Her name was Tammy, and she was about 12 when I met her.
We were in the same class at school and took to one another quickly at the beginning of the year. I didn’t know where she was from, but I did know that the family she was living with wasn’t her own.
She lived in a house across the field from where I lived. We would meet each other in the middle and walk into town (even though it meant backtracking for me). She knew so much more than I did, about people, about life. She came from the city, and I thought that’s why she seemed older than she was.
The family she was with, she only called by their first names. One of the mom’s brothers was an actor with a popular show on tv every week, and another was an NHL player. That made Tammy that much more important in my eyes. She knew famous people, after all.
She spent alot of time with my family. I’m not sure why. I mean, I liked spending time with her at our house, but she lived in a much bigger house, and there were lots of other kids there. Except, I don’t think I ever saw the inside of it.
She came on family outings, went away for the weekend with us, went to church with us, stayed for dinner and sleepovers. Sometimes she complained about the family she was with. I thought she should live with us. But she was well taken care of, there was no reason for her to move.
We would walk through town, chatting with high schoolers that I didn’t know on the main street, and then we would head to the park to sit in the fountain that never seemed to have water. We talked about anything and everything. That’s what kids did before screens took over.
I learned a lot about Tammy during those talks. Like that her mom (her real mom, not the mom she lived with) was different than any mom I had ever known. She invited men to her house often, and did things with them when Tammy was there. I didn’t know what those things were, I just knew that it didn’t sound like something a mom should be doing. Sometimes she hit Tammy too. And there were drugs. Any drug was just as bad as the next in my mind, and I wondered if maybe her mom needed someone to remind her how to Just Say No.
And her dad wasn’t around. At least, not as much as her mom. But Tammy really wanted to see her dad. She talked about him alot. She had siblings too, but she didn’t seem to know much about them. I couldn’t imagine not knowing about your siblings, but I thought it must be nice to not have them around to annoy you all the time.
One day Tammy told me that she would be going to court to see if she could live with her dad in Toronto. She said she might never see me again. I thought she was being dramatic. If there was anything she could be, it was dramatic. She could have been an actor, like the one on tv, the one she knew. But I don’t think she ever thought of the future that way.
But she wasn’t being dramatic after all. She was right.
I never saw her again.
One day, a few years later I was working at the little used clothing shop in town where I spent my Saturdays. It wasn’t much, but it made me some spending money. Tammy’s grandma came in to look around. Well, it wasn’t really her grandmother. She was mom to the mother of the family that Tammy had lived with. I thought of her as her grandma.
She asked me how I was, what I’d been doing these past few years. I told her that I hadn’t been doing much, just staying out of trouble.
She asked if I had heard from Tammy since she left. I hadn’t. Not a phone call, not a letter.
Grandma said, “I heard she’s working the streets now. And she has a little one.”.
She would have been 15.
It took me a few moments to process what that meant as I bagged up Grandma’s purchases.
I imagined myself in her place, and the picture in my head was surreal, almost cartoonish. I couldn’t wrap my head around the possibility that what Grandma said might be true.
What happened? Didn’t she want something better for herself?
Why didn’t she fight for something better?
But maybe she didn’t think she deserved something better. Maybe she thought she should be like her mom. Maybe she thought that was her lot in life, what she was destined to be.
I wish I could tell her that there’s so much more for her. I wish she knew how valuable she is, that she could see herself through different eyes.
Or maybe Grandma was wrong, maybe Tammy was with another family in suburbia somewhere, and she was studying for her mid-terms and giggling about boys with her friends between classes in high school. Maybe she was working on memorizing the lines for her part in the school musical, maybe even as the lead.
Maybe she was where she should have been.
But then again, what if Grandma was right?