Love Is a Two-Way Street

Love Is a Two-Way Street

From Chicken Soup for the Canadian Soul

Love Is a Two-Way Street

Love can’t be hidden. It’s like light.

Celine Dion

Her ashen face stood out against the startling blackness of her hair. She looked much younger than her fifteen years. She was a child of the British Columbia foster care system. We weren’t supposed to take a child for another couple of months, but an emergency call came through that morning. A home was needed for a young girl immediately.

The whole family pitched in to get her room ready. The kids were great. They changed linens, cleared out closets and helped with the cleaning. My heart felt like a drum pounding in my chest. I was excited, but scared at the same time. This was such a new experience for me. The children kept asking questions: “What is she like?” and “How long will she stay?”

“We’ll just have to wait and see,” was all I could answer.

In our home in Surrey, British Columbia, we had four children of our own. Margaret and Joanne were seventeen and fifteen, and Rob and Jeff were twelve and nine. Our friends thought we were mad to take on another child, especially a teenager. “You’ll be sorry,” they told us. “A foster child can give you a lot of grief.”

That afternoon, Trudy arrived with the social worker Mrs. Kline. She stepped into the front hall and clung to the walls. I will never forget the look in her eyes. The first thing that came to my mind was that she looked like a hunted animal. The children moved towards her, and Jeff grabbed her hand and said proudly: “Come and see your room. I helped make your bed.” Trudy pulled back, but didn’t let go of his hand.

At this point, I stepped towards her and said, “Welcome to our home, Trudy.” She looked at me with such blank, vacant eyes. The kids were all talking at once: “Do you want a pop?” “Do you want a cookie?” But with her head bowed, she simply said, “No thank you.”

“Kids, can you go downstairs to the family room, so your dad and I can talk to Mrs. Kline?” There was a chorus of voices saying, “Bye, Trudy. See you later.”

We sat at the kitchen table, and Trudy was very quiet. Her eyes darted back and forth like a creature looking for a way out. This had been her fifth foster home since she was eleven. No wonder she was afraid. I wanted to put my arms around her and tell her she would be safe with us.

For the first two weeks, Trudy was very quiet. She would come into the kitchen while I was working, and we would discuss school and what she would like to do in the future. Mrs. Kline had given us all the information about her history, but I never mentioned the terrible things that had happened to her.

I wondered if in trying to help Trudy I had taken on too much. Her life had been one crisis after another. Would she be able to put the pain behind her and get on with her life? Would I fail? Self-doubt would then flood in and overwhelm me.

It was a Friday night, and Trudy had been with us for only one week. Margaret and Joanne were getting ready to go out and meet their friends, and Trudy was watching television. “Are you going out with the girls?” I asked.

“You mean I’m allowed to go with them?” she said in amazement. Her question took me by surprise, and I didn’t answer right away.

“I was never allowed to go out at night at the other house,” she continued.

“Well,” I finally responded, “it’s different here. Friday and Saturday you can go out, but the curfew is eleven o’clock.” When she heard my words, she jumped up and hugged me! I was so surprised, I almost fell backwards.

As the days went by, Trudy became a delight to have around. Very quickly, it seemed like she had always been with us. The girls would sit in each other’s rooms and giggle like typical teenagers. It was a sound that warmed my soul.

One day, when Trudy had been with us for about a month, I took Joanne shopping for a new winter coat, and Trudy came too. She was not used to shopping in stores other than discount ones. The process of shopping involved filling out receipts and sending them to the ministry, and she found it all very embarrassing.

Joanne was trying on a green suede jacket with a fur collar. It was expensive, but she pleaded, promising to give up her allowance, do extra chores—anything to have the jacket.

Trudy had picked out a jacket that she liked and was promenading in front of the mirror. As I watched her, I realized it was not the same girl that had entered our home only four weeks ago. She stood taller and held her head higher. The tightness in her face had softened. She was able to look me in the eye when she spoke to me.

She walked up to Joanne, modelling the jacket, and sighed, “Isn’t it beautiful?” Joanne agreed as they both preened in the mirror. Replacing the jacket on the rack, she rejoined Joanne.

“The jacket looks so nice on you,” Trudy said. “Can I borrow it sometime? Daniel will love you in it!” she teased. I hadn’t seen her face so animated before.

While they were busy, I quietly asked the salesperson to wrap up the jacket that Trudy had tried on. “Please don’t let her see you do it—it’s a surprise,” I explained. For the next few minutes, I kept Trudy busy while the salesperson rang up the jacket and wrapped it.

We bought the coat that Joanne had loved, and Trudy was still babbling on and complimenting her on her choice. The salesperson had placed the parcel containing Trudy’s coat where the girls couldn’t see it, and I managed to sneak it out to the car without being caught.

When we arrived home, Joanne proudly modelled her new coat for Margaret. Trudy was still talking about it, and how Joanne was going to lend it to her. I chose that moment to say, “Trudy, would you please go out to the car and bring in the parcel from the trunk?”

She happily complied, and when she returned, laid it on the table. “Would you please open the parcel for me, while I put on the kettle?” I could hear the sound of ripping paper, and then I turned and saw her reaching out to touch the jacket. Her hand recoiled as if she had touched something hostile. I walked over to her and put my arms around her. Trudy looked directly into my eyes, unable to speak. Joanne looked at me, anxiety and concern for this newly acquired sister showing in her face.

I took Trudy’s face in my hands, and asked, “Isn’t this the jacket you were trying on?” At that, Trudy started sobbing.

“In all my life, no one has ever bought me a beautiful jacket like this. Why did you do this?” She held the jacket and stared at it with disbelief.

On the brink of tears myself now, my voice shook as I managed to say, “Because you deserve it.”

I left the kitchen and went to my room so she would not see me crying. My heart ached for this child who didn’t feel she was worthy of a coat. As I was sitting there deep in thought, a knock came at the door. “Come in,” I called.

There in the doorway stood my four children. The look on their faces told me they badly needed to say something. Margaret stepped forward and spoke for them: “Mom, thank you for bringing Trudy into our home. We hope we can keep her forever.” The rest of the heads bobbed up and down in agreement.

My eyes welled up with tears. As I gathered my children to me, they began to say, “We love you, Mom.” I looked at the faces of my treasures and whispered, “I love you too. Guess who’s the luckiest mother in the world.”

Carol Sharpe
Surrey, British Columbia

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