I’ve never really been much of a poker face.
When I was 14, I left home. I walked away from my mother, stepfather and left my little brother in the rubble of alcoholism and violence.
I was a bit of a punk. A mouth full of sarcasm to deflect pain. A heart full of anger and frustration at trying to control my life at such a young age. A yearning for acceptance by my peers. Typical 14 year old girl, mostly, aside from a few ragged edges.
My best friend was a popular girl, the youngest of three siblings, tall, gorgeous and friendly. I admired her more than anyone and we had so much fun together whether it was taping and rewinding music videos and drooling over Joe Elliot or watching Dirty Dancing for the 145th time. We hung out with similar misfits, smoked too many cigarettes, didn’t take life too seriously, and for the first time in a long time, I was able to be a kid.
Her mother and father, still happily married, were always sweet to me and when I left home after a particularly bad weekend of violence that included me, they offered me a place to stay. I was at their house so much anyway and for some reason, they loved me and my snippy obnoxious quips.
Every time the phone rang, I went apeshit, worried it would be my own mother, drunk and angry.
I called them Mum and Dad early on, even before I moved in. My own mother was angry that I decided to stay there and when my step father was transferred to Calgary, my mother sent me a notecard saying, “we’re leaving without you and you will likely never see your brother again.”
Mum talked me through it, and convinced me that my mother’s guilt trips were nothing more than scare tactics and manipulation.
Early on, I was saying goodbye to Mum, in the kitchen. I gave her my usual quick hug. She grabbed my wrist. I was startled but she smiled.
“Let me show you how to give a real hug,” and she pulled me into her arms and hugged me so long, so soft. I sunk into her embrace and gave way to her love. It was quite a moment. I honestly put it near the top of the list of moments that changed my life.
Without that hug, I may never have trusted another person again. Without that hug, I may not have a healthy relationship with my children, my husband, my grandparents, cousins and brother. Without that hug, I may never have gone on to love as many people as I do.
Mum and Dad let me stay with them until I moved in with my father, and later, my grandparents. They loved me as their own and we are still family, as far as we all are concerned. That tall, gorgeous best friend is still one of my best friends. We get together as often as we can, with other best friends from high school and we all still call Mum and Dad, Mum and Dad.
So that’s where I was this past weekend. With all my high school best friends. This time was a little dimmer, me dealing with some dark issues, and the other friends dealing with their own issues – all in varying degrees. It was still a good time, but we were all trying not to think too much about the last few weeks.
Mum’s mother passed away last week. She too, accepted me as one of her own and was always sweet to me. I loved her spunk and light outlook on life. She was very special.
In an overheard conversation, I realized that all the tests Mum had been having lately were because she has cancer. My brain heard it. My heart wasn’t ready to listen. So we carried on in typical party fashion and throughout the night the harsh news sunk into my heart and burned. It seared through my gut through until morning until I packed my car to come home.
On the way home, the dam opened. It hit me so very hard. If tears were wishes, I would wish them all for her. She may not have given birth to me, but she gave me life. I feel so helpless.