From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul IV

My Other Family

It’s four in the afternoon and I am heading out to yet another of my best friend Angie’s family get-togethers. This time it’s Mother’s Day.

I really hate this day and Father’s Day, too. These are two of the most dreaded days for me. I can’t get my arms around these “family holidays.” Those people with parents complain about them. The ones without them wallow in stories of the past.

Angie constantly complains about her mother’s nosiness and her grandmother’s pickiness. All of these mundane complaints drive me crazy. I live in a foster home, where people come and go. My adoptive mother died a few years ago and my adoptive father several years before her. I now live with one of my foster sisters, her new husband, my little brother and several foster brothers and sisters. I feel far apart from them in many ways.

No one has a baby album of me or infant stories or knows when I started crawling or knows whom I look like.

I have a trinket wrapped for Angie’s mother, a picture of all of us under a covered bridge. I spend my holiday vacations with them in Vermont. I play the part of “the other daughter,” to fulfill a need I have to belong to something other than my foster family.

I go downstairs, brush my hair and listen to my foster sisters at the kitchen table. They, too, are sad. They are relishing times gone by with their mother, my adopted mother.

“Remember when Johnny was born?”

“Remember when I ran away?”

“Remember how mad Mom was when we snuck out?”

I listen from the bathroom door and feel a pain shoot down my shoulders to my heart. I know none of these stories, and wish I had my own.

I never really got along with my adopted mother. I came to her when I was four, and I never felt that close to her. A hard-working woman, she had six children of her own, whom she raised pretty much alone. My little brother had a great connection to her. Having come to her when he was an infant, he knew nothing else, and she doted on him all day long.

I was close with my adopted father until he passed away just a few years after I was adopted. He was always a great comfort to me. He was probably the only person who never said an unkind word to me. His memory has been a security blanket for me during my teenage years.

Angie’s father beeps the horn outside my house as I finish brushing my hair and doing my makeup. In all the years I have known them, they have never come to my front door. Maybe they are afraid of something that is outside of their norm. But, it is nice to keep our “families” separate. It gives me a secret retreat and my own little place to go when everything else seems unwelcoming.

I grab my gift and hop in the car. Angie’s mother smells like Elizabeth Arden’s Red Door perfume, and her father has a mysterious scent I can never pinpoint. Angie sits in her Ralph Lauren tailored jeans and distinct conservative blouse. Her bright pink toes shine through her new sandals.

This is nice. We are eating at a restaurant on the north shore, where I don’t fit in at all, but I smile anyway and enjoy the panache. The waters of the sound are behind us, and the smells of rosemary and garlic rise from our hot plates.

Angie and her parents talk about other Mother’s Days, with grandparents and even great-grandparents. They tell me how silly Angie was as a baby and how hard it was at first to be a parent. How Mother’s Day takes on a whole new meaning when you become a parent. I sit quietly and laugh and tell a few of my crazy foster-family stories and concentrate on my potatoes. They are firm yet soft, like my heart.

After lunch we go to Angie’s house to meet up with her aunt and grandparents for dessert. Her house is always so cheerful. The light blue couches always smell of lilies. Nothing has changed since grammar school except for maybe a moved picture or a new quilt. It is solid, quiet and comforting. I am envious. I smile through coffee and then head home. I only live two blocks away so I decide to walk and take some time to think. I pass the large yellow house I always wanted to buy. I pass the gardens of the pretty college girl, Anne, and eventually end up at my brick and aluminum house.

In the yard is my brother, redheaded and crazy with youth, and my foster sister and her husband. People are coming and going. And they stop me and say, “Phyllis . . . remember when you . . .”

And we all laugh; laugh so hard the sky can hear us. And for that moment I am all right.

Phyllis Anne Guilmette

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