Now Or Never·Point of View

'I don't think there's an Ojibway word for duvet': Residential school survivor gets her first new bed

When people heard that Vivian, a residential school survivor who struggles with nightmares, was sleeping on an old mattress on her floor, people wanted to buy her a new bed. She shares what her new bed means to her.
Vivian and Fat Cat test out her very first brand new bed, donated by a CBC listener who wants to remain anonymous. (Bridget Forbes/CBC)

By Vivian

I recently got a brand new bed, a heartfelt gift from a CBC Radio listener. She decided to donate it after hearing a story about my struggle with sleep on CBC's Now or Never

I've never had a new bed before. I had a second-hand bed that gave out on me. It was resting on paint cans that shifted each time I moved, until I finally put the mattress on the floor. 

The donor doesn't want to share her name, but when I first got her message about buying me a bed, I wrote the words on a piece of paper and carried it in my purse. I told people that I was carrying a blessing of a bed in my bag. I got a strange look or two from people. 

It is not just a bed, not to me. Let me share why it means so much for me to get a new bed.

Vivian attended Cecilia Jeffrey Residential School when she was just 5 years old. Her memories of her time there give her nightmares regularly. (CBC)

Memories of residential school

I was in residential school as a child. I slept in a dorm with rows of bunk beds that we would climb into at night after saying our prayers. I recall the sheets being itchy against my skin. I remember the lumpy mattress. The blankets didn't smell like the sunshine, like the blankets back home did.

There were monsters that came out of the darkness to hurt me. I could hear the soft sobs of other children crying in the dimly lit room. As the homesickness washed over me, my soft sobs could also be heard. The sobbing noise would stop with the gleaming of the bobbing flashlight as the housemother made her nightly rounds.

The bed in residential school was not a safe place and my experience left me with physical and mental scars. Mental scars that I carried into my adult life.

Jinx makes himself at home on Vivian's new bed. (Bridget Forbes/CBC)

Delivery day

It was an exciting morning the day the delivery men brought my bed. I ran around making the bed with new linens another friend bought for me. I had never heard the word duvet before, but now I love it. I don't think there's an Ojibway word for duvet.  

I had a bad moment when I was making the bed up. As I was folding the sheet at the end of my bed into a perfect corner, I had a flashback to residential school. We had to make our beds perfectly and I always struggled because I was so little. The older girls would have to help me so I wouldn't get yelled at.

Strong memories of residential school came up as Vivian was making her bed for the first time. (Bridget Forbes/CBC)

As I made my new bed my mind felt a shifting of worlds. Memories of the old and ugly came up, the ghosts that are always with me. But with the new bed and soft linens under my hand, in my home, I felt a new sense of security.

Now I have a real new bed with fancy linens and a duvet (of all things!) on my bed. Soft linens that won't bring back the memories of the sheets of residential school. A mattress with no lumps on it. 

It's more than just a new bed. It is my safe place.

Vivian and Fat Cat look forward to better sleeps on their brand new bed. (Bridget Forbes/CBC)

CBC has agreed not to use Vivian's last name.