Thursday, August 23, 2012

Our Separate Ways

I'm sliding on a black wool coat on and shrugging it up over my shoulders when I notice her across the store flicking through a sale rack of blouses. I haven't seen her in years and while we were not much more than acquaintances when we were neighbours, I still feel the urge to cross the floor and say "hi". Most of the time I duck out when I see people I know in stores as I find making small talk difficult. It's that time of year when people ask, "How was your summer?" and I've been avoiding people lately, not wanting to talk about the life changing events that have filled my own.

I take my time deciding what to do next. I turn this way and that as I look at my reflection in the mirror.  The coat hangs beautifully and fits like a glove. But I didn't really come in here to buy a coat, I only came in to browse, so I take off the coat and hang it back up.

I call her name and she looks up. When she recognizes me she has a warm smile that stretches to her eyes. There's an awkward moment after she makes a move to hug me and I don't catch her body language in time. Ever gracious, she starts the conversation with asking about my summer. I skirt around reality and make small talk.

I ask about her kids. As she tells me about their lives I remember a promise I'd made to myself several years ago. A promise of what I'd tell her, this long ago neighbour of mine, if I ever saw her again.

It seems like a lifetime ago that Only Daughter babysat for her when she had one child and one on the way. It was a lifetime ago as her kids - three in total - are all teenagers now. She was a busy career woman with a world view vastly different than my own back then. Or at least held opinions that I didn't share.

We were neighbours during a lengthy time (my whole parenting journey - to be exact) when I failed to see my children as separate from me. I was so sure that my way was the only way to view the world and that they would follow along behind me like ducks in a row. I really couldn't conceive of anything else nor did I give them room to. No wonder I felt threatened by her. No wonder my kids eventually pushed back in ways that stunned me. They had to. For their own survival. Thank God they did.

The memory flits through my mind and I steady myself with a hand on the clothes rack. What I'm going to tell her is no longer hard for me to admit although it was a  painful birthing process to get here. I don't know who needs to hear it most. Me. Or her. I just know I need to say it out loud.

"Thank you for what you did to affirm my daughter in who she was as a person. That it was possible for her to have hopes and dreams of her own, separate from me. That she didn't have to feel guilty for that. I couldn't appreciate it back then. I didn't know how. But now I realize the gift you gave her. Thank you."

What I don't say is that I imagine that lone conversation we had one night as the three of us - me, my daughter and her - stood on her front step, was most likely a lifeline for my daughter. Or maybe it was for me. One of those moments when someone says something and a little crack appears in long held, rigidly gripped beliefs and something shifts inside and there's no going back. Her words haunted me for years. Initially I felt so angry. Like she was polluting my daughter and our relationship. It made me tighten my parenting grip.

She looks a little startled at my words. But we talk then. Really talk. When it's time to go she thanks me for calling her name. Before we turn to go our separate ways I reach towards her and we embrace.


Unknown said...

How precious that you realized the gift she gave you and your daughter so that you could give a gift to her. So cool.

Jess Mistress of Mischief said...

That is an awesome awesome story! Thank you for sharing it!

Jim said...

Great story, Hope. You always have a good read for me when I pass this way....