Suzie Mathers’ mother had too much make up and not enough buttons but when she scooped up Suzie in a hug I didn’t see the cleavage and slap, all I saw was a loving mother and child. I certainly never noticed her trashy dark roots, her stripper nails or, depending on the skirt she was wearing, I didn’t notice anything else. All I saw was a mother who loved her daughter very much. I didn’t have a mother.
One time Suzie’s mother caught me looking at her with such adoration that, right after letting go of Suzie, she embarrassed me by giving me a big hug. I was so ashamed that I hugged her back ever so tightly from sheer mortification. Suzie was my best friend back then, before the juice incident ruined things.
When daddy lifted me from school I never saw a look of joy like Suzie's mother had. I always had to be the one that took his hand, or grabbed his leg. I couldn’t even look him in the face as his people covered our retreat back into the cavernous car.
Graham Luce’s family were dirt poor and sent him to school in patched trousers and scuffed shoes. He was forever telling dirty jokes but I never understood them, and I’m sure everyone else who was laughing didn’t understand them either. Graham smelt a little like sour milk and a lot like an ashtray but sometimes his whole family turned up to fetch him after school. Even when they were hiding behind signs or crouched in bushes, you could still smell them before you saw them. When they surprised little Graham, falling on him like a zombie mob, hugging and kissing him to death, I would have given anything to smell a little sour, a little bitter, just like Graham.
Daddy didn’t hide or joke, he didn’t crease his face with any smile I ever saw, he didn’t so much as bend a knee to greet me. Then he started to work with Bernie and everything changed. Bernie was the love of my life back then and to this day I still put flowers on his grave every year. I don’t care what the new people say.
It didn’t happen at once but after a couple of days with my dad, Bernie would give him subtle signals. A verbal cue, a slight tug on his arm. Something to let him know he should greet me like a real father and not like a shop front mannequin. Daddy wasn’t a bad man, he just never knew to show me he cared. Not until Bernie.
The first time I left school and saw my father smile it almost broke my heart from a rush of joy. He hunkered down and threw his arms wide so I could grab his neck and hang from him as he stood and spun me about. We both laughed and one of us cried a little.
For his part, Bernie never showed me the slightest affection. He was my daddy’s man and totally dedicated to him. He did lick me on the face once, but that was the only time. Guide dogs are such professionals.