My stepfather had a daughter, who I inherited with the marriage. Stepfamilies usually work this way--buy a parent, get a kid free. When our parents were first dating, Chris would come every other weekend to visit her dad. In preparation for our Looming Future Together, we four would get together, a sort of test drive for a What If family.
The first time Chris was to come to meet us, I wore one of my fancy dresses, and for my cooperation in not throwing mud from my brother’s window over the garage onto the hood of their car when it arrived, my mother let me wear her navy blue, patent leather, zip-up boots, circa 1975.
Thrust into a dating situation with my mom, I was ill-equipped to meet another ten-year-old, especially one who was tall, blonde, and pretty. With a high sense of duty, I did my best. Or, as my Slavic Catholic relatives would say, I decided to "Offer It Up" (eyes skyward).
On our first family date, they took us to the museum, and we’d only made it out of the parking lot when the three-inch heel of my mother’s boots, the ones I had talked her into letting me wear, fell off.
I was going to try to hide the fact, scooping up the heel and catching up with the three of them, but it was hard to blend in with my new walking disability.
I hobbled through the “American Indian” exhibit, one foot normal and one on tip-toe, amazed by how much the Indian men resembled the men of the Pre-Historic Era exhibit just down the hall.
“I’ll be okay,” I said, when Chris asked if I wanted to go sit down or something; she was nice enough to carry my heel.
Afterward we went for ice-cream, and somewhere along the way home, the heel got lost and it was no big deal because we were all laughing about the faulty boot and my mom said that’s fine, she was ready to get rid of those old boots anyway.
That night, I felt as if I had passed an audition—-my mom’s boyfriend’s kid liked me. I found out Chris was born 11 days after me. What that meant, in the long run, is that we both got the same presents on our birthdays – yellow Schwinn ten-speeds at 12 – but that our periods came at different times.
After they were married, Chris started staying over night -- she slept in my brother’s old room, so we strung two disposable plastic cups together with enough string to reach across the hallway and talked to each other until 2 in the morning, making fun of everything we could think of. After a while, the “the folks” (“your mom and my dad” or “my mom and your dad”) told us to go to sleep please and thank you.
I waited for every other weekend to come so that I didn’t have to be the lone kid amidst courting adults. In Chris, I had an ally. I was no longer outnumbered. It was a fair fight, two against two.
She told me, she wanted my mom to die first so that her parents could get back together. I told her I wanted her father to die first so my mom and I could get back together. In the mean time, we decided to make the best of it. An allegiance between the powerless. A forced friendship of the highest order.
This is when my shoplifting began in earnest.