Our family was busy in October. I suppose most families are with the school year being well underway and sports and whatnot but for us October was crazy, still is.
October is breast cancer awareness month and so my parents were always giving speeches, being interviewed and hosting charity events.
As a family we did walks for bc awareness in Boston, New York and Los Angeles. More cities were added according to the year. Neither of my parents would tour during October. If my father had a movie scheduled he would make it known up front that shooting around him would be essential. He would do no press if the movie release was scheduled for October unless he could speak about breast cancer awareness in the press junket. It was a deal breaker for him.
I liked the walks and events. It was fun to talk to other kids who understood the long absences of a parent, the fun and not so fun aspects of family time in the hospital.
It opened my eyes even wider to how different out experience was as well. Most of the others did not have Moms in private rooms. They weren't allowed to have sleepovers or pizza delivery.
Many were shuttled off to live with family or friends and resented either leaving or coming home. Sometimes both.
There was a lot of fear of losing their mother. I didn't relate as strongly to that. We never felt the awful, this could be the last goodbye feeling so many described. We never lost hope, in fact I don't recall ever requiring hope. Mom was in and out of hospitals like other parents went to work. It just was something she did. We didn't worry about it. We never considered she might not return.
At least, I didn't. Not until I met Tookie. She was from New Orleans and we were born two days apart. She had bright blue eyes and lush blond hair that was in messy pigtails the day we met.
Like me, she took her mother's survival for granted. We met at a walk and became fast friends, staying in touch via email mostly.
For two years we talked about kid things. She found the traveling my family did interesting but wasn't awed by the celebrity aspect, or if she was I never saw it.
Mom was touring with some group (they all blend together eventually) one summer and when we did the New Orleans stop we invited her family to the show. She got to come play on the bus with me and we had dinner at her parents house. It was fantastic.
After that her parents allowed her to visit for a week each summer when we weren't on location.
Tookie was my best friend outside of school, but we never spoke on the phone. It was always texting and email.
When I was 14 we were in Philadelphia for the holidays and my phone rang at dinner. Mom had a strict no phones at the table policy so I went to send it to voicemail when I saw it was Tookie. My parents knew she never called so I was allowed to answer.
Her mother had been feeling a little under the weather, nothing extraordinary, but she had gone to the doctor and three hours later she was dead.
I was the only person Tookie called. The service would be held two days before Christmas.
I looked at my parents, tears streaming down my face and announced that I would be going. It wasn't a question.
They decided to come with me. The other kids would stay with my aunt and uncle.
I didn't stay at the hotel with my parents. Tookie and I shared her pretty canopie bed, we held hands and cried and talked until we fell asleep. In the morning we dressed together, I did her hair in a French braid and rode with her and her father to the funeral. I stared to sit with my parents but Tookie either would not or could not let go of my hand.
At the gravesite my parents stood behind us. My father tried to hide his tears but mom and I knew they were as much for our family as for Tookie's.
At night, after everything was done was the worst time. No one knew what to say, or what came next. My mother offered help with anything Tookie's dad needed. He didn't know what he'd need, he just needed to mourn. My father offered to take Tookie with us for awhile, giving her father some time alone to experience his feelings without having to be strong for his daughter. He took a night to think about it. On one hand he didn't want to be alone, and he didn't want her to feel as if she were being ignored, pushed away. In the end though, after talking it through with Tookie and my father it was decided she would come to stay with us for a few weeks.
We spent Christmas with her father and left the next day. It was a time of heavy hearts and while my parents made sure to call my brother and check that he was having a good birthday it was clear I would not have any interest in gifts or cake. Tookie felt bad about the birthday situation but I told her again and again, one birthday was nothing, it was having a friend that meant everything.
It was rocky, having Tookie at home. I loved her being there but neither of us felt like doing our usual things. It felt wrong to enjoy even a moment. Mom seemed to know Tookie would need someone to comfort her, but also was careful to not overstep, to not take on the mother role that was so recently vacated. She included Tookie in everything, including chores.
I also felt a strong need to attach myself to my mother. Knowing it could be the smallest thing that took her from me was devastating. Finding time to spend with her alone was difficult. First, we had a house full of kids, all of them (well, all but one) younger than me and in need of her attention. Second it felt self indulgent to cling to my mother when Tookie didn't have one. I was careful not to make her feel left out of anything.
The second week she was there I had a nightmare, I dreamt it was my mother who passed. We were all dressed in black, Uncle Chris gave the eulogy because Dad would not stop crying. It was hideous. When I woke up I went to my parents room and found Dad alone in bed. My heart stopped. Could it be true? Could the loss of Tookie's mom been the dream and my own mother really be gone?
I couldn't stop crying as I ran down the stairs. Mom was in the kitchen with Hailey who had caught a cold in Philly. She was sucking on a popsicle, one of the special ones for kids that are dehydrated. They tasted like puke to me but what did kids know? The sight of mom stopped me in my tracks. Relief flooded through me. Mom didn't even ask. She let me sit with them until Hailey was through and back to bed, then she asked me if I wanted to go outside.
It was only one in the morning, which in our house was like 9pm in a normal house. We were night people. She lit a fire in our pit and we put our feet up.
"How are you?"
"I kinda wish Tookie would go home. I know it's awful, I'm horrible, but she just reminds me." I didn't want to finish the sentence.
"I know, honey, I wish I could tell you it's all going to be fine but we both know that's not realistic. What I can tell you is that people die, whether they have cancer or get into a car accident or get eaten by a bear, there's no one above it. Spending your life worrying about dying is a waste. You can't stop it, you just have to spend your time, and the time you get to spend with the people important to you the best it can be all of the time. That's it."
"Were you scared you were going to die?"
"I was, but it wasn't so much afraid of dying as it was that I didn't want to miss out on time with you guys and your father. Your dad and I weren't together very long when I got sick. It felt like I was finally getting a life I never thought I'd have and I was going to lose it before it started."
"Why did you think you weren't going to have a family?"
Mom took a minute, looking out at the moonlight on the water. "I didn't know your dad was out there."
"But there must have been other guys. Didn't you date?"
"Some. The older I got though the more I worked and working constantly doesn't give you much time for relationships."
"Then how did it work with Dad?"
"Kismet? I got sick and couldn't work so much, but I think we would have made it work no matter what."
"What made him different?" It felt weird to ask. I knew that my father was exceptional, but I wanted to know why my mother thought so.
"He was, comfortable. You know how when we're in a hotel for a long time and the beds are really comfy and everything you want can be brought right to your room? It's easy, and it's fun for awhile but when you come home it's so much better, even if that means a little more work. You have to make your own bed, cook your own meals, but you belong there. It's yours, steady and waiting. It was like that right away with your dad. When I'm with him I'm where I belong."
A few weeks later my friend went home. The emails slowed down until there were none. I think she felt like we didn't share the same worries or experiences anymore.
When I was 17 I got a call from Tookie's dad. She had run away and he wanted to know if I had a any idea where she might be. I didn't.
Mom hired a private investigator who found Tookie two months later. She was in Los Angeles, so close, yet living a life I would never have imagined for her.
He gave us the address where we could find her. Mom and I got in the car and drove into a part of L.A. I had never seen. I had heard the term "skid row" but thought it was a quaint concept of happy drunks from a 50's Broadway production.
The reality was stomach churning. The street was littered with cardboard boxes and makeshift tents. The stench of urine far more overwhelming than any New York subway.
Men and women slept everywhere, the ones who were awake had disturbingly glassy eyes.
It took three passes before we say Tookie. Naive as I was I ran to her, excited to be rescuing her from this obvious mistake. From the distance it was my Tookie, blond pigtails and sweet dress, the closer I got the more the image distorted.
She shared the vacant stare and slightly slack jaw of those around her. Her entire body stiffened as I hugged her.
I won't share the conversation we had but suffice it to say losing her mother started Tookie on a path of self destruction that began with drinking, moved through drugs and at that point had brought her to prostitution.
She would not come home with us no matter how hard I begged. Her parting words were, "Take your Queen and go back to your castle, Princess"
I knew her real anger was at the loss of her mother but I wondered if I'd somehow shown off with all that we had. I was old enough by then to understand the differences in our socioeconomic back grounds.
"Tonks you're one of the most grounded kids I know, and if you weren't Daddy and I would have kicked your ass. You were good to Tookie, she's lashing out blindly."
"Let's be real mom, you'd kick my ass, Daddy would give me a half serious look then a hug."
Dad wasn't ready to let Tookie go that easily. He took it upon himself to drive downtown alone, late at night and find her.
She got in the car and tried to give him a blow job.
That's the story of how my father, the world's most dedicated father and husband ended up on TMZ getting arrested for picking up a teenage prostitute.