“I met Jess Pettipas in the dollar store. It had been one of those days and it was hot, and I was down. Without thinking about it too much, I asked her for a hug, and she – standing there in her finest – offered her arms to me. At the time we barely knew each other, and that has made all the difference.”
Different is Amazing
In Tewksbury Massachusetts, a life sized memorial sculpture surrounded by Hosta, rests outside an almshouse.
The seated figures of Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller make up the small circle of teacher-companion and friend. A bronze plaque embedded at the base, reads Water, as Anne Sullivan makes the life-changing sign into Helen’s palm; awakening forever, the light and freedom that hope endures.
Known as the city of gardens, Victoria, British Columbia in the 80s had a small-town feel for most Gen Xers. Its motto of always free didn’t come easy for people like Jess Pettipas, who came into this world with her own message to share.
A passionately childlike creative; Jess wore her insides on the outsides most of the time. Breaking fashion trends with fake-popular styles from grade school onward created a ripple amongst her peers.
Jess’ mom is a Navy wife. A giving-loving person, she learned what the power of music and dance in the home could mean to a person’s soul. As Jess’ first teacher, she taught with passion, those core domestic life skills which many of us take for granted. A balanced dose of empathy and patience came to the every-day when Jess’ mom ran a day-care for developmentally disabled individuals. That experience, perhaps more than any other, empowered an attitude of gratitude that carries to present day.
Jess’ dad is a retired engineer. The Ying to his wife’s Yang, his life in the military gave strong moral structure. As a project leader with an eye for detail, the neighborhood kids idolized him, for he could build anything. He had a knack for challenging Jess to think and figure things out for herself. From Igloos to privacy walls, Jess learned that weekends are for kids and despite the passing of time, her dad’s role in her life, burns with the brightness, of a thousand suns.
When Jess was young, some key imprints were set in motion. Without understanding the tenets of here, and gone, she tried to bring an injured crow back to life. Her natural affinity for the underdog coupled with the belief in life after death, made for a series of fascinating events.
At age 5, her parents gave her a set of Fisher Price roller skates and like the ad said, the no buckles or laces philosophy, set Jess up to become more confident and sure-footed – all by herself.
During Jess’ youth into adulthood, change echoed its vibration for purchase in everything from goulash dinners, to D.O.G. therapists and thrash/trash rock n roll. For several years, Jess was self-medicating to cope with an undiagnosed chemical imbalance in her brain. After acquiring a dissociative disorder from trauma, she was admitted to the Royal Ottawa Hospital under doctors’ care and began the road to wellness.
An objective to anyone’s recovery is finding something we’re passionate about and doing it. With persistence, Jess found someone local who’d worked in taxidermy and set out to meet him. In the symbolic memory of the once beautiful crow, Jess followed her calling of preserving natural creatures, restoring hope doing pet memorials.
And despite sprains, bruising and maybe a broken bone or two, her absolute passion for roller-derby is alive and well!
In 2018 Jess reached out to CAPSA (Community Addictions Peer Support Association) https://capsa.ca/ located in Ottawa, Ontario. Established in peer support for a substance use disorder, Jess learned that her words could make a difference and is where she found kinship with Helen Keller, who after overcoming insurmountable obstacles, was accused of being a fraud when finding the courage to make something of her life.
Through countless supportive efforts of area sponsors, Jess was instrumental in helping found Cornwall, Ontario’s first CAPSA Recovery Day in the summer on 2021; teaching us that if we want to keep our recovery, we must give it away. https://www.facebook.com/TinFoil-
Jess’ transformation teaches us that words matter. The first step in removing stigma is learning how to lift others up when we speak. A tragic side-effect expressed by those suffering from substance use disorders, is humanity’s nature of seeing only the dis-ease and not the person. As a contributor for the book, Beautiful Minds, https://capsa.ca/beautiful-minds/ Jess and others like her were told not to smile in their photographs because it forces readers to see that different, is amazing.
In 2020, Jess lost everything in a house fire. With her mother’s family ring still on her finger, she sat in the backyard with a slew of salvaged items and watched it burn. With friends both in and out of the doors, Jess’ timely meeting of a fellow member in an alleyway, resonates to this day.
Her mom called, a little frantic wanting to know about the ring-but that’s what mother’s do, eh? They deflect the obvious because family pieces like rings and charms symbolize more than monetary value. Ideals like trust, love & family aren’t created overnight.
At times messy, tragic or beautiful, and for today – it’s enough.