Stephanie Tetreault is inherently sweet. When I speak with her, she holds eye contact the entire time, letting me know that I have her full attention. She has a warm smile, and exudes an innocence that is contradicted by her ability to keep up with any topic, no matter how abrasive or crude. She is sharp, maternalistic, and has an intelligent humour. Delightfully, she speaks with a thick Boston accent.
Stephanie was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, but grew up in Quincy. Her mother now lives in a neighbouring town. Her father died almost ten years to the date of our interview. She has two older brothers, Mark and Michael, close to her in age.
“So you’re the youngest?” I ask.
“Yes I am. Baby and the only girl.”
“Was that easy?”
“Actually, it was kind of not as easy, just because my brothers beat up on me a lot. They kind of treated me like the younger brother. Hence the tomboy. Well I guess I was more of a tomboy when I was little.”
Her mother is a tax collector for City Hall. I ask if she likes her job.
“She’s actually moving her job. She’s not going to be a tax collector anymore, ‘cause she doesn’t like the interaction with the customers, they kind of make fun of her. She’s moving into payroll, instead of taking their money. It’ll be more rewarding, I think. She gets more money for it, too.”
Stephanie explains why people make fun of her mother. “She’s physically weak because she was in a car accident when she was eighteen. She has paralysis. She was on the side of the road, and there was a bus, a public transportation bus, and they told her ‘It’s cool, go across the street’, so she went to cross the street, but somebody had come up, you know how people don’t like to wait behind busses, they like to go on the side. It was a pickup truck, and it hit her, and her friend. Apparently it was going fast because they flew like fifty feet, and she was in a coma for a month. She has permanent laryngitis, that’s what it sounds like. It paralyzed one of her vocal chords. When she talks it sounds like she’s whispering, which is why it was hard to deal with customer service, because they would make fun of her voice. It actually happened once when I was standing right there. I almost flipped out, like I almost started hitting the guy. She’s tough.”
Stephanie is very close with her brothers and her mother. Before entering medical school, she used to talk to them all the time. “They know it’s really tough, so they understand that I don’t call them all that often. When my dad died, we all got really close, just because it was hard, obviously. We all kind of leaned on each other.”
“So what happened with your dad?”
“He had cancer. Esophageal. What we’re learning about in class right now,” she snorts. “I was really young, when I found out. I was in my summer going into seventh grade. So I didn’t really understand it. I knew it wasn’t good, but I guess I wasn’t paying attention. He died the next year, before I left eighth grade.”
“How did your family respond to that?”
“My brothers were really angry, especially Mark. He’s still kind of angry about it. I think I was the one that everyone was worried about, because I didn’t go through the grieving process, and they were worried about me for that, because they didn’t think it was healthy. But I was trying to be strong, I guess, for my mom, for her sake. She was devastated. For her it was the hardest.”
“Do you think she’s recovered now?”
“I think so. She has a good, stable job now, this new one she’s going into, and all of her kids are all grown up. Her worst thing was just making sure we all made it through high school, college, and we all did that. That was her goal.”
Stephanie’s relationship with her brothers changed after the death of her father.
“Me and Michael used to fight a lot because we had clashing tempers. I don’t know, I didn’t have too much of a temper, but I would get angry at him when he was just in a mood. We used to scream at each other, and I’ve never screamed at him since my dad died. We’ve been pretty close since then. We’ll talk about pretty much anything. Mark’s kind of like…I mean I don’t want to say he’s like a second dad, but he does everything for me. I appreciate him as though he were a second dad. I know I could go to either of them for anything. They were always very protective of me.”
“In what way?”
“Boys, basically,” she laughs. “In general, if they saw me with guys, they would be tough, like ‘Stay away from my sister’. In particular with one guy that I dated in middle school. This was in eighth grade, after the fact. And they didn’t like him. I don’t know why they didn’t like him, but he wasn’t the best guy. I was in a stage. They didn’t like him, and I think they let him know about it, so we didn’t last very long.”
“They took him aside and talked to him?”
“I never found out,” she smiled.
I ask her what her father was like when he was alive.
“He was very relaxed. The only thing that bothered him was he had really bad road rage. He was a country boy. He was born in Maine, and his family’s from Canada. When he was a teenager they moved to Massachusetts, but he lived in the woodsy part of Massachusetts, so he liked camping, hunting, stuff like that. We loved going camping, we used to always go when we were in Maine. He worked on cars a lot, and air conditioning. That’s what he did, he was HVAC. He was good with his hands, very mechanical-savvy. He was very smart.”
“What were your parents like together?”
“They were cute. They were definitely in love. Even now she says that she can never find anyone else. She hasn’t been with anyone in ten years. She’s had offers, but she’s like ‘I’m not interested, I had the love of my life, I’m done.’”
I ask her if there are any memories of her parents that stick out for her.
“Most of the ones involving my dad are kind of morbid, I guess. I think the strongest memory I have is of the day that I found out, like the sudden realization that he was going to die. That was…awful. But that’s the strongest one I have. I was in my room, and it just hit me. I was really upset, and I went downstairs, and he was with a friend, but his friend – cause I was just bawling – he just walked away and let me and my dad be together. He said he was sorry. He said ‘It’s coming to get me.’” She speaks quietly, with difficulty. “I was twelve. It sucked.”
I asked her what his frame of mind was like during the entire process.
“I have no idea. I think I was too young to understand it. I guess too young to have insight.”
After a silence, she moves on to her mother.
“My mom, I have happy memories of her. For some reason, the thing that comes to mind is, one time we were shopping, and…she has this weird temper. I was using one of those gift cards that’s a credit card, and it didn’t work. The lady behind us was this old, sweet, eighty-something year-old lady, and she was like ‘Oh, I hate those things, they never work.’ She was just giving us support, I think. My mom says ‘Yeah, thanks for your support, bitch,’” Stephanie laughs. “To this eighty-something year-old lady! I was like ‘Mom, what is wrong with you?’ But she says ‘She didn’t hear me, don’t worry about it.’ She was just in a mood. It’s funny. Oh, I actually have a funny one of my dad. Me and a friend of mine, my friend Kate were going to another friend of ours, and we needed a ride. He was driving us, and this after he got sick but not long after. He was driving us, we were in the middle of the street, in the middle of this random road, and all of a sudden he just starts screaming. We were like ‘Oh my god, what’s wrong?’ And he was just ‘I thought it was too quiet.’ Apparently we weren’t talking enough.
I ask her if there is anything else she wants to add. She hesitates, then begins to tell me about her grandmother Camille.
“She is a badass Italian. She’s my mom’s mom. She’s a badass Italian. She was very helpful, with my mom, with me. I’m pretty close with my grandma. She has like thirty-something grandkids, but the three of us are her favourites. I feel bad about saying that, but we’re the only people that talk to her, we’re the only people that visit her. She’s been pretty amazing to us. Basically, after he died, my grandma was really helpful to my mom, because she was having a really tough time with it. She just needed her mom. She was, every step of the way, she stayed at our house for awhile, and helped my mom through most of the grief. For me, that’s when I grew up a little bit, in terms of, I really started to respect her.”
“Your mom or your grandma?”
“My grandma, even more, just because she was so much help. I’m really grateful to have her, because I couldn’t have done that. I couldn’t have been there for my mom the way that she was. That was a clicking point for me.
“The biggest thing is that my mom, she’d do anything for me. I completely appreciate that. She’s the reason that I do half the things I do, because I’d like to make her proud. She’s always been there. She’s had a rough life. I think that’s it. My mom, she’s a crazy lady, but I couldn’t ask for anything more.”