In the warmer weather you’ll find Martha with her hands in the dirt. She was first to join the rooftop garden program last summer and kept the plants alive indoors this chilly winter. When she’s tending the garden, she looks calm and confident. But now Martha sits on the bench in front of me, nervously tugging on her chiffon scarf.
“In my past, many bad things happened,” she says quietly. “I lost trust in someone I loved so much.” Martha fell in love with Adam in her native country of Poland. Soon after they married, they moved to Canada where Adam got a job in construction.
But life was hard in Toronto. There wasn’t enough work, no family and few friends. Adam started taking out his frustration on Martha. “He abused me mentally and physically. I tried to find out what I was doing wrong. I started English classes here and found a job at a sewing factory. But it wasn’t good enough.”
“One day, my three-year-old son said, ‘Mommy, you’re stupid.’ This broke me more than my husband’s beatings. So I said enough.”
When Adam was at work, Martha packed quickly and took her son to an apartment she had rented. But the stress of avoiding Adam, making ends meet, being a good mother – it was all too great and Martha became very ill and then lost her job at the factory. She started medication to combat her depression. Slowly she regained control of her life. She started her own cleaning company and even had a small staff.
“I started to be happy again because I could do something for myself like before.” But Martha wanted her young son to have a father and allowed Adam to visit often.
“He was nice because we weren’t living together. I still believe he has a good heart. But then he started the abuse again and having affairs.”
This continued for years and Martha’s depression deepened. One day, after working three 14-hour days in a row, Martha suffered a panic attack and collapsed on the street. Hospitalized and unable to work, Martha couldn’t pay her rent and lost her apartment. Her son moved in with Adam.
When Martha was discharged from the hospital, they placed her in an emergency shelter. Her life in shambles, Martha spent seven long months looking for a permanent place to live. With the support and dedication of the shelter staff, Martha finally secured an apartment with Homes First and moved in.
“When I started living here I started growing again. I enjoy living here. I am healthy thanks to this place. I even laugh now.” She cut all contact with her husband and asked that we keep her identity private to ensure he doesn’t find her again.
Martha is a vibrant part of the Homes First community and continues to bloom alongside the rooftop garden. While she knows the past is never far behind, Martha feels safe now and is looking forward to a bright future with her son. She smoothes out her scarf, smiles and says, “Today I am alive, so I’m doing the best I can.”