Writings from the HerStory Project: Always Moving
HerStory Writer-in-Residence Abena Beloved Green has been working with YWCA Halifax to mentor writers like Becky Nicholas, helping them bring their stories to life for readers. We are privileged in our 30th-anniversary issue to present Nicholas’ work here, personal and profound reflections on an individual journey of resilience and growth.
We grew up on the water in Eskasoni and were always out until 9:00 swimming and playing in the yard with other kids. My parents played in baseball tournaments so we travelled around to different communities playing baseball with them.
My parents were always fighting. It was normal but normal isn’t always right. Around ’88 my parents divorced. That was a high note for me because there was no more violence in the house. We moved with our mom to Sydney. I was about 10-11 years old and had to learn English at the new school. I knew a little bit but not enough to understand what the teacher was talking about. I spoke Mi’kmaw. I came home from school upset at least once a week because I was picked on and got into fights because of my broken English.
Rita Joe was a writer and poet of the Mi’kmaq nation. One day, she came to my classroom to share with us a book she had just published. The teacher said, “Grab a friend and sit on a mat on the floor.” All the kids grabbed a friend and quickly grabbed a spot. I was the only one left standing. I remember feeling so small.
I walked to the back of the class to sit down, alone. I said hi to Mrs. Joe as I walked by her with my head down. I was about to take my spot on the mat when Rita said in English, “Becky, I need a friend to come turn the pages for me; will you come up here and help me?”
I was so excited! To have a friend and to show the class that someone liked me, that I knew the presenter and I had a spot in front! Mrs. Rita Joe was my Kiju’s [mother’s] best friend, and I knew her my entire life. She spoke to me about her having to learn the English language, but what was important was not to forget or stop speaking my language. She saved me that day. I was somewhat a celebrity in the school playground for a week.
Eventually we moved back to Eskasoni. I never stayed anywhere until I was 16. At 16, I had my first boyfriend and also started drinking and doing things I shouldn’t be doing. I was always fighting, so I got sent to Shelbourne youth facility for four months. I went to rehab for a month at 16, did another stint at 18.
Around ’95, I was living in Sydney with my mom. I could basically do what I wanted because my mother would be gone for days. I was the main caretaker of the seven brothers and sisters underneath me. I got pregnant in 2000 and my daughter Jasmine was born in 2001, I think. Her father and I lived in New Brunswick. Shortly after Jasmine was born, he committed suicide one of those nights he had been drinking too much. After that I checked out for a little bit, mentally. My daughter was taken into care and I didn’t do much to get her back because I was so miserable myself.
Pushed to do Better
I met this friend, probably four or five years ago. We met a few times to get coffee when I hitchhiked to Eskasoni to get my cheque. He would be on the way over there too. When I got arrested, that’s who I called. He bailed me out for $5,000 and I had to be in house arrest at his residence. He took me places to get my ID, my beginner’s licence, to apply for jobs, for schooling, a lot of things. He sat down with me once a week and said, “Listen, I need you to write things down—goals you want to accomplish this week or today.”
I was like, “Get out of here. Don’t put that shit on me.”
He kept pressing and pressing and sure enough, I felt like I was a whole different person after doing some of those silly goals. Some of them were to call and register for a class and go find out information. One was as simple as, go read a book for an hour a day.
I didn’t have support before. I didn’t have anyone really. I had lots of people around me but no one actually said, “Let me take you here, take you there.” I wanted to be sober; I wanted to be clean and have a home and all that. It just looked so far away for me. But when I had support and someone to help me get all my ducks in a row, it pushed me to do better.
I would go to the Jane Paul Centre [in Sydney] often and I saw one of the ads on the wall. I put it off and then someone approached me and said, “Becky, you would be good for that job. No one has applied for it. That would work for you.”
Try and Help People
I applied and that’s when everything started. I started in February 2021. It’s peer outreach work for people who have been trafficked or are in that line of work. It’s important for me to try and help people.
I kind of thought I’d always do something like social work, but I never did anything to make it happen because I was doing drugs for many years and was homeless at one point. Shortly after I stopped using, I got arrested and got on the methadone program. After that, about three years ago, I got an apartment and went back to school for medical office administrator and also registered for social services. I wanted to go back and help people who were my friends.
What keeps me going is that I want a better life. A better life looks like owning a tiny home, having a car and a license, having a little garden; just simple little things you know? I know I have to catch up to what I’ve been missing out on. I also like being involved in an organization like Jane Paul and the YWCA, something that’s helping others.
In the social work program, I’ve been asked to tutor for the English class—writing and grammar. Imagine that. I often thank Mrs. Rita Joe for my love of words.