Part 1, JoAnna’s reflections on grit, perseverance, lessons in self-sufficiency, and character traits passed down to her by her father. For better or worse.
Editor’s Note: This story will be presented in 2 parts (watch for the second half in September). I vividly remember reading this story about her father the first time JoAnna published it and I’m pleased that she chose to share it with our Empress Tea community. Enjoy! ~ The Empress
I – Scratch and whip
Your father taught you how to overcome boredom by taking you to the racetrack. On long Sunday afternoons you and your younger brother yelled at each other in the backseat of your father’s brown Hyundai. The car always parked in the shadiest spot on the lot with the windows cracked enough the smell of horses and popcorn would waft in on the breeze.
He often promised to return after ten minutes but usually disappeared for half an hour or more. You lost your shit the time ten minutes turned into seventy—when two-fifty rolled into three-thirty and, lazily, became four. By then you no longer looked at the clock because you knew you would scream if you had to sit there, compliant, for one minute longer. On that Sunday you pledged to be more prepared the next time your father told you and your brother you were “going for a drive.” It was the moment you started traveling everywhere like a seasoned bag lady, never leaving home without your trusted blue backpack.
Along with texts on algebra and history, you packed a small bottle of water and snacks to share. Your bag was large enough to house a rainbow of pencils and pair of ruled notebooks, along with the most coveted items of interest: an ever-changing assortment of comics and paperbacks. Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley High, V.C. Andrews, and Christopher Pike were hidden in the bottom of the bag next to bootlegged issues of Archie, Spiderman and Wonder Woman.
Those other worlds were the only entertainment you needed. You marvelled at the countless possibilities that existed elsewhere.
Because of those Sundays, you learned to be self-sufficient. When left to his own devices, your brother figured out he liked to draw. You filled those ruled notebooks with spliced-together poetry and shitty prose, and adopted a zero-tolerance policy for tardiness and poor timing.
Those Sundays are why, to this day, you never go anywhere unless there is a clearly marked escape route.
II – Pinched back
As a teenager, the space between you and Dad stretched out to 4,131 kilometres—a distance that taught you to live off your inheritance, traits that cannot be willed away, alone. Structural peculiarities impossible to hide like the lithe, Amazon frame that made strangers go slack-jawed and ask out loud whether you were a boy or a girl. Or the nest of curls on your head, nine inches you eventually cut off because you tired of people pulling them on the sly. Or the permanently bronzed state of your skin (the colour of roasted pecans in the summer and turbinado sugar the rest of the year) that inspired strangers and friends to pat you down, comment on your luck, or use their fingers to take a swipe.
You’re so tall. You’re so thin. Why are you so dark? Why are you so light? Where is your dad? Did that woman adopt you?
Break it down for me: what exactly are you?
III – Make a run
In tandem with physical matter you confronted a series of character flaws in his absence. A minefield of patrimonial demons you still grapple with. Unsavoury mannerisms you know—like a bad gene—he passed down and lie dormant within your cells, like the insecurity caused by compounded rejection and shame or bitterness borne from multiple injustices.
But while you will spend years hating him for this birthright, you will give thanks in the end. You will tether yourself to your mother’s grit and reflect on your father’s short fuse to manage the lid on your own simmering pot of inherited rage. You will also explore all the ways in which you can forge your own designation.
Somehow, you will use the dulled edge of each weakness to carve out solitary categories only you can inhabit.
To be continued…