During the years after my dad left, he would correspond with us once annually. Christmas. He’d send a big box of gifts, and an oversized sock stuffed with elusive American candy, and other tiny presents. I couldn’t fully comprehend the situation, or what led us there. I was so young. I knew that I had a dad, where he lived and how to reach him, and that my mother never spoke badly of him. But I didn’t ever really miss him. The real reason I didn’t understand what was happening was because nobody explained it to me. Cue abandonment issues, trust issues, and a host of other great attributes. However, I will always be grateful that my mom moved me to Canada. It allowed me to grow up alongside my cousins, who would become lifelong friends, and the siblings I never had.
Alex was the daughter of my mother’s youngest sister. We were the closest in age – our mothers the furthest in age, yet we were all best friends. The first time we met, we sat on the curb eating boiled hot dogs. And you know what, we’d do the exact same thing today.
We lived in that little house for the next few years. Just me, my mom, and my aunt. Eventually, a man started showing up. As they do.
“This is Skip,” they introduced me.
“Does he like to skip?” was my first and only question. A smartass from an early age.
Skip went to high school with my mother and some of my other aunts, proving the theory that when all else fails, everyone returns to their rolodex to call up their old flames. It was a strong flame in this case though, as Susan and Skip got married. I loved having Skip around. He’s kind, funny, and patient. He taught me how to ride a bike in the driveway behind the house, he was a wonderful temporary father fill-in. But newlyweds do not necessarily want to live with their in-laws, and the in-laws’ offspring. I’m sure that my mom had already been aware for some time that she and I would have to pack up.
So we moved to an apartment on Willow Avenue. Before it was converted into an apartment, it had been a horse stable. And once you realized this, the odd layout immediately makes sense. The building was a large square, three floors, and six units inside, housing a whole cast of characters. There was a lot of green space in front, it was the only house on the block that was set far back from the sidewalk. The long walkway up to the front doors was a strip of pavement that cut right down the middle of the front yard, separating it into two perfectly even sides, with a crabapple tree on either side, and a smoke tree on the edge that leaned over the sidewalk. As I walked along that strip on the day we moved in, there was a little boy with shoulder length, golden blonde hair playing on the walkway. I immediately recognized him from school. Brendan.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“What are you doing here?” he asked back. A reasonable reply, seeing as how it was his house first.
“I’m moving here,” I said. “I live here now.”
“Oh. I live here too.”
From that moment forward, he was my very, very best friend.
The Middle Of The Beginning
The entire apartment was one long hallway. Bedrooms were on one side (the jockey’s quarters), and closets on the opposite side (the horse’s quarters). It was small, but so was I. The move was very exciting to me, and I did not yet realize that my mom had very little money. I was thrilled at the fact that I could put a marble on the floor and watch it roll away, only because the floors were uneven. But in the eyes of a child, this – like living in a car – is very cool. Brendan and his mother lived a floor above us, on the opposite side. Brendan and I played every day. Yes, played, like real kids.
Every generation thinks theirs had a better childhood than the one after it. And I’m no exception.
Brendan was a hardcore nature enthusiast. He knew everything there was to know about species of insects, birds, fish, you name it. He knew which plants you could eat, and which ones would kill you. We went to day camp together, and Brendan would pick out a suspicious looking (but edible) leaf or berry, point it out to only me, and we would wait… Wait until the camp counsellor (who was probably just some innocent teenager trying to get through their first summer job) was looking at us before we’d begin our act.
“What’s this?” I would ask pointing to the berry.
“DON’T EAT IT,” the counsellor would snap.
“Don’t eat which one?”…enter Brendan. “This one?”
“Don’t eat any of them,” said the frustrated counsellor.
“Ohh ok, not any berries,” I was such an ass. “But what about this? This looks good.”
I went first, picking a bright orange and yellow leaf off a large plant and putting it in my mouth.
“Spit that out!” the counsellor snapped.
Brendan one-upped me and picked a flower from this plant, put the entire head in his mouth and bit it off, leaving only the stem.
“Ewwww!” all of the other children screamed. Which was extremely satisfying for us both.
And we did shit like that, all. The goddamn. Time. It’s amazing we never got sick. I give Brendan a ton of credit for a fulfilling, pure, and real childhood. As well as a tip-top immune system.
Every time I was with him, a new type of lizard or insect – even a tarantula – would be placed onto me somewhere. There wasn’t a day we didn’t have dirt under our fingernails and sunburns on our noses.
Our moms also became close, sharing bottles of wine while he and I filled jars with insects and tried to start small fires using a magnifying glass and the sun. We went camping, we played pranks on our moms, we had sleepovers, we had a pet squirrel who lived on Brendan’s balcony for 2 weeks before making its departure. We bathed it, cuddled it, fed it peanut butter, and named it Blacky. We were unapologetically ourselves, and we loved each other in the purest, most innocent way possible. His mom was a second mom to me, and vice versa.
It was a hard day when Brendan and his mom moved out. They didn’t go very far, but at this point we were around 14. Distance combined with puberty can make or break a friendship like ours. In this case, we hung out here and there but without the convenience of social media and text messaging, we organically drifted. When he and his mom moved to Thunder Bay shortly after, that was it.
Perhaps that move kept our friendship frozen in time, in its purest form. Had he stayed, and we went into teenage-hood living next door, we probably would have ruined it by taking our pants off.
We definitely would have.