The world was ending. Actually, it wasn’t, but that’s how it felt at the time. Looking back on it, I can see how stupid it was to feel that way, because I’ve come a lot closer to a literal “end of the world” since then. But when you’re just a teenager and you’ve spent your entire life in one place, and your parents decide to uproot you and move to the other end of the country with only a few weeks notice, it really feels like the end of the world. If anything, I think I handled the real thing a lot better than I handled the news that we were moving.
“I’m not moving to a whole new school! I’ll be eaten alive!”
“They’re human beings, not ravening wolves, Stella,” said Dad. “You will adjust.”
“Adjust! It took me over a decade to ‘adjust’ here! Do you remember my first day at kindergarten? They said I looked like a Weeble! They kept trying to push me over in the playground to see if I would fall down!”
“But now you know Kung Fu,” Dad pointed out.
“Besides, we aren’t sending you back to kindergarten,” my mother said. “Although you’re certainly acting like a five year old.”
“I have a right to be ANGRY when you just pluck me out of school in the middle of the school year with VIRTUALLY NO WARNING.”
“This could end up being a good thing, Stella. When you move to a new place, you get to start out fresh! You can start a whole new look, a whole new attitude!” said my mother.
“What’s wrong with my FUCKING ATTITUDE?”
“Do you want the short list or the unexpurgated version?” snapped Dad.
“Listen,” I said with folded arms, “I don’t care if they offered you a golden fucking Cadillac and a mansion on a hill. I’m NOT going. I’m not starting over. I’m not going through ALL OF THAT AGAIN. You were there! Don’t pretend I’ve had it easy! And now, when I’m FINALLY starting to fit in…”
My mother started to cry. My father just pointed up the stairs. I stomped up to my room and slammed my door. Feeling unsatisfied, I slammed it several more times. For some reason that didn’t magically convince my parents to reverse their carefully thought out decision.
I sat on my bed and hyperventilated with anger and fear. School had been a nightmare for so many years, but lately, I felt like I finaly had it under control. I took martial arts classes and no one pushed me around any more. People started to tolerate me in class projects, because I actually understood the material. They started wanting me on their team in gym, because I could blast a volleyball across the room.
Most kids still didn’t like me, and I didn’t like them, but they left me alone. I even had friends now. Only two, but how many does a person really need, anyway?
Now my parents wanted me to start all over. Friendless again, fresh fodder for bullies, back to having to be paired up with the teacher because no one wanted to partner with me, back to being the only person not invited to so-and-so’s birthday. I couldn’t do it all over again. I just couldn’t.
There was a knock at my door.
“Go away! I’m busy trying to figure out how to become an emancipated minor!”
“Let me in, Stella.” Dad’s voice had an uncharacteristically ominous tone.
I dragged my feet to the door and yanked it open.
“I don’t want to talk about it any more, Dad.”
“Good,” he said sharply, “Maybe that means that you’ll listen.” He sat on my bed and studied me seriously for a moment. Dad doesn’t look like himself when he’s not smiling. I found it unnerving.
“Your mother getting this job… it’s a really big deal.”
“I know,” I said.
“It’s her dream job, and it’s a big raise from what she’s making now.”
“You can go to high school anywhere. I can be an accountant anywhere. But your mother has a lot of talent which is going to waste where she is. It’s a near miracle that she got chosen over the competition in Vancouver but she did because she is THAT good.”
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I know.”
“So, we are picking up our lives and dragging them over the Rocky Mountains, because if we didn’t, your mother would probably regret it forever. You may have trouble settling in, but the world will not end. Even if it’s terrible, you’ll be graduating and going to university in a couple of years anyway.” Dad clapped his hands together. “So. You have two options. You can stomp and swear and make our lives miserable, and still end up in Vancouver. Or you can put on your big girl pants and spare your mother’s feelings a little.”
“Dad. I’m a size 18. All my pants are big girl pants.”
“I am speaking figuratively and YOU KNOW IT. Look. We can drag you there kicking and screaming, or you can feign a little bit of grace and keep your mouth shut. It’s your choice. But either way, we’re going.”
We were quiet for a long time while I stared at the wall. Then I nodded.
“That’s my girl. Now, go and apologize to your mother. For some reason she’s crying on MY pillow, and if you don’t stop her, it’s going to be a damp night for me.”
I did, and then I started keeping my mouth shut. I kept my mouth shut when they put our home up for sale. I kept my mouth shut when my parents told me to cull half of my possessions and sell them on Kijiji or donate them to the Diabetes Association. I even kept my mouth shut when they assured me that I would do fine in a new school, which was optimistic to the point of sheer idiocy.
My parents tackled our move to Vancouver with the indecent enthusiasm that they brought to most of their endeavours. They researched the hell out of the city and planned everything in excruciating detail. But I couldn’t share in their excitement. All I could do was suppress my hatred of the whole affair, and I did that by keeping my mouth shut.
Usually our house was full of playful banter and lively debate, but now our family dynamic took on the solemn atmosphere of a viewing at a funeral parlour. It really started to bother them. Dad spent the interminably long plane ride to Vancouver trying to get me to talk.
“Stella, where do you think the white goes when the snow melts?”
“I’m thinking of boycotting shampoo. I think we should demand the real poo.”
“I’ve decided that I want to become a professional male escort with my own reality show, but I’ll need you both to change your names to Darlene.”
On the layover at Edmonton Airport, Dad smacked his thighs irritably. “Stella, I appreciate that you’re trying not to make our lives miserable, and I love you for it, I do, but this sullen silence is not actually any better. Can’t you find some middle ground?”
“Nope.” I turned the page of my book.
“Something. Anything. You’re freaking us out.”
“Look,” I said. “You say ‘move’ and I move. I can try not to piss and moan out loud, but if you want me to smile and act thrilled to be moving to the Yoga Pants capital of Canada, you’re asking too much. There’s a fine line between accepting your fate with dignity and being a fucking Pollyanna, and that line is a fake smile.”
“Then piss and moan,” said my mother suddenly.
“I mean that I would rather you gripe at us than sit there all mute and sulky. It feels weird. We’re just not used to it. We’re used to you complaining.”
“Thanks, Mom… That makes me feel so beloved.”
“Look, we’re not asking you to be someone you’re not. We’re just asking that you try not to be mean in your misery. And this stubborn muteness is not actually all that less mean. It makes us feel guilty. So go ahead and complain so that we can argue with you a bit and feel a little more righteous and a little less like murderers.”
“Fine. I’ll try to complain. As a favour to you.”
“That’s my girl.”
“But my life is still over,” I said.
“I’m sure it is, honey, I’m sure it is,” Dad said cheerfully, reopening his book. “As long as you’re unhappy about it.”