My journal, December 1986, age 10:
“What I really wish is that Mom was here so that when we came home we would have a good time and that we would be loved!”
I first suspected something was off in our home when I was in grade one, and I started to go to friends’ houses to play. I mean friends from school, the ones who didn’t necessarily live in the same low-income housing row we were currently residing in. Everyone in that small town knew who lived in that row of townhouses. All the kids ran wild and barely had adult supervision. Everyone living there didn’t want to be there. Low income, welfare, Children’s Aid, Seniors Pension. Mom was a single parent and we were Catholic, so that was our label. D-I-V-O-R-C-E was a sin. And no one else in our class had a single parent family. Everyone was doing the best they could with what they had but it still all felt like a depressed, tired place to live.
My best friend always had perfectly placed hair barrettes or head bands in her hair and her clothes were new and trendy. Unlike me, she didn’t have to wear hand-me-down underwear. Her long blonde hair was trimmed regularly at the hair dresser, not at home by her older sister with the kitchen scissors. She lived in a two-storey house that her parents owned, and it wasn’t attached to anything. Her childhood playground was the countryside while mine was a really large paved parking lot with our townhouses at one end and a small convenience store and gas station at the other end. And she had her own bedroom which was never going to happen for me, since I had three sisters. Her parents were still married, and she had two older brothers, so she didn’t have to share her My Little Pony’s or Cabbage Patch dolls with anyone. Dolls? Yes, she had more than one. That seemed unbelievable to me at the time. She was SO lucky. They had a room in their house that was a ‘Sitting Room’. A sitting room? What was that? It sounded so formal to me. I didn’t even know those existed. It was always perfectly set up, with brand new furniture and everything was in its place, all the time. There was an imaginary line that crossed its threshold though and we strictly obeyed. Her Mom was always around so we followed her rules. And they didn’t have any hot knives in their kitchen utensil drawer. That was weird. I thought everyone’s knives had burn marks on the tips.
I was beginning to realize that I didn’t have a typical Mom. She was very young, very pretty, very thin. But she wasn’t home a lot. She worked a variety of jobs and they were always changing. Most times she was working more than one job at the same time. When she was home, she slept. She would act really weird and not seem like herself too, especially by the end of each day. I could smell a funny smell in the house at night time and if you went investigating, she would quickly usher you back to bed and hide something when we entered the room. We learned quickly to stop being curious. We also innately felt it was bad and wrong, which made us nervous. We knew she seemed to have a lot of troubles sleeping. At one point, she slept so little that she decided to give up her bedroom since she barely used it. If she did get sleep, it would be on the couch in front of the television.
We had a ton of chores to do – either to keep us home and out of trouble or because of what I now know was her OCD. Each of us had to clean/do one of the following after school every day: bathroom, living room, kitchen or lunches. And I mean really cleaned. And if we didn’t do them right, there was hell to pay. My older sister Kate got the worst of it. As young as nine, she was left in charge of the three of us. I would have been six and a half and our two younger sisters, five and three. Mom would pull Kate out of bed, late at night, hours after we had all been sleeping and just lose it on her. Slurring her words in anger as a vacuum cleaner hose bit into Kate’s flesh. All seemingly because the kitchen wasn't clean enough...
When we were cleaning, we would find bottles of alcohol stashed around the house. Behind couches, under beds, stuffed into kitchen cupboards. Mom’s coffee never seemed to be without the brandy she always had under the kitchen sink. And we learned pretty darn quickly to never throw out the tinfoil bunches around the house. Those were usually found pretty close to her pipes.
But we were already starting to resent whatever was in those God-damn tin foil balls and empty bottles. Whatever it was, it felt like she was under their spell. We felt abandoned even though she was physically here. Even at these young ages, we were learning to stealthily manoeuvre our days around her erratic and unpredictable behaviour. You could sense her emptiness, pain and rage. Not a good combination for raising three girls on your own.