I was sound asleep on a Saturday morning when my brother John came into my room. “Julie!” he said in a loud whisper. “Wake up!!”
“What? What’s going on?” I said unable to open my eyes very well.
“Wake up!! There’s something in the garage!”
“What do you mean?” I was a bit irritated. It sounded like a ploy to get me up so he would have someone to play with. He had been giving me a lot more attention since our two older siblings had moved out.
“Just get up, I’ll show you!”
“There’s nothing in the garage,” I said rolling over.
“Yes there is. I swear! I think it’s a kitten!”
My eyes popped open. “A kitten?! Did it get trapped in our garage somehow?”
“I don’t know. Come and see!”
I jumped out of bed. The door to the garage was just a few steps from my bedroom door. We went into the garage and closed the door behind us. John turned on the light.
A tiny kitten mewed and peaked its head out. She was adorable! She was still pretty young, maybe 8 weeks old. She was brown with stripes, bright green eyes and a perfect diamond shape on her back. John and I tried to coax her closer, but she was too scared.
John and I poured out our theories as to why it was there. We figured Mom didn’t know anything about the kitten because she would never allow us to have animals. “Too much work…” She grew up on a farm and swore she’d never live on a farm again. Not that a kitten would be like a farm, but I’m sure she didn’t have any desires to take care of another living thing; especially at this time in her life.
Mom finally woke up a couple of hours later (she was sleeping in late these days) and explained to us that she saw her friends Elsa and Ray the night before. (She had known Else since before she married Dad.) Elsa said they found the kitten standing in the rain meowing at their door. She pressed Mom to take it home with her. Later, Mom said she thought Elsa made up that story and gave her the kitten to cheer her up. Mom still hadn’t decided if we were going to keep it, so John and I continued to pester her. John loved animals more than anything, and he could be very persuasive. After three days Mom fell in love with her, and we decided to name her Diamond. She was a perfect addition to our family of 3. It was nice having new life in our house after so much loss.
Two months after my sister moved in with Dad, Mom insisted that Leslie come over for my 9th birthday and help with the party. I was allowed a birthday party with friends every other year and Mom said it was “too much to do on her own.” Mom always did these things on her own, and I felt like she was using my birthday as an excuse to have Leslie come over. I didn’t want the tension between her and Mom ruin my birthday. I also didn’t want Leslie to get her attention, when it was my birthday. I only wanted to invite a few friends and she encouraged me to invite more. In fact, she insisted that I invite the neighbor girl, who was too old to be there (she was 12), and one of the girls at school that no one liked. I didn’t want either one at my party, but Mom had a way of making me do things I didn’t want to do. Her love was conditional, and if I didn’t act the way she wanted me to, the love would be withheld. It wasn’t anything conscious, but I recognized it years later when she did the same thing to my daughter. I know that her ability to influence me so easily was also because of my great love for her. I watched her intently as a child from the perspective of the present moment, (without knowing her history) and saw her struggles, pain, and well-meaning heart. She was trying to make things nice for everyone and I sympathized with her a lot. I did all I could to ease her pain.
I remember my 9th birthday very clearly. Mom became agitated because Leslie was late. She didn’t even know for sure if she was going to show up or not. The tension was already starting. Leslie did eventually show up, and Mom immediately put her to work. Leslie was kind to me and was on her best behavior, but I could tell that it was difficult for her to be there. It felt like this house of cards could fall at any second.
When all the guests arrived, we immediately began with the birthday games. The living room was covered in yarn. Each girl got an end to their piece of yarn and had to follow it until they found the other end. Whoever got to their end first, won a prize. (Mom's prizes were always good! She wrapped each one individually and let the winner choose their prize. Each one was different, so winner felt like they were getting a present too.) We also played hot potato and later, pin the tail on the donkey.
I forgot that guests brought presents, and with more girls there (I think there were 7 or 8) I received a lot more than usual. (That was definitely a bonus! I had never received so many!) After opening the gifts, we went downstairs where Mom had a big table set up in the basement with a paper tablecloth and decorated the basement poles with streamers and balloons. The homemade cake was in the shape of a Christmas tree and frosted a light green with chocolate balls wrapped in foil as the ornaments. I was a little disappointed – Mom usually didn’t bring Christmas into my birthday, and it wasn’t one of her better efforts. Still, I knew it would taste good.
Even with all the good intention Mom had put into everything, I could still feel the tension in the air. Some of the girls were uncomfortable with the outcast I invited, (although she was having a great time) and Mom and Leslie were doing their delicate dance. I had just been through the divorce as well, and dealing with a lot of emotions that I wasn’t getting any help with. It didn’t take much to set me off. Mom cut the cake and she didn’t give me the first piece, which was the tradition. And then, when I wanted a grape soda, Mom gave the last one to someone else. I couldn’t take it anymore. This party didn’t feel like it was for me. I burst into tears and ran into the other room. No one came after me and I decided to stay there until everyone left, which of course didn’t happen. Eventually Mom came in and yelled at me, and told me to come back to the party. I was humiliated to face my friends after crying so hard over what appeared to be “not getting a soda I wanted,” but I didn’t want to be alone anymore - especially on my birthday. Mom thanked Leslie over and over for her help that day and the months to follow. Once my birthday had passed, the continued thank yous felt like a desperate plea for her to come home.
The day after my birthday I came home from school and received an unexpected surprise. My dad had left a package for me. This was the first time he reached out to me since he moved out. I thought he didn’t care about my birthday – I hadn’t heard from him at all. (Not sure who brought Leslie to my party, I didn’t see her arrival.) The package was large and I was incredibly excited. Mom didn’t want to have anything to do with Dad, so I opened up the package alone in my room. It was the thing I most wanted – a Barbie fashion show!
I was surprised it didn’t use the regular Barbie dolls, they looked much bigger on TV. But it came with one of the dolls and a couple of outfits. There wasn’t much to it - you attached the doll on the stage behind the curtain, turned on the switch, and the doll came out center stage. It was simple, but combined with my imagination, it became magical. I loved it. I was doing fashion shows myself at the time, so I related to it. (I’ll explain more on that later.) I also loved it because I really wanted it – and I got it. That was rare for me. But most importantly, Dad had bought it for me. He had reached out to me for the first time. Mom saw it as a way to buy my love and wasn’t pleased. He also wasn’t paying the money he owed her, and she was angry he was spending it on a frivolous toy. As for me, I saw it as taking the time to acknowledge my birthday, and giving me something I really wanted. It meant everything to me. The only thing that would have made it even better, is if he would have given it to me, instead of leaving it without a word or a phone call.