My first semester was flying by. I was a dedicated little sister at the frat and never missed a party. I understood that I had classes, but I often chose to skip them. I also learned that I could fake symptoms so well that the university health center would even skip testing me and simply diagnose me with Mono. That note got me out of class, “legitimately”, for at least a week.
The holidays began to loom and my dad decided our family of now four, plus my brother-in-law, would head to the magical city of Orlando for the week before Christmas. It would be a good distraction from missing my mom and by now, I was becoming an expert at distractions.
One of my dad’s friends offered up their condo for us to stay in and we boarded a plane and headed to fun in the sun. My sister was seven months pregnant at the time and had really been through a lot of stress with her pregnancy. Her doctor told her she absolutely could go but must rest and use a wheelchair when possible.
We spent our days pushing her around Sea World, the Magic Kingdom, and Epcot. A favorite memory was when her husband was pushing her and one of the wheels got stuck in a trolley track on Main Street at The Magic Kingdom.
A trolley could be spotted in the far distance, and she started to panic, encouraging her husband to get her unstuck and off the tracks. My brother and I started laughing and shouting at her to simply stand up so that he could lift the chair and move it to safety.
There was just something so silly about that moment that really had us laughing and laughing. It felt like a great release to be together, distracted, having an actual good time.
While on that trip, we also got to visit my dad’s Aunt Jo and Uncle Ed. Aunt Jo was my grandma’s sister. They didn’t have any children of their own so they were bonus grandparents to us. We didn’t get to see them often but when we did, it was always very special.
This trip showed me how important time with family was and I was grateful for yet another distraction to keep me from the sadness that continued to grow within me. I really, really missed my mom. I could literally feel it weighing on my heart.
Our family arrived home just a few days before Christmas. We always spent Christmas Eve with my mom’s side of the family so on the 24th, we headed to my aunt and uncle’s house. Our family relationship was unique here because my dad’s sister married my mom’s brother. They had two kids and we consider them our double cousins. We share the same four grandparents and grew up really close to each other and were sometimes more like siblings than cousins.
Christmas Day was always spent with my dad’s side of the family so on the 25th, we headed to my other aunt and uncle’s house. All nine of my cousins, plus spouses and dates, were there. I smiled my way through it all. My sadness was there, but it wasn’t talked about. We were all putting on a happy face and giving it our best. I don’t know what ‘it’ actually was, but I did genuinely appreciate my extended family.
As my semester break wound down, I started searching out the mail each day before my dad could get to it. My grades would be coming soon and I knew there was no possible way I could have done well. Panic started to set in.
Luckily, I got to them first. It was bad. The worst grades I had ever gotten, a 1.87 /4.0. A letter was included telling me that I was on academic probation with the university. I had one semester to bring up my grades, or I wouldn’t be invited back.
I did what any terrified teen would do: I hid them from my dad.