned my attention to the little boy who was on the far left, but pointed my question to the eldest: Who’s this?
The little boy responded: “Trevor”.
I asked again, to be sure, even though I had heard him fine: Sorry, what’s your name?
The little boy: “Trevor”.
Our conversation ended shortly after this and the kids went to play.
And I was left feeling deeply disturbed by all of these conversations these young children were having with me, the 30-year-old suspected murderer that lived below them.
I don’t know a lot about how to handle these situations, nor do I necessarily know the proper method of reporting them. I thought I was doing my due dilligence when I reached out to my landlord about these things, given his prior training as a police officer. And I tried to get advice from my mother and sister, telling them all these things that were happening (the kids explaining the abuse, the food bank thing, and Rhonda’s general attitude to and about me).
At one point I found myself laying awake late at night completely unable to sleep, staring at the ceiling as I listened to the interactions happening once again right above me, and I tried to google how to report child abuse anonymously.
As it turns out there isn’t an anonymous way to do this in Ontario; I tweeted about this that night. I was at a loss.
Because I was growing increasingly uncomfortable in this house, and because my former-police-officer landlord was doing seemingly nothing to intervene, and in fact kept saying strange things to me like about how he “still knows cops” in Barrie and “there are no feds in Canada,” I felt that I couldn’t actually trust the police system in place in this town.
In retrospect, and with some new knowledge, it now makes perfect sense to me why there isn’t an anonymous way to do this type of report, because of course the police would want to or have to follow up with someone who makes such a claim.
But at the time, I really didn’t know what to do or exactly what I was up against.
What I did know was that there was something seriously wrong, and there was definitely people coming in and out of my apartment when I wasn’t home. And then things started getting extra strange, at at the risk of sounding even more paranoid, I began to suspect the tenants above me were trying to drug me and my dog, both through food and through the poor ventilation system in the house.
I knew I needed to get out, but I had no idea how to do so safely.
And I was quickly running out of people I felt I could trust.