We all sat down together for dinner, for what seemed like the first time in forever.
It was different this time than last though. Brody is now in grade 12, Abbey seems to grow a foot and some each day, as does her ever-flowing curly locks. Me, well, I’m older too than before. Perhaps a tad wiser, and mature. Though some would argue. But… I’ve, well, we all have been through a lot the last ten years, and we’ve certainly each changed since we saw you last. No one has really stayed much the same. Mom, well, she seems happy, finally. It’s been a long, trying time. But she’s smiling more, and laughing. Maybe it’s because I’m fully moved out, and on now. Last time we spoke I was just testing the waters of being away from home.
But you… you look exactly the same as I remember. Have not changed, not aged, not grown in the nearly nine years as the rest of us have. You look young, hair still dark, long, and thick as ever. You look like the only thing you know is to laugh, smile, and be happy. You’re refreshing. You speak only in jokes, straight laced jokes, or hidden sarcasm. The Courchene Sarcasm. I sit beside you to the right at the table in this Boston Pizza and I cling to every word, and every smile you let loose. I’m not sure if this is real or not, but it looks real, and it feels right.
I see Brody, perched up in his seat, listening in as if he were a sponge, absorbing everything about you. He hasn’t seen you since he was about eight, or nine years old. His memories are likely distant, and vague just because he was so young. He’s grown so much now, and I think he’s ever so curious about you and as mom told me recently, trying to connect with you on more of an adult level now that he’s grown out of his kid shoes. So I watch him sit across the table, study every move you make, and every word you speak, and just soak this all in.
Mom sits to the right of me, diagonally right of you. She’s just completely overcome with joy, and happiness. Almost so much so she’s unable to speak. She just giggles, laughs, and shakes her head in disbelief at some of the facetious dinner conversation, or perhaps in disbelief that this is really happening. Either way, she’s often bursting out with laughter.
Abbey sits to your left, in between you and Grandpa. She can’t sit still, bouncing all over the place. Similar to Brodys memories with you, Abbey’s too are likely distant, if at all existent. Last time you saw here, she was still a baby. It’s amazing how much she’s grown. Perhaps she has an idea of what you’re like through pictures, books, conversations we’ve had over the years. Perhaps not. I never really asked, though I always wondered. Nonetheless. It doesn’t matter to her, it doesn’t hinder her youthful exuberance from lighting up the restaurant, though perhaps a tad wacky. She tries to compare how long her hair is with you by leaning to the right and putting her head up against yours, this soon becomes a game, and everyone leans there head into the next person. I’m not sure why, likely just to irritate one another, but all in good humor. Something we always do, and still tried to do while you were away. Though you were the master of clever, sharp and witty retorts. We all start leaning right. Then, just to be difficult I go the other way and lean left. I put my head against yours, and the creator of the game is none too thrilled. Abbey yelps “heeeyyyyy” but laughs hysterically, she begins swinging at me like some kind of a kitten playing with yarn. She’s had enough of me screwing up this assembly line, and game of hers all together. So she leaps across your lap almost as if she’s free falling from the sky. Payback received. I get a mouthful of Abbey’s hair. Great. Yuck.
Meanwhile, while all of this madness ensues Grandma, and Grandpa sit across the square oak table that stretches across about six feet in the bright corner of this BPs. Grandpa with his glasses, gold watch, his always white khakis, and a blue golf shirt… You know the exact outfit. He sits unsteady, almost like Abbey, but he’s dancing, bee-bopping around diagonally left of you. Grandma sits tight next to him wearing a bright sweater colored with green, blue, grey and white stripes. She’s changed her hair style a bit since you’ve seen her last – it’s a bit longer, and lighter. She looks amazing. She sips on her coffee, tries to get us to keep the noise down so the attention of the other restaurant patrons is directed elsewhere. Almost as if she knew we needed to keep discreet, and hidden to make this last a little longer.
Just as Abbey gets half settled after leaping across your lap, a few people walk past our table to the washroom. Suddenly, one boy stops and turns around towards us, he seems frozen in amazement, or disbelief. I am unsure.
“Jen… Is that you? You’re back! Oh my God, How are you, I missed you so much!”
You simply nod, smile and get up to give this young man a hug. Though you remain happy, you seem a bit defeated that someone else has realized you’re back. As if you knew something else too, just like Grandma.
I remember this guy from your party when I was a kid. He was really nice to me. He looks exactly the same. In fact, I think he’s wearing the same hairstyle, and outfit he did that night sixteen plus years ago. He stands to chat with you a bit, evidently he has no idea who I am. I don’t blame him, or get upset… I am no longer ten years old and probably a bit unrecognizable since he saw me last. Minutes pass by, and a girl walks by our table only to stop and do the exact same thing. This one has dark reddish-purple hair in a ponytail. I was always fascinated with your friends. You guys were older, and cooler that I was. I remember being the annoying little brother at one of your parties when I was about nine, or ten. Oddly enough, I still remember that party like it was yesterday. The people, what they looked like, who they were. Like Brody now, I was a sponge. I admired you, and your friends, so I studied everything hoping to one day be like you guys. As this ponytail girl in her leather jacket began to share similar sentiments as as the boy did, I sit there like a giddy nine year old again, and you make fun of me. I am delighted. You exchange conversation with this girl who too looks exactly as she did years ago as I remember when I was a kid – she too has somehow not aged whatsoever. You tell her you’re happy, and you’re doing well. She hugs you one last time, and carries on.
Grandma talks about how much she liked that girl, and always wondered what she’d been up too over these years. I quietly nod in agreement. I think she was my favorite friend of yours when I was a kid. You knew that, and liked to tease me about it. Brody stared in amazement as if he began to understand where I was coming from. A few more minutes pass until a different girl comes by. This one is taller, wearing a black jacket, jeans and a hat over her blonde hair. She’s just got tears welling in her eyes, and says
“I heard you were here”
You turn around, see her, and nearly jump to the roof in excitement. That laugh… there it is. The laugh I pray every day I could hear just one more time. I hear it. As loud, and clear as ever. You guys squeeze one another into seemingly the hardest, and longest hug ever. She sits down with us begins talking to everyone asking how they have been. You ask her how she knew you were back. She chuckled, said
“Jen… everyone knows. They are so happy you’re back, we love you, and we missed you so much.”
Mom turns to Jen, and sternly jumps in
“See, Roo, I told you, you have so many people, they love you. Everyone does. You are loved”
I nod in agreement and stare at you as if this is the last time I’d ever get to see your smile. I can feel Brody glued to you as well. Abbey is confused as ever, surely wondering who these people are that keep coming by. The energy at the table has changed, it’s intense. Abbey despite her confusion carries on, almost as if she too is beginning to take this all in, and absorbing what she can about you. She’s confused, but she’s intently and sharply listening to every sound, and word. As this girl tells you everyone knows you are here, you again respond in only subtle sarcasm, or blatant facetiousness
“oh just great!”
Almost as if this is overwhelming for you to see all of these people suddenly. Almost as if you didn’t believe this many people cared, or loved you. This girl laughs, and says
“oh Jen… there’s so many more. There’s lots.”
Suddenly, I hear a bunch of cheering, and noise coming from outside. I turn around to look outside the window see what the commotion is. I’m in awe, but not surprised. I turn back around to face our table, and mumble to my mom…
There is a line of people that is seemingly miles long. Thousands. Millions. Chanting, cheering. The line is filed almost perfectly with a slight right bend towards the end of my visibility – there are more people, they are just lined up beyond the naked eye.
The tall blonde girl dressed in the black jacket, and jeans puts her hand on your shoulder, as if to say “I told you so” We all slowly rise from our seats at the table, and begin to turn towards the crowd. There is this thin red carpet at our feet that trails back to the entrance about fifteen feet behind us to the right. Weird, I don’t remember that carpet being there before, and ironically all the other guests in the restaurant have finished, and are gone. The restaurant was bright before, but as we look through the large square gold window frame towards the people, the light intensifies significantly. So much so, Abbey puts her hand along her eyebrows to shield herself from the beaming and glowing white light.
This girl, just stretches her hand out in the direction of the crowd, and says
“Jen… “They love you, We all miss you, we all wanted to see you, everyone knows you’re back, and wants to say hi”
I turn over my shoulder to observe our table. Mom has broken down into tears, though, it seems like joyful tears as if she’s realizing maybe you really are back. Grandpa is being grandpa, giddy, and dancing though, never really take a step forward or backward in his still dance. Grandma is intense, so I study her a little longer. Her left arm reaches high across her stomach, while her right arm is extended above her left sipping her coffee. She notices me studying her, and just shakes her head the tiniest bit, and gives me this… unique sharp grin that my grandma gives. There’s your smile, and hers. My two favorites. As she grins my way, and appears to nod in approval yet disbelief, I start to cry. I look to the right of Grandma at Brody, and he appears to be unable to control his happiness. He is elated, with tears racing down his face. I’ve never seen him this happy, not since he was kid. He just says to me…
“Blair, I have a chance now. I was too young before, now she’s back. We can listen to music together, play piano, share nirvana albums, and books”
I just nod, and give him a wink in support, and mutual, shared elation. Lastly, I gaze in Abbey’s direction. She is standing straight as an arrow beside you. She’s hardly left your side. A big smile on her face, but she is in control. She has her hand grasped tightly into yours, and her head tilted just a bit looking straight up at you. She’s smiles hard, and I can almost see her and I sharing the same thought. …Finally, life is right. This is our family. Normal.
Moments later, the intense light begins to illuminate even more, and seems focused directly on you. You turn around to make eye contact with each of us, individually, though only for a second, it is intense and sharp. You smile the biggest, hardest smile each time your eyes shift from each one of us to the next. Either you nod, or give a subtle wink of your blue eyes. Lastly, you look my way, place your right hand on my head, and give me a “nougie” like motion with your hand on my hair. Now that you’ve completely messed up my hair… You shift to face all of us, and softly just say with confidence
“I love you guys, it’s ok, look at me. I’m good”
You take a step forward, finally your left hand and Abbeys let go. I begin to heavily sob, almost in sync with everyone else. As you’re about to take another step forward away from us, you stop for a second. Look down towards Abbey, put your hand directly on her head. She remains still. As still as I have ever seen her. You twirl her hair between your fingers gently. You then take a knee to lean in and lock your arms around her, and give her a big kiss. You slowly part some her hair behind her ear, and whisper,
“Abbey, my baby girl. I love you so much. I do. I watch you every day. You make me smile”
Abbey nods sharply, mutters something in response, though I can’t quite make out what she says. You get up slowly, keeping your hand on her head, as if you don’t want to let go. The people in the back outside, have not let up cheering for a single second. Finally, you glance back over your shoulder, to see the people, and the strong light. You kiss your hand and tap Abbey’s forehead. You turn back around towards the crowd, and take a step forward, on the thin red carpet. You’re only two steps away from us, but you seem almost gone again. Mom grabs my hand, and Brody’s and clasps together. Grandma wraps both of her arms around Brody, and pulls him in to her side. Grandpa is standing above Abbey with his hands on both her shoulders, he just smiles and says “It was good to see you, thank you, Roo” Abbey is waving both her hands in your direction vehemently. You take one more step, and pause.
One last time you look back at all of us, and reassuringly say
“Take care of each other, I love you all, It is OK, don’t cry.”
As you say “It’s Ok, don’t cry” Mom let’s go of our hands, almost in an uncanny time to symbolize it’s finally OK to just let go, and you can feel everyone taking a deep breath.
The tall, blonde girl in the black jacket and jeans with the hat steps back onto the carpet with you, and you both take a few steps forward toward the restaurant entrance. You stop, the girl puts her hand on your shoulder and calmly says to you
“Thanks for coming Jen… now you can go on ahead, it’s OK.”
You nod in agreement, give her a long hug. When you let go, you look our way once more, nod gently then turn back around to walk away into the cheering crowd.