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Curtis Joseph

Goaltender Curtis Joseph was a three-time All-Star during his 18-year NHL career, which also included a gold medal with Canada at the 2002 Olympics. In his new book, Cujo: The Untold Story of My Life On and Off the Ice, Joseph writes about his highly unusual upbringing and what led him to pursue hockey.

Like I said, by the time I came along and Mom took me in, she already had two adult children, Karen and Ron, and she'd adopted Grant, who was six years older than me. He was her sister's grandson. Grant's parents lived above a barbershop on Gerrard Street in Toronto -- not the best area at the time.

The way Karen remembers it is that she and Mom first met Grant when they went down to visit. He was eighteen months old and was being fed a steady diet of chocolate bars.

There was a strange dichotomy about Mom. On one side, she was mean and angry and petty, and on the other, she was compassionate. When she saw Grant in that state, she rescued him. She told her niece, "'I'm takin' him home and if you try to stop me, I'm gonna phone the Children's Aid."' They begged her not to turn them in, and so Mom said, "'Well, then, pack him up."'

Curtis Joseph Book Cover Mom, Grant and I moved in with Harold and his daughters, Frederica (Freddy) and Jeanette, and Harold's seven-year-old son, Victor. Jeanette was only seventeen when Mom told her to leave. She said she was trying to build a family for the boys and needed the bedroom. Jeanette was an excellent student and had just finished high school. She had already been accepted at York University and was determined to go. That summer, she moved down to Toronto, got on student welfare and started working twelve-hour night shifts at a factory from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., seven days a week, to save enough for tuition and food and rent.

Freddy left us about six months earlier. At eighteen, she was a smart, quiet, athletic girl who was still reeling from her mother's death. But she had a great smile and a huge heart and spent a lot of time with me.

Living with Mom was a culture shock for Freddy, Jeanette and Victor because they grew up in the Baptist religion. No smoking or alcohol in the house, and Mom smoked and drank big time. She didn't hold her liquor very well either. When I was older, Karen, who was twenty-three years older than me, told me about the times she would come home from school and before they went inside, her older brother, Ron, would say, "'Okay, you wait out here on the sidewalk. I'm gonna go in first and count the empty beer bottles on the kitchen counter."' If there were more than four, they'd go to the neighbours' and wait for Howard to come home to clear the way.

Freddy had just graduated high school a year earlier and was working downtown in Toronto at an insurance company. She'd walk in the front door after work and Mom would tell her to fix dinner for the family. It was Freddy's job to clean the house and do the laundry. She was like Cinderella.

It was the last straw for Freddy when Mom raised her rent. She was almost twenty by this time, making $72 a week, and Mom wanted it all. Every penny. So, Freddy decided to move out. I was just a little guy crawling around when they had a fight about it after supper one night. Mom flew into one of her terrifying rages and started screaming and throwing things. Freddy ran out of the kitchen, scooping me up from the dining room floor so I wouldn't get hurt. She almost made it to the front door, when, crack! -- a dinner plate bounced off the back of my head. Freddy tore down the street with me flopping in her arms like a rag doll. She didn't dare return until it got dark and she knew Mom had headed into her room for the night.

Curtis Joseph

Freddy moved out almost immediately after that. A little while later, she met and married Rasheed. Whenever they showed up, it was a lot of fun. She'd take Grant and Victor and me out to play ball in the field or climb the monkey bars at the school. Grant and I knew the rules -- no speaking to an adult unless you were spoken to -- but Freddy was different. She asked us questions and paid attention to what we had to say. Rasheed was awesome too. He'd hold his arm out and bend his elbow and I'd do chin-ups on his biceps.

Freddy converted to Islam. She was already very interested in leaders like Malcolm X, and it was only six years since Cassius Clay had changed his name to Muhammad Ali. She was also very active in the Black community. She volunteered with underprivileged kids, taking them on field trips and to sporting events. She said she liked the value system Islam offered. To her, it provided security and consistency. She became a Muslim and started calling herself Na'ema, although she was fine with us still calling her Freddy. Harold wasn't thrilled about it. He shook his head and told her, "'What's the next step, the Black Panthers?"' But Mom was actually pretty open to it.

On Christmas and different occasions, we'd all sit around the large, oval wooden dining table, having dinner and playing cards. It felt wrong because it made it seem like we were a family.

Curtis Joseph

Freddy noticed that Mom was getting even more unpredictable. We had a good-sized lawn and one day Freddy was playing football with some of the neighbours, as well as Victor, Grant and me. I was little, four or five, and Freddy noticed all the older kids were calling Victor "'she."' She found this very upsetting. She asked Grant about it. He told her, "'Mom always calls him 'her' and 'she.'"'

Freddy went into the house and found Mom. "'Jeanne, why is everybody calling Victor 'she'?"'

Mom said, "''Cause that's my little girl."'

Freddy said, "'That's ridiculous!"' She had no idea why Mom would do something like that. He didn't look like a girl. He was about five years older than me, tall for his age and had the big hair. Freddy didn't see him as effeminate in any way.

Mom went on to sign Victor up for figure skating. In fact, he ended up being a pretty good skater. He didn't train enough to become an Olympian or anything, but he would often place in competitions. I'm not sure why she messed with his identity, but she did.

One morning when Mom didn't show up for breakfast, Freddy went to see what was wrong. She knocked on Mom's door and then opened it up to say good morning. Mom was lying in bed, her forearm flung over her eyes, and she was moaning, "'I can't do it, I can't get up!"'

Curtis Joseph

Freddy walked over to the bed, concerned. "'Why can't you get up, Jeanne? What's wrong?"'

Mom moved her head from side to side. "'I can't walk!"'

Freddy moved closer. "'Oh no. Why can't you walk?"'

Mom sat up suddenly and glared at Freddy. "'Because you pushed me down the stairs!"'

Freddy said, "'W-what do you mean?"'

Mom narrowed her eyes. "'I know it was you."'

A few days later, Harold woke Freddy up at midnight and asked her to take Mom to the hospital. He said, "'She's havin' a lot of pain. And she needs some pain medication and the doctor won't give her any unless he sees her."' Freddy loaded Mom in the car and drove into Newmarket, but by the time they arrived, Mom was unresponsive.

Freddy ran into the emergency entrance, looking for help. She found the admitting nurse and said, "'I have somebody in the car. I was supposed to bring her here to get some pain medication, but she's in the car unconscious!"'

The next morning, when Freddy drove back to the hospital to bring her home, she was directed to Mom's bed. When Mom saw her, she started screaming, "'They won't give me any more pain medication! Get me out of here! They won't help me! They're bad people! They're not helping me!"'

The doctor pulled Freddy aside and told her they were not going to prescribe any more meds because she had overdosed the night before. Freddy looked at him, and suddenly it all began to make sense -- the up-and-down moods, her temper and her erratic behaviour. Jeanne Joseph was a drug addict.

-- Excerpted by permission from Cujo: The Untold Story of My Life On and Off the Ice by Curtis Joseph with Kirstie McLellan Day. Copyright (c) 2018. Published by Triumph Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Available for purchase from the publisher, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Follow Curtis Joseph on Twitter @Cujo. Follow Kirstie McLellan Day on Twitter @kmclellanday.