T_ and I enjoyed getting to know each other. She loved getting out of the house and was dumbfounded when we went to McDonalds and she could have anything off the menu she wanted. She loved my pets: a dog, a cat and a horse.
Then one day when I brought T_ home from an outing, her mother informed me that this would be our last outing. She didn’t think BBBS (Big Brothers Big Sisters) had been a good idea. (It wasn’t till much later that I learned it had not been her idea in the first place. BBBS had been a child services recommendation—which if you read between the lines you suspect something very serious had happened to this kid. I shall not sully her by divulging details.) I felt badly for T_, and for her unruly siblings, too. They couldn’t help the environment they were stuck in.
Several weeks later the phone jangled me awake at two AM. T_ was calling from a phone booth. She’d snuck out of the house and was not going back. Long story short, I went from being a jilted Big Sister to being a temporary foster mother while H&W searched for a more permanent solution for T_. (I insisted on temporary foster parent status. I was fine with mentoring, but in no position to take on parenthood of a troubled teenager—or of any kid, for that matter.)
Though the future looked scary and dismal, T_ refused to return to her mother’s house. She vowed that H&W could take her back, but she’d escape and be on the streets ASAP. She bounced through several foster situations before landing in one that sort of fit. I marveled at T_’s strength of character and self-awareness. She knew she was not her best person in the presence of her mother. Her father was dead. Her grandmother was kind, but ineffectual at mitigating the toxic homelife those kids lived in.
T_ and I stayed in touch through her high school years and early marriage to a handsome, smooth talking musician. I worried about that fellow and his parents who seemed like grifters. Then came the baby girl. In short order, T_ recognized that the marriage was a quagmire. She was the sole provider for a family of three. It would make more sense to support a family of two than of three. Times were tough, but T_ was always employed. She managed to hold down a job and cope with being a single mom at a very young age. Her determination was unassailable.
In time, she met a man who not only loved her and her daughter, but also had the means to support a family. She moved across the state to live with her new husband in his hometown where he had a steady job with the state. Her new mother-in-law accepted T_ as her own daughter, and even arranged employment for her in the same department at the University where she had worked for years. T_ had a second child, a boy this time. She relished having the time and resources to care for this child better than the early years with her daughter. We didn’t talk or visit often, but maintained an open line of communication. Eventually, after T_’s father-in-law died, her little family moved in with her mother-in-law. In time T_ and her daughter patched a relationship that had been rocked pretty hard during the girl’s adolescence. T_ enjoyed her son’s wedding to a young woman with a remarkable resemblance to his mom, and shortly T_ experienced the thrill of becoming a grandmother . . . three times over. Coming from poverty and abuse, she made a wonderful home and became the matriarch of a healthy, loving family, T_ lived happily ever after.
Until cancer found her.
RIP T_. You loved and you were loved.