We had a one bag limit this time.
This was move number twelve, and I was in grade seven. Dad had rescued us from a tricky living siutation a year ago and my parents were trying to make it work again. This was their first attempt at reconciliation since I was four years old. We were thrilled and for the first time in our lives, it felt like our family was whole again. Mom and Dad bought a house in Peterborough, which was unfathomable to us. I had no idea we would ever live in a house we owned ourselves. We felt so normal and incredable. We all settled into new schools, new lives.
Unfortunately this happiness didn’t last long and my parents relationship failed once again. It may have had something to do with an American gentleman my Mom met at work, but I’m not certain. All I knew was our lives were changing again, and in a much bigger way this time. After what felt like a mere couple of months of Mom and this gentleman 'getting to know each other’ long distance, she was pulling us out of our schools, out of our home, out of this city and even out of Canada.
We were moving to a small town in Missouri in the US.
The plan was for Dad to move into the house with Kate so she could finish off her grade ten year here in Peterborough. Mom said it was harder to switch mid-year in high school than in elementary school. Really, Kate had basically stopped talking to Mom, so I think this was a way for them to get some space from each other. Kate was struggling with the idea of three moves in three years - meaning her grade 9, grade 10 and grade 11 eleven years were at three different high schools, in three different cities in two different countries. It was a lot to manage at this age, especially when she was well aware of the unhealthy state of our Mother and her manic decision making process that ended up having an immense impact on our lives. Kate was going to join us in January, and Dad was going to pack up the house after it sold and move everything into storage for us.
Hence the one bag limit this time around.
Once again, we were being sold the 'This is going to be a big adventure’ bill of goods. But it was starting to feel a bit off. We didn’t know anyone else who moved as much as we did. And not all of us were really adjusting well. We were still trying to get our feet under us from Mom and Dad splitting up and now Mom was trying to get us warmed up to a new step-Dad/boyfriend we barely knew, who we were now going to live with in a country we had never been to. It was also very far away, and we would not be able to see any of our family. Dad, our Aunts, our cousins, our old friends. No one.
It was hard dealing with this emotional range from sadness and loss to excitement and adventure. But what option did we have? Mom wouldn’t listen to anyone in her life who suggested this wasn’t a great idea. I mean I was only a kid, but my suggestion would have been to get to know the new boyfriend a bit more before she uprooted us again and moved us so far away. But what did I know? Although Mom never wanted her family to know the full truth of what was going on in our house, she also wanted to be close enough to get their help when she needed it. And she relied heavily on that help. But she quickly pulled away if they got too close or involved or worried or if it didn’t suit her or for whatever reason she came up with based on her state of mind. She had never pulled us away this far distance-wise and under these kinds of circumstances. Our extended family was very nervous.
Kate was getting much closer to the age of having options and she definitely was contemplating how she could stay put and not join us. This broke my heart but on a certain level, I understood it. I was already having thoughts of when I could get off this rollar coaster ride too…. She had started to stay extra long at friends houses, with the possibilty of just staying on long term. We each had a different relationship with Mom, and she was beyond done with the roller coaster ride. On one-hand she wanted to run as far and as fast as she could, but on the other hand she couldn’t bare leaving us alone with Mom. It was a tough spot to be in.
In October, the new boyfriend drove up from Missouri in his black pickup truck with a covered cab. They threw a mattress into the back with some blankets and surrounded it with our one-bag limit belongings. Very early one crisp Fall morning, two of my good friends stood outside our house and cried as we hugged eachother and said our good bye's. The other two people we had to say good bye to were Kate and Dad. Kate was visably angry with Mom for putting us in this situation. Dad was devastated. His eyes were filled with tears and his shoulders were slummed over. It was hard to see him like this. We were trying to be so positive for this “new adventure” that we couldn’t fully let in this sense of loss. But he was seeing two of his three daughters drive away and off to another country. One more difficult moment to digest, at too young of an age.
Mom had relentlessly drilled into our heads what to say at the border crossing. You see, Mom and Dad weren’t divorced, so her and the new boyfriend couldn’t get married yet. Besides the fact they had only known each other for a few months… this wasn’t exactly planned out over a long period of time. No t’s were crossed or i’s dotted. This was Mom’s typical knee-jerk decision making that we had become used to by now.
But this time she was enlisting us to break the law with her. We weren’t heading to the US legally.
We pulled up to the Niagara Falls border crossing with Mom and the boyfriend in the front and the three of us in the back. Keep in mind this is well before you needed a passport or legal travel letters for minors to get across the border. Immediately we are pulled over for additional screening. And now the lump in my throat grew even bigger. I could barely talk. And I could see the look on Mom’s face. None of us better screw this up because if we didn’t get across the border than her whole plan was screwed, and this was plan A. And if it ended up being our fault, then there would be hell to pay for sure.
This had to happen.
The Immigration Officers greeted us and asked who the oldest was, which was me. “We need to speak to you privately.” HOLY CRAP. HOLY CRAP. HOLY CRAP. As I was led into a building alone and without Mom, I nervously turned to look back at the truck. This was it. Everything was now on my eleven-year-old shoulders.
There was a female and male Officer in the small interview room, and I was very quiet. I only spoke to them if they asked me a question, as per Mom’s instructions. Holding my breath and trying to raise my gaze from the floor, they repeatedly asked me if we were being kidnapped. “Is that woman with you your Mom? Your real Mom? Are those your sisters?” I was confused and relieved at the same time.
This was it? No questions like, “Do you and your sisters want to go to Missouri with a man your Mom has only met two months ago and who you barely know? Or ‘How safe do you feel in your home life right now?” Or, “How many times have you ever gone on holidays as a family?” Or, “Do you feel comfortable with this trip?”
Nope, just 'Is she my Mom?’
Yes, she’s my Mom.
“No, we aren’t being kidnapped and yes, we are defintely going to Missouri for a holiday.”
(Sorry, but how many Canadians go to Missouri on holidays… at the end of October….)
I was led back to Mom and I crawled back into the back of the truck. We all silently waited, acting as normal as we could. We were all trying to play it so cool. Whatever. What did they seriously think was happening with three kids in the back of a truck with all their clothes and toys in garbage bags around a mattress? I was shaking. I definitely thought the gig was up and I was bracing myself for how the rest of my day was going to look once Mom got through with me.
“You are free to go”. And that was it. Another very big change in the direction of our lives had just occurred and we were now heading in a very different direction. One that would involve us living illegally in the US for almost three years, visiting over twenty states during two long distance moves to Missouri and Arizona and back, with my Mom falling deeper and deeper into her mental illness, and without the support of any close members for three years.