In 1975, when I was fourteen years old, we moved from Belleville, Ontario to Kingston, Ontario. My father was a car salesman. All oily and flashy, insincere, loud, and able to be obnoxious on command. To this day I look at all men in that vocation in a negative light. I know, not fair, but there it is. My father ruined it for everyone.
My mother was working for the government in, what was called back then, Unemployment Insurance. Of course that has changed since the SJW’s got involved and it is now called Employment Insurance. You tell me which phrase better suits the reality of what that is. Like somehow renaming it makes the sting of losing a job any better. Progressives amuse me.
So there I was, in a new city starting a new high school and I had not one friend. Not one. My father, ever concerned with our social well being (sarcasm font now off) had moved us at a time when being able to meet anyone prior to school starting would be difficult. Being a fourteen year old girl is hard enough but add friendless to the mix and, voila…..welcome to a hellish social quagmire.
One bright spot in my life at that time was being a mothers helper to a couple that lived across the street from us. Mr. and Mrs. S had two lovely young girls that I had been taking care of since I moved to that particular street. When I first started working for them the oldest, L, was two and the youngest, M, had not even been born yet. This new mum trusted me completely with her toddler, and when her youngest was born in the fall of 1975, I was also given the responsibility of looking after her. I practically lived by our phone, waiting for it to ring with the hopes it would be Mrs. S asking me to come over to babysit. At the S’s home, I was able to escape, for short periods of time, from a house that was always filled with shouting, violence and drunkenness, to a house that was filled with love, trust, happiness and talking.
I learned everything there was to know about looking after children from Mrs. S. The bigger lesson I learned, however, was seeing how Mr. S interacted with his two girls. He actually liked spending time with them and was always using positive language, but he was also not afraid to discipline them when needed. His approach differed vastly with my own father’s, but to each his own, non? I fantasized about them adopting me. I wanted to be part of a family that was calm. Yes, there were disagreements, but they were not solved by hitting someone or telling them that they were a worthless piece of crap.
They would take me on trips with them as a mothers helper. In the summer of 1976 we went to Montreal while the Olympics were on. I was treated as family, even though I was being paid to do a job. Mrs. S bought me a T-shirt while we were at one of the many touristy shops scattered around the Olympic venues. She probably saw me eyeing them, but knew I would not buy myself one. They were very expensive to my teenage girl eyes. She had purchased a few items for L and M, and she asked me what I thought of a particularly bright red T with the Olympic logo on it. I told her that I thought it looked very nice (I might have used the term “neato” but cannot be sure….allegedly). She grabbed one and paid for it. When we got home she presented it to me. I was incredulous. For me? Yes, it was for me. I had assumed Mrs. S had just asked my opinion on a style in order to get it for someone else. The size was correct, though it was hard to go wrong with me as I was so thin. Small was always a correct choice! It’s funny, I don’t remember crying when she gave it to me, only being so shocked and thankful. It is only now, as I recall this incident, that the tears are flowing freely from my eyes. See, it does not take anything at all to be kind to someone that you can see needs kindness.
About halfway through this trip I got violently sick. Throwing up sick. Mrs. S was right there by my side at the toilet, holding back my hair, wiping my face with a cold towel and telling me I’d be OK. I remember apologizing over and over again. Mrs. S made sure I was tucked back into bed and would not allow me to get up with the two children the next morning. Believe me, I tried to get up because I was being paid quite well to be there. Mrs. S would not hear of it. I was fine by noon, but she made me take it easy for the rest of the day, though the oldest girl was so concerned about me. L just wanted to sit on my lap and cuddle. I read her story after story, only being interrupted when L would ask me if I was OK.
I assumed I would not get paid for that whole day, so I had already mentally calculated what would be deducted from my agreed upon pay. It was a big deal to me, because the money was super important. It allowed me to buy clothes that were in style so I would not stick out so much at school. When the week was over and it was time to head back, Mr. and Mrs. S paid me for the time I was ill. I mentioned to Mrs. S that the amount was incorrect, but she looked me right in the eye and said, NO. It was absolutely bang on. I could not have loved her more in that moment.
They also took me to New Jersey with them. That particular trip almost did not happen. The night before they were to take me, my father tried to “commit suicide”. Not successfully, as it turned out. Only the good die young. More on the quote marks later.
It was an awful evening. My mum had gone out to some kind of meeting. Both my sisters were at home with me and our dad. He had been drinking heavily and had taken some prescription pain pills. He was terrifying that night. Screaming obscenities at us and pacing back and forth from the living room and his bedroom. He kept refilling his glass over and over again with rye, his drink of choice. Finally my two sisters retreated to the room that they shared, and I went to my room. From my window I could see Mr. and Mrs. S’s home and all I wanted to do was climb out that window and run to them.
Instead I climbed into bed and put a pillow over my head to try and drown out the blasting music from our stereo system. I was pleading with God to just let my father die, for some horrible accident to happen to him that he would not recover from. What fun for me, instead of being loved and hugged, I was begging God to bump off my father. Apparently there were other pressing problems for God to deal with, because he was not listening to me that night.
When my mum arrived home, the music was still blaring at the decibel level of a Bay City Rollers concert.
Normally, mum would have asked dad to turn it down, and that request would be ignored. However, that evening, mum just started shouting his name over the blaring music. GREAT, I was expecting a brawl to break out. Instead the music got shut off and I could hear my mother quite clearly now still shouting his name, over and over again. The pillow came off my head and I went to my closed door to hear better. I’m not completely clear on what happened next, but I assumed my mother called 911. I have researched the history of emergency services and it turns out that in Canada, 911 was being rolled out in 1972, so by the time my mother needed to get speedy help it was probably in use. Figures.
I was unaware, at that moment, that my father had “attempted suicide” by swallowing gobs of prescription medication and washing it all down with a bottle of Canadian Club Rye. What a guy. Before we knew it, our darkened and normally quiet street was lit up by the bright rotating lights of an ambulance. I think a police officer, though I cannot be sure, came in to speak to my mother. There were sirens involved and the only two things that I remember going through my head were that my neighbors would know AND perhaps my father would finally die. In no particular order.
I want to assure everyone that I am usually not so cavalier about suicide. I know it can be a last resort of a very desperate and depressed person. I can assure every reader that this was not the case with my father. He was just a selfish bastard. My mother was the one that used the words “attempted suicide”. I prefer the term out of control addict. I have very little sympathy for a man that would deliberately terrorize his three children for hours, drink an entire bottle of Canadian Club, and then swallow copious amounts of prescription pills. Anyone who does the kind of thing my father did is extremely self serving and is only thinking of themselves. He was an expert at narcissism.
The rest of the night is hazy in my memory. I do know that mum left all three of us at home whilst she went to hospital with dad. I had already packed for my trip with the S’s the next morning and now I was worried beyond belief that I would not be able to go. Yes, I was NOT worried about my father, but I WAS worried about not being able to be with the most loving and warm family I knew. Priorities of an abused teenager.
My mother came home in the early hours of the morning and told us that our father would recover. I felt disappointment. She then announced to me that she was going to speak to Mr. and Mrs. S before we left for New Jersey as she felt they would be wondering what had happened. It really was no use in pretending that they had not been woken by the commotion the night before. This was horrifying to me at the time. I had never spoken to anyone about our father and his alcohol fueled rages. Going to the S’s was a respite from the horror of my own house. I never wanted that awfulness to follow me into their home, and I certainly did not need to be peppered with questions and have looks of pity flung my way. I could not talk my mother out of it. Off she marched across the street while I had my breakfast.
I never found out what my mother said to Mr. and Mrs. S. All I know is that I got an extra warm embrace from Mrs. S when I went over with my small piece of tattered luggage. I was ensconced in the back of their car, sitting between their two children (it was the seventies…we had seat belt legislation passed in 1976, but no one paid it any mind. Most people thought of it as a guideline really, not a requirement) and I felt safe. I felt wanted. I wanted Mr. S to drive and just keep driving and never come back. Yes, I was a dramatic and fanciful abused little soul! I remember Mrs. S asking me only one question: Are you alright? I answered honestly. Yes. What I did not add was the word: now.
That entire trip was upbeat and filled with normality. Did Mr. and Mrs. S treat me any differently? Not that I could tell. Perhaps Mrs. S hugged me a few extra times, and perhaps Mr. S bragged a bit louder about how great I was with his kids to his relatives, and how lucky they were to have me looking after their children. I can’t be sure as they were always singing my praises and making sure I knew that they appreciated me. I felt that everything I knew about myself, my potential, was being confirmed by Mr. and Mrs. S. They were letting me take care of the two most precious things to them. They trusted me, loved me and cared about me. I believed that I was more than just a helper to them.
As I look back on that event now I marvel that I still went on that trip. Consider this: if my father had been a normal, loving and decent man and had to be rushed to hospital for, let’s say, a heart attack or perhaps a terrible accident at the house, would I still have gone on that trip? Doubtful. Based on who I am, who I have always been, and what I know I have always felt towards kind and upstanding people, I would have been glued to his bedside. I just had so much pure rage and hatred towards this man that I did not care if he lived or died, and I certainly did not want him to effect anything that would stop me from being with a family that was the very antithesis of mine. I am heartened by this knowledge, though. It completely demonstrates to me that HE did not make me into a uncaring, hate filled, mean and vicious person. I was listening to that voice I described in in this blog post even then.
In case any of you are wondering, I am still in touch with this wonderful family. Mr. S passed away a few years ago, but Mrs. S is still going strong back in Kingston and was a comfort to me when my mother passed away last April. L had a high powered career in the hotel business, as well as a long stint with a food product company, and is now living abroad with her husband and two boys. M lives in Toronto with her two girls and husband, and has a career in broadcasting and the fitness industry. They are both incredible, strong, intelligent women, which does not surprise me, given their lineage. Listen, no family is perfect. Every family has their warts and blemishes. For me, though, at that moment in time, at that moment in my life, they were MY family, and thank God for that.
Dear readers: Are you a Facebook user? If you liked this post, and my style of writing, please share this blog post on your Facebook timeline. There’s a FB icon button just below this post that you can click to do that. Thank you!
I also invite you to go to my Capable Fitness with Gail Facebook page and click the “like” button. That LIKE button is right there on my cover picture of me and Seamus O’Malley. You can instantly go there right now by clicking this: https://www.facebook.com/capablyfit/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel. You’ll find doable exercises, delicious recipes, actionable fitness advice, inspirational messages and some laughs as well, all delivered to you on a daily basis. I’d love to have you on board as one of my “fans” and hearing what YOU would like to see on my page.