VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Teddy bears and go-go boots: all
Angela ever wanted
By Stephanie Levitz
Fighting for survival in a world not always kind to those with differences, Angela Jardine figured out a way to fit in.
She'd simply pretend to be someone else.
At a summer barbecue in Castlegar, B.C., it was the niece of the president of the Toronto Stock Exchange. On the day she was last seen, she was the police chief's daughter.
She'd devour instructional television shows, storing up lingo she'd drop into conversation later on, allowing her to appear authoritative on subjects she really knew nothing about.
``She was full of life and she wanted to be like everybody else,'' said Joyce Hillstead, a foster mother Jardine lived with in Castlegar.
``She looked at people, she watched on television, where do I belong?''
It wasn't at kindergarten in her birthplace of Sudbury, Ont., where a teacher would lock her in the closet for misbehaving.
It wasn't at an Alberta hospital, where the respite facility rejected her, saying her assortment of mental disorders made her beyond their capabilities.
Repeated testing throughout her life revealed an intellectual level stalled at that of an 11-year-old.
She was put on and taken off a smorgasbord of drugs, from Ritalin for hyperactivity to Haldol for suspicions of psychosis.
Her early years were a slog from one medical specialist to another as her parents desperately sought solutions to what could be wrong with their eldest daughter, who they'd named Angela because it meant ``messenger of god.''
When her family moved to Sparwood, B.C., for her dad's job, she didn't fit in there either.
Though her body was that of a woman, her mind remained stuck in childhood.
In her school days, she would chase boys down the hall, baring her developing chest to try and catch a boyfriend, a prize that would mean acceptance from her peers, recalled her former teacher Veronica Aragones.
Any man kind to her became an instant source of infatuation _ a classmate, a manager at Safeway.
``She was a little girl trapped in a woman's body,'' said her mother Deborah Jardine. ``Her dream was to someday be married to her Prince Charming, have her own family and live happily ever after.''
Family was the centre of Angela Jardine's life.
Her mother and Hillstead shared the highs and lows of mothering her, both remembering the delight she took one Christmas in sharing the holiday with her two families.
Angela Jardine at home with her parents, Deborah & Ivan
Hillstead and Jardine, then 18, decided to build a gingerbread house in the image of Jardine's Sparwood home.
For Hillstead, the project was a peek into the extent of Jardine's mental disabilities _ she couldn't draw a picture of a house on paper, nor understand why doors didn't go on the roof.
But she could put Smarties there, and did.
The house was made, iced, decorated and packaged up so Jardine could take it home to her family for Christmas.
For eight hours as the bus rumbled toward Sparwood, she held the package on her lap.
When she arrived, she wouldn't let her parents put it in the back of the truck, carrying it on her lap all the way to their house.
Her mother wondered what could possibly be in the box Jardine was guarding so closely.
``As soon as we got in the door, she insisted that we open it,'' Deborah Jardine said. ``I was shocked that it was a gingerbread house. The look on her face was just complete joy.''
The importance Angela Jardine placed on family bonds extended to her life on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, where everyone she met she'd turn into a relation of some sort.
She'd sell her body to a john, then introduce him as an uncle or a cousin.
Police records say Jardine disappeared from the Downtown Eastside in 1998. She was 28 years old.
``She created a world around her that meant a lot to her,'' said Liz Evans, director of the Portland Hotel where Jardine lived for a time.
``We all were significant players in her world. She cared deeply about everybody.''
Her room at the Portland mirrored the one her mother set up for her in a tiny apartment in Sparwood during the months she managed to wean Jardine away from the rough world of Vancouver.
Posters of kittens and unicorns were tacked to the walls, a jumble of pictures, World Wrestling Entertainment paraphernalia and colouring books. Go-go boots to wear during the day, teddy bears for whispering secrets to in bed at night.
Even in her darkest moments, Jardine's imagination would get her through.
Evans recalled how Jardine would never come up and simply say she needed a hug, she would invent a crisis, a death, an assault as the reason for her funk.
``She certainly had an incredible imagination,'' said Evans.
``She had a way of drawing you into her imagination, into the world she was living in, which wasn't always the world everyone else lived in.''
And she could make you laugh. For all the tears shed over her life, there is equal amounts of laughter.
One summer, the Jardine family took a trip to Drumheller, Alta., to see the fossilized dinosaur bones on display.
Ignoring warnings to stay away, Angela waded into a thick mud bog and got stuck up to her knees.
``At first she was angry that she couldn't get out of it,'' her mother remembered. ``Then we all burst out laughing until our stomachs hurt and tears rolled down our faces.
``When we finally pulled Angela out of the mud she looked like she was wearing thick black knee-high socks. It was hilarious. We still laugh until it hurts when we think of that day.''
© 2006 The Canadian Press
Updated: January 01, 2007