by Andrea DiMaggio
for Catherine Linda
Acton…Toronto Area… December 24...
The girl sat on the large swing on the front porch of the house. She stared straight ahead as if the house across the street held some intriguing secret, but in truth, she was just too tired to care. At first glance, she might have been taken for a boy two or three years younger, but upon close inspection, her face was soft in an almost manly way; a handsome young lady as your great grandfather might have described her.
She wore a simple light grayish green pullover and she shivered against the cold. Her jeans, tucked inside black low heel boots, were worn but neat; pretty picture, to say the least. The only thing that would have made her more attractive was a smile; something that was almost completely foreign to her. She reached over and pulled on a heavy dark blue hoodie as she noted the first flakes of snow finally falling; albeit much later in the day than predicted.
A white compact car pulled up to the curb; its doors wore large official looking decals that said something about children and services and such, but the girl paid little heed. She did, however, track the woman who exited the car; keenly noting the outfit the woman wore, which seemed too ‘young’ for her but for the blue pea-coat and the simple long yellow legal pad in the woman’s right hand.
“You Nadia Templeton?” The woman asked even as she walked up the steps of the porch toward the girl.
“Yeah…” She would have added, ‘and what the fuck is it to you,’ had she any energy to be defiant. That emotion had long since departed; chased in fact by an increasing sense of hopelessness accompanied by angry words that spoke of compliance and living a God-fearing life. She merely nodded and eyed the worn metal patio chair catty-corner to the swing. The woman nodded back and pulled the chair up; not immediately adjacent to her, but close enough for her to notice the woman’s modest cologne and very welcoming smile.
“I’m Stephanie…Andruchek.” She held out her hand. The girl ignored the gesture and folded her arms.
“Mrs. Taliaferro called the office yesterday.” It was almost a question, but the girl remained quiet, wondering what she had done to upset her foster mother.
“I know things are difficult for you.”
“What would you know…you don’t know anything about me,” the girl protested. She shook her head; slowly at first but harder and quicker in a sign of protest. Stephanie reached over and touched the girl’s wrist; her hoodie had ridden up and exposed long marks that traversed her arm from her elbow to her hand. Some were a grayish pink and seemed to retreat into her skin. But a few were still a dark pink; almost a dotted-line that marked hesitation. The girl flinched but Stephanie grabbed her hand and tugged gently toward her own wrist, which bore all-too similar marks; light and faded, which seemed to indicate that things had changed.
“I know, Nadia… I know.” Stephanie bit her lip and pondered her gesture; too much self-revelation could move the focus off the girl entirely, but Nadia needed to know she wasn’t alone.
“You…too?” She looked at the scars that poked out from underneath Stephanie’s coat sleeve. A nod and a gentle smile put the girl further at ease.
“When I was …. When I was a teenager. I know that sounds so far away, but I’m only twenty-seven. And there isn’t a day that goes by that I still don’t think about it.”
“You still want to cut?”
“NO…there are days I feel like I need to, but no, I never wanted to, you know?”
“Yeah,” Nadia said. Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out a pack of Marlboro Lights.
“You mind?” Stephanie shook her head no. Another habit that still tugged at her; a remnant of her youth as well.
“You know, then, right?” Nadia lit the cigarette but held it in her hand and seemed to study the smoke that wafted upward before taking a drag. She coughed once; evidence not of a lack of experience but instead a very bad case of bronchitis which wasn’t helped at all by the smoking. She saw the half-frown that Stephanie failed to hide. Instead of getting upset, she put dropped the cigarette on the porch and ground it out with her boot heel.
“I know.” Her frown was full and self-condemning.
“You sound like you could use some tea. Mrs. Taliaferro knows I’m here. Let’s go over to Timmy’s for a coffee and donut…my treat?” No big deal, but it was a way to try to reach the girl.
“Yeah…okay. Cocoa?” As if expressing a personal preference would be foreign to the kind woman. Stephanie nodded and they walked to the car.
Tim Horton's, Guelph, Toronto, Ontario, a short while later...
“People don’t really bother you, do they?” Stephanie asked. Nadia shook her head no; a look of puzzlement crossed her face.
“Here’s a question for you, eh? What’s the opposite of love?” She widened her eyes and leaned forward in gesture. Nadia spoke quickly.
“Hate.” The voice was even; almost monotone and not convincing at all.
“No….that’s not right, but…” Nadia frowned at her own answer, feeling inadequate and awkward. Stephanie half-smiled and continued.
“Not a matter so much of right and wrong, but what suits you? What was the flip side of love for you….what hurt the most? For me, it was being ignored. You know? The answer I got from my mother for any question about what to do was, ‘oh go ahead..I don’t care.’” Nadia nodded only slightly.
“My mom was like that sometimes.” She looked out the window of the restaurant as if her life was being scrolled before her for review. She frowned and her nostrils flared; followed by tears that quickly welled in her eyes. Stephanie put her hand on the girl’s wrist, but she didn’t flinch.
“Go ahead, there’s no one here but you and me and the afternoon crew, and they’re busy cleaning up.” She looked over and pointed to her watch; getting the manager's attention. He nodded.
“Don’t worry. We don’t close until six, anyway. You’ve got plenty of time.” He smiled and went back to his work behind the counter.
“I…I figured if I was gonna tell her…. It’s such a fucking shock….. at least that’s what other girls tell me.” She looked out the window again and sighed.
“If she had never said another word or if she yelled or cried or whatever….you know? I figured I’d wear something not so …”
“Girly?” Stephanie smiled. Nadia shook her head yes and went on.
“I was wearing my sister’s jeans and a pullover a lot like this one. I didn’t bother to wear a bra; mostly because I was afraid of scaring the shit out of her, but with nothing on top? I guess I could have stuffed it with tissues or some panties, but what the hell.” She laughed, but the humor of the momentary words gave way to the nearly permanent past that grabbed at her; threatening to pull her back into the pain of that day.
“My hair was already long. I pulled it back in a pony tail. Guys wear pony tails, so I figured it wouldn’t get her going…too much, you know? But I was wearing studs in both ears, and I thought that crosses wouldn’t bother her. What the fuck; maybe they might have made her feel better, eh?” Another moment of levity that failed to dampen the fears the girl was reliving.
“She took one look at me… like a fucking story. She took one look and then she showed me… well…” Nadia stifled a sob. Stephanie bit her lip; she was in the moment right along with Nadia, but she didn’t want it to be about her. She nodded.
“’Your father was right. I should have aborted you. I wish I never…neh...ver….had…’” Nadia was strong, but it was too much to ask of the girl; anyone for that matter.
Even if she started out differently, doesn’t her mother know it’s where she’ll finish? Stephanie almost blurted out the intrusive but altogether empathetic thought.
“I mean…. Why couldn’t she just shut the fuck up? She didn’t have to….why did she have to tell me that?” Stephanie hadn’t meant to put the girl in such a vulnerable position, but from what she had been told, Nadia’s pain had only come out in angry outbursts and rude behavior; understandable but totally unmanageable. And her foster-mother wasn’t at all equipped to handle the hurts and behavior of a transgender teen.
“I’m sorry, Nadia. I can’t imagine how much hurt that must have given you. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.” Stephanie recalled a moment in time where she felt almost as much despair and certainly as much desperation. Thankfully both had been desperate only to the brink, but no further.
She took the razor and walked into the living room. Setting it down on the coffee table she quickly walked to the kitchen to retrieve the chilled champagne she had taken out of the supply at her mother's last party. Grabbing the crystal flute from the china cabinet on her way back, she settled onto the couch, where she poured herself a glass of champagne for a final toast.
Lifting the glass, she smiled and licked her lips, savoring the taste of her mother's lipstick. The moment of decision. Would today be more than just hurt? Would pain finally give way to release? She paused in thought before saying to herself,
"To Stephanie Elizabeth Waters. I love you, Mommy! Not today...not yet!”*
“I don’t want to live, you know?” Nadia sobbed. An admission that many younger, less experienced workers would have misread completely. But life and education don’t always take place in the class room, and Stephanie knew enough to listen to the girl’s heart.
“It hurts so much you almost wish you weren’t alive, right? But…” she stopped, waiting for the girl to catch up and pass her. Nadia spoke haltingly.
“I don’t want…. I would never…” She paused. Stephanie looked at the clock over the counter. 5:12 p.m. And the manager was further back at the counter area; almost out of sight and certainly out of earshot.
“It’s just that it hurts and there’s no way to make the pain go away. When will it go away?” The girl begged. Stephanie patted the girl’s wrist softly; remembering not to drag her hand across the girl’s scars.
“I know it hurts, but it gets better.” Nadia looked at her as if to use the old quote, ‘that’s easy for you to say.’
A transition five and three-quarters years in the making which included the estrangement and eventual reconciliation with her mother along with the usual milestones leading up to her own surgery. And therapy. And University and Graduate school. And a career reaching out to boys and girls; some with whom she shared a very rare but very powerful commonality. She smiled softly.
“Listen. They're going to close soon. I’ve got your case for the week, and I know it’s been hard at the foster home. I don’t see any reason for you to spend the holiday at a shelter. There’s a place not too far from here in Milton. A nice home for kids like….”
“Like me? Freaks? Yeah.” She spat out the words bitterly, but hope seemed to linger around waiting for an opportunity, and she thankfully didn’t have the strength or will to fight. It helped, as well, that Stephanie understood.
“No, Nadia. Not freaks. Girls just like….us. I work with them, and I know there’s a place open for you if you want to try it out. A nice woman in the States started it, and now it’s opened up here and in Calgary as well. You’re more than welcome, and I really think you’ll find it’s a good place to start over.”
“You’re…like me?” Nadia looked down at her body and turned a dark red; partly out of embarrassment from ‘what’ she was, but also in response to knowing finally that someone knew her…really knew her.
“We’re all like ‘us,’ when it comes down to it. But yes. I’m like you. And that’s a good thing, eh?”
“And they understand…. They know?”
“Yep…they know… all about us…. And they care, Nadia. So what do you say?”
“I gotta ask Mrs. Taliaferro.” She looked out the window; a sense of urgent hope had replaced the sad complacency of only moments before.
“She already knows, Nadia, so it’s all up to you. What do you say?”
“Yes?” She hesitated, fearing it was all another one of life’s tricks. Stephanie nodded and smiled; a single tear rolled down her cheek and dropped into her tea. Her life had almost come full circle in the life of this young...lady; a testimony to the resiliency of both women and the faithfulness of the One for whom the holiday was named. She sighed and spoke again.
“Let’s go home, okay?” The girl beamed a huge if tearful smile and nodded; totally unable to speak, but still mouthing the word,
“You'll be there?" Nadia asked with a new-found eagerness. Stephanie nodded yes, and Nadia smiled and answered after only a little while in thought,
Dear reader...if you haven't yet had the opportunity, please consider looking into reading the stories from Catherine Linda Michel's The Home That Love Built?
* from Moving On: Stevie's Story by Andrea DiMaggio
The Wexford Carol
as performed by
Miss Alison Krauss
Cello solo by
Yo Yo Ma
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done
In sending His beloved Son
With Mary holy we should pray
To God with love this Christmas day
In Bethlehem upon that morn'
There was a blessed Messiah born
Near Bethlehem did shepherds keep
Their flocks of lambs and feeding sheep
To whom God's angels did appear
Which put the shepherds in great fear
"Arise and go", the angels said
"To Bethlehem, be not afraid
For there you'll find this happy morn'
A princely Babe, sweet Jesus born"
With thankful heart and joyful mind
The shepherds went that Babe to find
And as God's angel had foretold
They did our Savior Christ behold
Within a manger He was laid
And by his side the Virgin maid
As long foretold upon that morn'
There was a blessed Messiah born
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done
If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos!
Click the Thumbs Up! button below to leave the author a kudos:
And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks.