The shirt was a little snug. Dianne rooted through the boxes to find another one a size up, one that didn’t fit so snugly across her ample hips. She didn’t mind her hips, “child-birthing hips” Bruce had called them once when she was pregnant with Madeline, they were part of her and part of her life story, but she knew a tight t-shirt would drive her nuts and she’d be fussing and adjusting the hem all day if she didn’t find something looser.
She tidied the boxes and shoved them back under the long plastic table, repositioning the table skirt and feathering out the pamphlets on top in an arch, making sure that a couple of boxes of tissue were within easy reach. They went through a lot of tissues at Pride. So, so many tissues.
The Free Mom Hugs booth was open for business. Dianne adjusted her t-shirt again, this one black with a rainbow-patterned heart across the front, and in a more comfortable size, although she still fussed with the hem, and took her spot out on the street. Two other moms and a dad stood beside her, all ready to offer comfort and support to anyone who needed it.
The kids who approached her — and they were almost always kids, or ‘young adults’ — were tentative. Some just came in, barely embraced her and were gone. Others stayed for as long as they could, wrapping their arms around her neck, snuffling and embarrassed as they revealed how long it had been since they’d spoken to their parents, and the details of that last, usually horrible, conversation. Many of them had come from religious homes and had been rejected and cast out, still unable to understand how someone who practised a religion based on the premise of love could stop loving their own child.
Dianne made eye contact with every person who walked past the Free Mom Hugs booth. She called out to people, her arms spread wide, offering warmth and acceptance and love. She encouraged scared young gays, lesbians, and trans people to come forward and take the hugs she offered and which they so wholeheartedly deserved.
All the while, she scanned the crowd. Looking to make contact with one set of eyes, one bright round face, one special person who needed not just a Free Mom Hug but a free Mom hug from Dianne herself.
She had worked the booth every Pride for eight years. Every year, she hoped to see Madeline in the crowd, hoped that they would meet and hug and be able to talk and fix what Dianne had broken. She didn’t know if her daughter lived in this city anymore, or what she looked like now, or, really, if she was even still alive. But Dianne knew that this was her best chance of finding her daughter, her best chance of being able to ask forgiveness, her best chance at being able to make amends at the horrible way she had treated Madeline before kicking her out and telling her never to return.
She comforted a young trans woman who openly cried on her shoulder. She said all the things she’d say to Madeline if she had the chance. “You’re beautiful, God does love you, you’re perfect just the way you are. Your parents were WRONG.” I was wrong, I’m sorry. I was horrible, and I love you, and please, please, please forgive me.
Dianne helped the young woman fix her runny make-up and sent her off to find her friends. She adjusted the hem of her t-shirt, returned to the street in front of the tent, and continued with her cheerful banter. “Free Mom Hugs! Get’cher free Mom hugs! Feel great at no cost to you!” Dianne continued to scan the crowd, searching, meeting each pair of eyes, looking for that one face, that one person who she wanted to hug more than anybody else.
This story is part of a week-long series of Pride-themed flash fiction. Check out the full schedule here.