Growing up, I was a tomboy. I tried to be the son my father never had. I always wanted to be with my dad. That’s why when he flew home to Glasgow, Scotland in 1971 for a weekend in May to see Celtic play, I was beside myself with anguish.
I was hanging upside down from the rusted out swing set my parents had acquired and put in the backyard after painting it an abhorrent turquoise. The red rust color still burst through the gaudy blue, its balled metal roughness tearing at my bare flesh whenever I climbed or hung from it. As I swung inverted from the sidebar by my knees I saw my father walk down the driveway, carrying a small travel bag, to an unfamiliar awaiting car. I hurriedly uncurled my knees and ran to the fence. I opened the gate and ran out onto the driveway. The man driving was someone I didn’t recognize. He pulled out of the driveway with my father in his passenger seat, and my dad’s big, blue eyes met mine as the strange car reversed out of our driveway. My dad looked stricken at my obvious distress. I chased after the car as it drove from the crescent, screaming at the top of my lungs for him to come back. I couldn’t believe he would leave me. I was alone in our house except for my father. Cissy was my polar opposite and never wanted anything to do with me. She wanted to be indoors watching television and I wanted to be outdoors in search of adventure. My mother was constantly infuriated by me so I stayed clear of her. She was also always busy with my little sister, Lil, who had been born in Canada in 1970. My dad was all I had.
“Get in this hoose! Don’t be daft! Bloody eejit!” my mother screamed at me from the front door of our house.
The next day at school, I had run into gym class later than everyone else. I had to quickly change into my gym strip and get out onto the floor with my classmates if I wanted to get a good piece of equipment with which to play. A girl named Ana was the only other girl in the change room when I burst through its doors. She was standing alone in her underpants and blouse. Ana was a little red-headed girl in our grade one class with a squeaky voice and a peculiar laugh who was daily teased.
“A-n-a B-a-a-a-a-n-a-n-a!” the kids would chant at her. “A-n-a B-a-a-a-a-n-a-n-a!”
“Angela?” she walked towards me in a shy manner as I pulled on my shorts and t-shirt. “Will you unbutton my blouse for me?” She turned her back to me so that I could see the buttons along the back of her blouse. In my haste, there appeared to be a hundred tiny, white, pearl buttons. Her right arm was hooked over the front of her left shoulder as she tried to reach her own back.
“I can’t, Ana,” I told her. “I have to get out there.”
I was finished changing so I ran outside to the gym and sat on the floor near Lina. I was always worried that another girl would take my place next to Lina and usurp me as her best friend. The teacher looked at her attendance sheet and noticed that not all were present.
“Where’s Ana?” the teacher asked everyone.
I was about to reply that Ana was still changing when little Ana walked out of the girls’ change-room into the gymnasium in her white underpants and blouse that buttoned up the back. The entire class laughed as I hung my head in shame. Her arm was still lying across her neck as her fingers fished for the little buttons along her back. I heard a few boys shout out, “A-n-a B-a-a-a-a-n-a-n-a!” I hung my head lower. I should have helped her in the change-room. Still, why did she have to walk out in front of everyone wearing her underpants?
“Be quiet!” the teacher shouted at us.
Ana walked up to the teacher and asked her to help with her buttons. The teacher quickly unbuttoned her blouse and Ana ran back into the change room to dress for gym. I was responsible. I hadn’t considered that Ana was unable to do it herself. I had thought that she wanted help with it rather than needed it. I was so busy thinking about myself that I hadn’t stopped to help her. Ana later returned to the gym dressed in her shorts and t-shirt. She took whatever equipment no one else wanted and played by herself rather happily for the entire period.
When gym class was over we returned to the change room to dress for class.
“Ana,” I said. “I can button your blouse for you.”
“Okay, Angela. Thank you,” Ana smiled. I waited for her to put on her blouse then I turned her around so that I could button her up.
“Okay. All done!” I told her when I’d finished.
“Thanks, Angela!” she said again and skipped out of the change room behind the other girls. I had tried to make amends for my earlier act of selfishness, but still felt dreadful inside. I really was bad just as everyone in my family said I was.
The weekend past and on Easter Monday morning, I awoke to find presents covering the living room sofa. There were Scottish sweeties but there was also a book for me called Snow-white and Rose-red. The book was magical to me. It was a fairytale from my father that I had not yet heard and I loved it. It was about two sisters –one blonde and the other brunette, who were completely different from one another, but who loved each other in spite of their different natures.
My dad did special things like that when we were young. I think he stopped when my mother emasculated him for trying to create magic in our childhood, but he was a giving father to us especially when we were little. He used to take us to see the London Junior B Ice Hockey team, the London Knights, play at the Gardens on a Friday night. I loved going to those games with my father. After the games, as we drove home through the winter nights, I was lulled to sleep in the backseat by the quiet drone of the radio and the sound of the indicator as my father signaled left or right. I would stir in and out of consciousness in the backseat knowing that I was safe as my dad sat solidly behind the wheel. Snow often swirled about the car, and my dad’s wipers swooshed zealous snowflakes from view. I would fall asleep, hypnotized by dancing snow, metronome wipers, and clicking indicator. Having fallen asleep in the car, I’d wake slightly in my father’s arms as he carried me inside, and put me in my bed. I missed him as a child when he worked nights at Ford. For two weeks we barely saw him through the week when he went off to work as we came in from school. But on the weekends he was there with us every moment to help with class assignments or to teach us to do math or to swim. Whatever we needed help with, he was there.
He helped me do a project on birds before it was due the following day. My mother screamed at me for having to do the project the day before it was due.
“Can ye no think ahead, lassie?” she shouted.
I drew all of the birds and my dad quietly helped me to colour them in.
“That’s a Red-Winged Blackbird,” he told me as I coloured in the bird red and black.
“Aye, see this red here?”
“That’s all the red’s that on it. The rest is black. It only has a wee bit o’ red on its wings.”
“Oh!” I said.
I handed in my bird project the following morning, and later I walked home for lunch as usual. Deirdre and Garreth Royer walked beside Cissy and me as we made our way from St. Francis Separate School to our Cant Crescent residences.
“You are such a moron!” Deirdre told her little brother. “A real dummy!” Garreth didn’t reply so Deirdre continued. “I can’t believe you’re my brother!” Garreth remained mute. “You’re just an idiot!”
I couldn’t take it anymore. “Shut up you witch! Leave him alone!” I screamed at Deirdre.
I ran ahead a few feet determined to get away from all of them when I felt something hard hit my head. I turned to see fury in Garreth’s face.
“Don’t talk to my sister like that!” he charged, leaving me dumbstruck. I’d defended him and he was angry at me.
As I stood facing them, I felt dizzy. A hot, sticky substance started to stream down my face. I raised my right hand to my head, and when I removed my hand from my head to look at it, I saw that it was covered in my blood. A large rock sat stalwart at my feet. Garreth had thrown that rock and split my head wide open. Instinctively, I started to run home holding my head. I was still a block from our house and I sprinted to my front door screaming. Another neighbour, Mrs. Wallowell, heard my screams and ran outside to see what the matter was. She ran towards me with open arms but I rushed past her and continued home. She saw the blood gushing from my head and chased after me to my house.
“Garreth threw a rock at my head!” I screamed at my mother as soon as I burst through our front door. I swayed on my feet. I was going to pass out.
“Oh aye! And what did you dae tae him?” my mother quickly said.
Mrs. Wallowell had come in behind me, but then she went back outside to the street. Garreth was just arriving home with Cissy, and his sister, Deirdre, next to him. Mrs. Wallowell reached down, grabbed Garreth’s six-year-old shoulders and shook him.
“What did you do to Angela?” she screamed.
Mrs. Wallowell was a Block Parent. That red sign in her window meant that children in danger could go to her front door for refuge. She became my protector that day as she unleashed her wrath on Garreth Royer.
My mother cleaned the wound and said I was fine. She said it looked worse than it was, and I walked back to school after lunch. When I sat in class that afternoon, I keeled over and hit the front of my head on my desk. The school called my mother to come and collect me, which she did. She took me home with her but when my dad came home after work and she told him what had happened he took me to Emergency at St. Joseph’s Hospital. They x-rayed my head and said I had a concussion. The doctor told my dad to wake me every hour for the next few nights as I slept to ensure that I didn’t slip into a coma. My dad, who was working days at that time, was home at night with us. He came into my room and softly shook me awake every hour for several nights, following the orders of the ER doctor.
“Angela. Angela,” my father would whisper to me. “Wake up, hen.” I would open my eyes, look at my dad, roll over and go back to sleep.
I cracked my head open on two other occasions within the next two years. Once when I was ice skating in the back field and another time when I fell off the back porch of the MacKirdies. Each time I ran home screaming with blood pouring from my head and each time my dad drove me to Emergency, and followed up by waking me every few hours to ensure that I didn’t slip away from him.