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GiveLife.ca

    
The Outsiders
Summer: 2

Intro
Summer Part 1  Part 2  Part 3
Autumn Part 1  Part 2  Part 3
Winter Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4
Full Photo GalleryBehind the Story

By Margaret Philp with photographs by Patti Gower

The path through the woods ends at what looks like a campsite, a tent next to a picnic table and a fire pit in a small clearing. Garbage is strewn everywhere: used sanitary pads, beer cans, food wrappers thick as carpet.

Kurt grabs a rusted rake leaning against a tree and starts clearing the trash as though he were sweeping a floor.

"Terra," he barks, "this place is a mess." He picks up a crushed Pepsi can with black smudges from burning crack cocaine. "And didn't I tell you not to let James in here?"

Terra Saunders pokes her head out of the tent, having just climbed out from under a filthy pile of sleeping bags and blankets. She is wearing baggy black shorts and a tank top, her fleshy arms and legs lined with purplish stretch marks. She sits down cross-legged in the doorway of the tent, Buddha-like, lights a cigarette and begins twisting her long wavy hair into a bun.

Terra, who hails from Saint John, came to Toronto last March, not long after her two sons, 5 and 4, were seized from her home for the last time by child-protection workers. Now, she has no idea where they are, only that their names will be put on the adoption register and odds are she will never lay eyes on them again.

She pulls out a dog-eared photograph of two blond, apple-cheeked boys in Halloween costumes. Their birthdays are around the corner, the first without their mother. She stares morosely at their shining faces.

Terra and Kurt are inseparable, if unlikely, best friends who look out for each other in the crude, callous underworld in the ravine. They met on the street, becoming sidekicks when she showed an uncanny knack for shoplifting, fearlessly emerging from the liquor store with several bottles of booze stashed in her bag.

For a while, they wanted for nothing, sharing pilfered steaks with their buddies, getting drunk on stolen bottles. "Truthfully, we eat like kings," Terra says in her slow drawl.

But then she was caught red-handed, twice, the second time thrown into jail for three weeks. Spooked by it, she swears her shoplifting days are over.

By her own reckoning, Terra is dull-witted. She was hit by a car as a teenager, smacking her head against the pavement with such force that the doctors declared that she would be mentally impaired forever.

"I forget a lot," she says. "I was supposed to be brain-dead. So Kurt puts me down for it when we're fighting. He says, 'I don't understand you.' But it's not my fault the way my brain works. My brain's fucked. I'm pretty smart for someone who's supposed to be brain-dead. I'm supposed to be a vegetable."

In her childhood, Terra was sullen and quiet, taken from an alcoholic mother who had little use for her and raised by her father and a stepmother who plunked her in front of a television set.

As a teenager, she became anorexic. Later, she latched onto a boyfriend who savagely beat her. He is the father of the two children she produced before she turned 18. In her turn as a mother, she would spend days paralyzed by depression, sometimes forgetting to feed her children.

Kurt is growing restless. Under a withering sun, he returns to his perch. This is no life, he says. Begging for money by day, lying awake alert to the sound of raccoons sniffing around the tent by night.

Intro
Summer Part 1  Part 2  Part 3
Autumn Part 1  Part 2  Part 3
Winter Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4
Full Photo GalleryBehind the Story


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