I hate her. There, I said it, or at least in my head. She was supposed to come home today. All those medical talking heads said August 15 would be the date. Adults are liars, even grandma and grandpa. They say we get extra time at their house. Are you serious? I’m supposed to be at home in my own bed tonight!
Grandma has to stop for groceries on the way back to Vancouver, where we spent most of our summer. This is not fair! Stupidest summer ever. We are told we can wash up and get ready for dinner when we arrive. Grandma opens the door, my nose wants to throw up and never smell again. It’s Grandma’s rubbery ham. I walk into their kitchen and see the pale pink blob in the oven. The frame of pumpkin colored carrots and translucent potatoes highlight the big. After I put my napkin over the pink flesh and a mix of white potatoes and the radioactive carrots, Grandpa tells me that we are going to his sister’s house tomorrow. I tell him we need back-to-school clothes still. I am rebuffed.
We have to play cards at my great aunt’s tomorrow. Cards are as fun as it sounds for any 10-year-old. The tea in the fancy cups is cool, along with the tiny sandwiches with the crust cut off. I just suck at old lady games. The day passed into a blur of old people stuff. Finally it is time for me to plan the perfect pre-night braces meal.
I wonder if I should call dad to see if he can pick me up to take me to Big Scoop. Both mom and dad promised me I could have whatever I wanted the last meal before I got braces. I can picture the three-scoop ice cream sundae covered with hot fudge sauce and lots and lots of nuts. Maybe I can ask if they could put extra whip cream on because of the occasion.
By noon I wonder if I should call dad or mention it to Grandpa that I need to go for my ice cream dinner. After I help Grandma with the lunch dishes, the phone in the hallway rings. She ends up closing the door to the hallway after she answers the call. I don’t think anything of it and just go to the TV Room to read my book. I hear Grandma and Grandpa talking at the front of the house. I take a book break and ask what is going on. They say mom is coming home today. So we will be going home tomorrow morning. I stutter but.. but… but in my head. I find my voice.
“But I’m supposed to go for my big sundae. I’m getting braces tomorrow. They promised me a good size treat!”
Grandma and Grandpa look at each other and said maybe there will be time to go out for ice cream after dinner. I feel like my head is going to explode with all the blood rushing up to it. I race upstairs to the room I use. I can’t believe it. I scream into the pillow. I hate this house. I want my own house!
I should runaway. I should’ve demanded to talk to dad. I wait upstairs for as long as I can until I’m told I have to help with dinner. We’re having roast beef. Gross. I think when I grow up I want to be a vegetarian. I push around the food as much as I can and ask to be excused. I hide my food under the napkin and dump it in the garbage right away. Grandpa says hurry up so we can go out and get a scoop of vanilla ice cream at McDonald’s. So, not the same. I know he’s trying. They always forget about me. Like, did she have to come home today? I despise her. I know I’m not supposed to hate, but this has been the stupidest, dumbest summer ever.
We go out for ice cream anyways. When we get back to the house I ask if I can go to bed early. I pack up what I can so that way we can be ready in the morning. My head hits the pillow. Before I know it, the sun is already creeping out from the blinds. I don’t even know what to think, will I be here again or get to home. I give up hoping. I hear grandma’s voice calling up that it’s time for breakfast, and then we have to go. I am actually going home.
It turns out that we won’t be going home before my braces appointment. Dad is meeting us there. I don’t know if I even want to talk to mom anymore. I probably won’t be able to talk later because of a mouthful metal. But, at least I get to go home today. My own bed. My own clothes. My own records. Maybe back to skating?
The appointment took a long time. But at least I got to look out at my hometown through the office window. Dad picks me up. He tells me we have to go home really quietly as mom is already sleeping. Our dog is napping when we walk through the door. I can barely talk, so I don’t even bother. I keep mopping up the drool from having my mouth open for so long.
She sleeps so long that I go to bed before she wakes up. For the first time in almost 2 months, all four of us are actually under the same roof. But it’s like she hasn’t come home yet.
It is a week later and school has already started. Nothing has changed at home. I still take care of my sister. I continue to have no life. I didn’t want to get braces, but at least the kids were kind about it. I can’t eat a lot of the gross meaty things now so that’s good. No more celery or broccoli, or it has to be complete mush.
In two weeks time I have the first skating performance of the season. I wonder if mom will be well enough to come see it or help me with my costume. Dad doesn’t know how to sew and neither do I. But mom at least could patch things up. She continues to be in her room a lot. Sometimes I hear the TV. Sometimes I was allowed to go in and say hi. She’s a quarter of the mom she used to be. I hate cancer. I really hate it.
On the day of the performance, I get everything ready and I sneak into mom’s room to grab her pretty sparkling little purse that she lets me use sometimes for special occasions. I want to look good. Plus it matches my costume. Mom is sleeping. I quietly go in and get it. I’ll tell her later that I took it.
I say goodbye to my sister and dad. Of course mom didn’t make it. But apparently we’re going to pick her up afterwards. Dad says he’s going to take everybody out for McDonald’s after the performance. He brought his cameras to take a lot of pictures. I go off to the dressing room to meet with my coach. There’s one thing I really love, and that is to skate. When I’m on the ice is just me and the music. No cancer, no mom problems, or sister problems. Just the ice and my body. There is nothing else like it. I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be allowed to skate. I know it’s expensive. Plus, Grade 6 homework comes home every day.
I begin to stretch and warm up in the dressing room before it’s my turn to skate. I’m feeling pretty good now. Then I feel a rip in my arm. Somehow I managed to rip the armhole on my right side of my costume. It looks awful. Then I get angry all over again. Mom should’ve been here. Mom should’ve been here with the sewing kit. Only moms are allowed in the dressing rooms with us. No males.
”You need help?” An angelic voice interrupts my anger. I look over. It is my skating club friend and her mom shadowing over me under the fluorescent dressing room light. Jean’s mom had a sewing kit and stitched me up while I was stood in front of her. Done. She takes my hand and whirls me around in a slow dance. I hug her my thanks.
My name is called. I feel excited again and at the same time calm. I slip off my pink skate guards and place them under my cubby. I will be awesome. I can do this. Somehow my legs take me to my mark on the ice. The arena is silent. And I’m off.
I blink and we are in the car on the way home. My cheek still feels the burn from the cold ice, rosy with happiness. I knew I wouldn’t win. Mom taught me that it’s about the journey not the ending.
It is months later from that beautiful skate. School is going great. Skating will end for the season soon. I’m allowed to go to the mall with friends. The dismissal bell rings. I grab my backpack from the locker and head home. It is a short walk. I put the key in the front door and let myself in. Not everyone has a key for their house at my age. Mom still naps a lot so I could be waiting a long time for her to open the door. I listen if the house is quiet. I slip off my shoes, skip up the steps, and I drop my backpack on the living room floor. I tiptoe into the kitchen. I open the fridge and grab the orange juice container, place it on the counter, and get a glass from the dish strainer. I guess dad was able to wash the breakfast dishes this morning. Cool. It was my turn.
“Where is my silver purse?” I almost drop the glass. My mom is in the doorway wrapped in her red robe. She’s looking at me funny.
“Mom, you scared me. How are you today?” She tells me to find it now tone of voice I’ve never heard before. She turns and goes back into her room. The door slam that followed shook the entire house. I leave my juice to tiptoe to my room. I trash my room looking for it. Crap.
I lost it. I can’t even leave this room again. I wipe my tears and put on my headphones. I turn on my record player and grab my journal. I need to remember how to breathe again. My inner Harriet the Spy finds the answer to my turmoil. I turn up the music, grab a pen with my journal, and go in my closet to sit on the floor to write. This is my safe place. Closing the door is the most magical thing. I am alone.
The door opens. Without looking up I scream, “Go away.” The light from my room reveals my skating friend standing high above me. In her right hand is my mom’s purse. The one I lost.
It is like being stuck in a traffic jam and all of a sudden the road is clear, and I am all alone. I can’t get up. The room is spinning. I’m not 10 years old anymore. I am 15. My skating friend is not my friend, she’s my stepsister. Her mom is my stepmom. My Mom didn’t come home on August 15. She never came home at all. She was supposed to be here.
The purse is one of the few things I have of hers. If mom didn’t die I would have gotten to have that argument with her.
I miss her.