YK Books: An Excerpt from Northern Wildflower, a Dene Memoir

Catherine Lafferty says the most difficult decision she ever had to make was to give up her baby daughter after becoming pregnant at age 15. She personally selected parents for the infant through a private adoption and while she knew it was best for the baby, the loss had a lasting impact:

After having the baby, I suffered from anxiety. I wasn’t the same anymore. I felt like I didn’t know who I was. I distanced myself from my friends and family and I didn’t want to go out in public if I could help it. I kept away from social situations and large crowds. I felt like something was wrong with me. I was afraid and standoffish. When things got really bad, I would panic and think that I was dying. I didn’t know what my triggers were; I didn’t even know what a trigger was. Out of the blue, I would start feeling like I couldn’t breathe, or like I was as small as an ant in the corner of the room. It was similar to how I felt when I was in the shelter in the city after running away; that same strong feeling swept over me and I felt like I couldn’t concentrate on anything.

Where I come from, the girls are tough and know how to scrap. Maybe it’s because we learn, from an early age, that we have to protect ourselves — because if we don’t, who will?

I felt the need to flee whenever I was in an uncomfortable situation but, after a while, I felt like I was just running from myself. I knew I was having panic and anxiety attacks, but I didn’t know how to cope with them. All I knew was that the feeling would slowly pass. Now that I’m older, I’ve learned how to manage my anxiety and talk myself out of my fears. I have learned to acknowledge the fear. I have come to accept that I don’t know what is going to happen next. I allow myself to enter my fears and tell myself that what I am feeling is not as bad as I think it is, and my irrational thoughts begin to have less and less power over me.

The fast transition from being a teenager to an adult had a tremendous effect on me, and the anxiety I developed was a sign that I wasn’t on the right path. It was a sign that something in my life needed to change. I couldn’t keep going the way I was going. Many people with anxiety try to mask their feelings by drinking, but that only makes it worse. When I was younger, I didn’t know any better and that was exactly what I did.

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The next few years, I struggled to find myself and slid back into my old habits. I was still an out-of-control teenager growing up in a small, isolated northern town. One weekend, a friend of mine was getting beat up outside of the arcade and I jumped in to try to protect her because she was small and out-numbered. One of the girls in the group jumped on my back, punching me from behind while I wriggled and threw my arms around, attempting to throw her off me. I finally backed her into a wall until she loosened her grip on me, giving me enough time to grab my friend by the hand and run for it. We booted it from the arcade, past the mall, past the Gold Range, all the way to my grandma’s house behind the bowling alley.

My friend and I were out of breath by the time we got to my grandma’s house. We ran inside and locked the door behind us. The pack of girls were hot on our trail and banged on the windows to get us to come out. My grandma — bless her heart — kicked me and my friend out of the house and said, “Go see what they want.” She didn’t want anyone breaking her windows. She was literally throwing me to the wolves. I slowly walked outside of the house to where the girls were there waiting for me in a classic gang formation. I walked into the circle, and the leader of the pack came up close to my face and spared me when she whispered, “You have five seconds to get back inside your house before you die!” I hailed her pity on me and, after they left, my grandma let us back in the house. She had been watching the drama unfold from the window, ready to call the police. She taught me a hard lesson in bravery that day.

Before that night, I was always getting into fights. I know what it feels like to be boot-kicked in the face and thrown down the stairs by simply underestimating a person’s strength. I had my fair share of scraps in my teen years, but the one I will never forget is when I was sticking up for a friend outside of the Gold Range who was about to get beat up by a big, tough Dene girl known for beating up the boys. She punched my friend in the face for no reason, and I told her to back off and leave him alone. So, she turned her attention to me and started chasing me around vehicles while I tried to kick her and run away at the same time. She grabbed hold of one of my legs and took me down, sitting on me in the middle of the street, grabbing handfuls of my hair and trying to smash my head into the ground. I had to put my hand behind my head so she wouldn’t crack my skull open. No one was strong enough to pull her off me, until a friend of mine saw what was happening and broke it up before the police came.

Where I come from, the girls are tough and know how to scrap. Maybe it’s because we learn, from an early age, that we have to protect ourselves — because if we don’t, who will?

Excerpted from Northern Wildflower: A Memoir by Catherine Lafferty. Copyright © 2018 Catherine Lafferty. Published by Roseway Publishing, an imprint of Fernwood Publishing. Reproduced with permission.

Northern Wildflower’s official launch will take place this Saturday, Sept. 22, 3-5 p.m. at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre.

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