The Start Of The Beginning
I was born broken. And no, I’m not trying to be poetic. The doctor delivering me down in Newport News, Virginia used some ancient forceps to pull me out of my unmedicated mother with such force that it snapped my collarbone like a twig. So, quite literally born broken.
My parents and their new little busted baby didn’t stay in Virginia for very long. Sometimes I like to think about the Southern drawl I might have if we did stay. But alas, here I am in Toronto, probably saying “aboot”. We lived in Florida, which, from my few and selective memories, was a pleasant existence. A large grapefruit tree grew right in our backyard and produced fruit so perfect you could pick and eat them right off the branch. One of my earliest memories is being pushed on a wooden swing my dad built himself. It hung from hastily tied ropes on an unsupportive tree branch that we all blindly trusted. Obviously, the swing came flying off the ropes and my tiny body crashed into the cement. The earliest memory after that is riding in the basket – typically used for groceries – on my dad’s bicycle. I remember my mom saying,
“Don’t put Kate in the basket,” before we left.
But it was fiiiine, everything’s fine!
My dad lifted both his hands off the handlebars to adjust his hat, and once again, my tiny body went skidding across the cement.
“Next time, don’t wear a hat,” I remember telling him.
My entire young life, I had always thought of my dad as very cool. He played the guitar better than anyone I know, a flawless singer, a beautiful writer, and even lived in his car for a bit. I mean, you tell that to a small child and the reaction is, “wow! Dad lived in his car?! So cool!” Don’t brag about it to any adults, though.
He could also build just about anything. His primary focus was furniture, and then boats. Man, could he build a boat. He went through an obsessive phase of building boats. Sometimes he would buy a crusty old, falling-apart boat and revitalize it, other times he would build it from nothing. And he always tested them on the water. But remember, this is Florida, so the water is the fucking ocean. He’d go right out of the inlets and into the real ocean. I came along for one of his boat testing trips once. It was very choppy, we were in a tiny boat on some big waves, but my dad had this calm to him at all times that made me feel we were safe. I remember getting bounced around in that little sailboat so hard I almost flew out a couple of times. It was a functional boat, it was just no match for the power of nature, who hurled waves towards us like it was a 14ft cement wall. I’m honestly not even sure if this boat had a motor. It was us against the sea. Waves would crash right into the boat, and my dad would very calmly throw the excess water out with a bucket. So calmly, that I was just bouncing along thinking, “this is fine”.
It was about 10 or 12 years after that day when I was on a trip to visit with my dad, driving along highway I-95 in West Palm, Florida.
“Hey honey,” he said in that tone right before he says something either sweet or terrible. “Remember that time we went out of the inlet in that little boat?”
Out of nowhere.
“Yeah?”, I asked with caution.
“I thought we were gonna die.”
I don’t think we ever talked about it again. But it did make me think about how calm my dad was in the face of death, and what else he could conceal with his ability to appear calm. An ability I believe I inherited, for better or worse. My next memory is riding in the moving truck that my dad drove us from West Palm to Toronto, Canada. The city I’d call home from that point onward. My dad had finally gotten one of his mistresses pregnant, after many affairs. That was the straw that broke my mother’s back. Later, this would make me especially resentful, but not in the way you’d think. In a much more selfish way. I had always wanted to have siblings – brothers specifically. I likely preferred brothers to fill the void of a paternal figure in my life. So I was pissed that I technically did have a brother, he was just illegitimate and I still have never met him. So much wasted potential.
I remember pulling up to my aunt’s house on a cute street called Bingham Avenue, she had a small house that my mom and I would be moving into for the time being. My dad helped us move furniture in, he helped put together my single bed – then referred to as my “big girl bed” – that he had built himself. The headboard was wood with a crescent moon and stars carved out of it. When the truck was emptied, he told me he was going outside and would be right back. Then he got in the truck and drove back to Florida.