In 2003, I graduated high school and then immediately moved to Maryland where my brother ran a construction company as part owner. I worked for my brother that summer to save up money for YWAM (Youth With a Mission). The tuition for YWAM was about $6000. My brother very generously paid for my YWAM in exchange for a summer of my unskilled labor.
YWAM is an organization that teaches youth how to be missionaries. After my time in Maryland with my brother, I traveled to Medicine Hat, Alberta, to participate in one of their programs. My program included a 3 month lecture phase and a 2 month humanitarian trip to the Philippines.
When I returned to Canada from the Philippines, this marked the end of the program. All of my friends went home to their families. My parents were in Honduras and were unavailable to help their son. I had no money, no job, and no vehicle. I was more-or-less stranded in Medicine Hat.
I made a desperate phone call to my Auntie Lori, who lived in Saskatchewan, and by the next day my cousin had driven 10 hours to come pick me up. I moved to Saskatchewan and lived with my Auntie, Uncle, and cousins for about four months.
My auntie is kind, but stern. She is in her mid forties, had raised two children, and enjoys a quiet life on the farm. She works from home and is a leader in her church community. Like me, she is a reader and has many books in her home. Many years ago, she was the one who had introduced me to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings when I was in grade 5. From that point on, I’ve been an avid and courageous reader, reading far above my assumed skill level. I have her to thank for that.
During my stay in Saskatchewan, my auntie has taught me how to drive and has helped me get my driver’s license. She even taught me how to put together a resume and helped me aquire a job at a local produce depot. I worked at the depot for about 5 months until I had raised enough money for a plane ticket home to Newfoundland. During this time, my cousin lent me his truck so that I could drive back and forth to work. He told me not to worry about gas, so long as I filled the tank every once in a while – which I did. It was explained to me that the priority was to help me get home to Newfoundland, and that rent/bill payments/etc. were not necessary.
My last day in Saskatchewan is a sad day. Uncle Greg is warming up the vehicle, getting ready to drive me to the airport this morning. My auntie has gone to town, and so I don’t have the opportunity to say goodbye to her. I pack my bags and notice a book I had not yet finished reading: it was a book on prayer. My auntie loves this book and has several copies (I have no idea why). Because she has several copies and that fact I haven’t finished the book, I decide that taking the book with me to Newfoundland is no big deal. I will finish reading the book in Newfoundland, then mail it back to Auntie. I don’t ask Auntie for permission, I naively assume it will be alright.
On my way out the door, I see a small sticky note on the kitchen table to my right. It reads:
“Josh, you owe us gas money. Please pay $200 immediately.”
I search my memory for any conversation that would indicate I owe this money. At the beginning of my stay, six months before, my auntie made it very clear that they wanted to help me save money and that I wouldn’t have to worry about paying gas money. I now feel like this ‘help’ came with a price tag. I don’t mind paying the money, I just wish I had of gotten a bigger heads up – I am literally walking out the door to catch a plane. I don’t have $200 to give, and I have already spent all my money on a plane ticket. I feel bad. I feel like I’m going to be seen as a bad, ungrateful person, for not leaving the $200 on the table for Auntie.
I also feel a little confused and angry. I think it’s sneaky for Auntie to go to town and leave a note behind. Why not talk to me in person? And why leave a note at the very last minute? This harsh last-minute note feels surprising coming from my auntie – up until now she has been very sweet and caring, and now it feels like she is angry with me.
The drive to the airport is nice. Uncle and I have never talk much, but during our trip to the airport I could tell that he’s trying to be friendly, asking questions and wishing me luck on my journey. I thank him repeatedly for letting me stay in his home.
I board the plane and fly to Toronto, where I plan to spend the night with my other auntie and uncle. They have two kids, both of whom I have always had a good relationship with, and the whole family is jocular and kind. Uncle Stan especially has a gregarious disposition. I talk with them for an hour and make myself comfortable downstairs, preparing for a night’s rest before having to catch a plane in the morning. But before I settle down for some shut-eye, the phone rings upstairs. It’s Auntie Lori.
For a few minutes both my Auntie Cheryl and my Uncle Stan speak with Lori over the phone upstairs. After the phone call, Uncle Stan makes his way downstairs to speak with me. Auntie Cheryl is right behind him. As soon as I see Uncle Stan’s face I get a sick feeling in my gut.
“I guess your auntie Lori is pretty upset about some kind of book and some money you owe her?” Stan said it like a question, as though he were still unsure if he understood it right. Auntie Lori is married to Stan’s brother, Greg, and I pick up from Stan’s tone that his conversation with Lori was exasperating. Stan and Cheryl have apologetic looks on their faces. Stan is holding the cordless phone, “She wants to talk to you.”
Uncle Stan hands me the phone, and I say, “Hello?”
“You little thief” – I’ll forever remember the first words out of her mouth.
“How dare you” – I remember these words as well. They are instantly burned into my memory.
“You think you can just come here, use up all our gas, and not pay for it? I specifically asked you to leave us $200, and you just ignore it. You little brat. And what the hell are you doing stealing my book? I was nice enough to lend it to you, and you go off and steal it from me. Is that the thanks I get? You listen here, young man. You’re going to leave that book with your aunt and uncle, and they’re going to mail it back to me, not you. Nice try, buddy. Goodbye.” – Click.
Auntie Lori didn’t pause for a moment to let me respond. I tried to interrupt several times to say I was sorry. And I am. I really am. I’m sorry for taking the book without asking first. I’m sorry for not realizing she wanted $200 for gas money. I’m sorry for not contacting her to tell her I didn’t have the money for her yet. But more than all of this, I’m sorry that I had even trusted her in the first place. I feel hurt and betrayed. I feel like she has turned on me. I feel like I have made a mistake, but a mistake that was honest. I don’t feel like I was being malicious, and yet this is how I was being treated over the phone.
I put the phone down. I pull the book from my carry-on bag and hold it in my hands for a minute. Auntie comes down the stairs and I pass the phone and the book to her. She smiles kindly, with eyes that say, “I’m sorry, Josh.” She sees the pain in my face and the surprised tears in my eyes.
“You should get some rest. You have a big day of traveling tomorrow,” she says.
“Ok,” I reply.
“You know, Josh, Lori’s just upset, but she won’t stay mad at you. Everything will be fine. You’ll see.”
Lori and I don’t speak another word to each other until six years later in 2010.