I was 15 years old and in my freshman year at Ursuline Academy. My home room teacher was Sr. Ursula. She also happened to be my Latin teacher. I loved her.
But I did not love Latin.
Sr. Ursula took attendance on one cold and dreary December morning. When I uncharacteristically mumbled a quietly “here,” she looked up at me, paused and walked to my desk. She took me in her arms and after a few moments she asked,
“Mistress Mary, what troubles you so?”
I fell apart.
Nana had suffered a stroke the evening before.
Nana was on life support. My mother and her siblings and spouses gathered around her hospital bed. My brother and I were the oldest of her seven grandchildren and the only grandchildren present.
My mother spoke to Nana as if she were conscious. Mom encouraged my brother and me to do the same.
I did as told. I prattled to Nana about my cheerleading practice that I’d had earlier that day. I told her I did well on my math test. I couldn’t think of anything else to say as she laid peacefully with the ventilator doing its job.
I shifted from one foot to the other. My brother and I continued to catch eyes. We knew it did not look good.
Nana passed away the next day.
My Nana was a kind and special lady. She touched many lives. It was not surprising to see such an outpouring of people gather to offer their condolences at her wake.
It was disarmingly surprising to look up and see my three cousins standing in that funeral parlor clutching their mother, my Aunt Betty.
“Surprising” is the understatement of the century.
I am referring to The Aunt Betty. The Aunt Betty who called my grandfather out on sexually abusing my cousins. The one who ensured that her children would never, ever have to see that monster again.
There in the parlor stood an incredibly brave woman embracing her three beautiful daughters as if she were their coat of armor.
The moment the family noticed her, the energy in that room filled with disdain. In their eyes, she was repugnant. The divorce of my uncle and her was atrocious. But that wasn’t the real reason they loathed her.
She was the one who exposed our grandfather for sexually abusing two of her daughters.
The girls looked horrified, frightened and as if they were trying to melt into their mother. Aunt Betty held them tightly. Very tightly. So much so that the four of them looked like one.
My eldest cousin, with eyes, averted to the floor, buried herself into my aunt’s left arm. My youngest cousin, only waist-high to her, buried her face into her mother’s hip.
Then, there was Laura. Laura leaned into her mother’s embrace with her left leg planted on the floor, and her right crossed behind it.
At that moment, Laura and I locked eyes.
She smirked. Not a mischievous smirk, Not a disingenuous smirk or glib smirk.
It was the same smirk that both of us wore in our school photos that were taken around the time we were being abused by Grandpa.
It was a knowing smirk.
Those moments were profoundly impactful. She and I connected on a very intense level. I will never, ever forget it.
There stood a very brave woman. She dauntlessly brought her girls to say goodbye to their Nana, whom they loved. That took such strength in a room filled with such disdain.
But she did it.
Just as she had the courage to stand up for her daughters.
She had guts. She had gumption. She had MOXIE.
That was the last time I saw Laura. We never spoke the words of our abuse to one another.
But that look, that eye lock, said it all.
And 35 years later we have made up for time. We face it. We talk about it. We compare notes and share similar stories of how our lives have played out.
We continue to heal together.
That was the connection that my cousin Laura and I always had growing up together. We understood each other. We knew each other. And sadly, tragically, even, we lost many years.
Reuniting with her has been a blessing. It has been easy. And you know what? Our reunion feels like slipping into my favorite and most loved slippers.