What do you do about something that has become wrapped up as part of your core? Something which is entwined, embedded, that you cannot untangle. Something you are not sure you want to untangle, because it feels big and important and thus being part of you is somehow its rightful place. Here is the story of an accident which, until today, I didn’t realise had such a great hold on me.  

I have known for as long as I can remember, or as long as I have lived in the UK, that Easter is an important time for me. I always feel home sick at this time. It is as if I have an inbuilt homing device propelling me to my family. Through the years I explained this as occurring because there are important family birthdays at this time (my father’s and eldest sister’s) and that Easter is a big celebration for Italian families and of course its spring, a time when we start to think of sunshine, beautiful smells and have our eyes dazzled by blossoms and the warming of the earth after the cold Canadian winters. I used to just fly back home, almost at a moment’s notice, and breath in the scent of my country and the bosom of my family. 

My parents separated when I was young. It wasn’t amicable even after both remarried. When I was coming up to my eleventh birthday my mother’s husband, who was in the armed forces, got stationed in Winnipeg. We were currently living in Montreal, where I was born where all my family were. I didn’t have any choice. I remember my father talking to me briefly in the car on the way to somewhere or other. I think a lot of brief but important discussions took place in the car in that liminal space when you are neither here nor there. Perhaps this is common in families where there is divorce. 

We moved to Winnipeg and I settled in well. My older sister took a little longer but she found her feet. My brother never quite made the adjustment. Travelling several hundred miles to visit my father and my other brother and sister who stayed in Montreal building their own lives was the start of my love affaire with airports. My sister was my travelling companion. She was the one I looked to for direction, literally in this case.  

It was coming up to Easter holiday. I was in grade 7 or first year of secondary school. Twelve years old. I was doing really well in French so I had opted to do geography in French. I felt quite proud of myself and decided I would take my geography books to show my father. This year my father, my stepmother and my youngest sister were holidaying in Florida. Kim and I were going to fly out there to meet them. This was an adventure. We had our first night time flight and we had never flown that distance before as Montreal was only 2 ½ hours away, Florida was well over 4 hours. I was excited, nervous and pretty scared. I think my sister was as well because she went quiet. We had never been to Florida, all we knew was that there was a beach and loads of sunshine. 

The plane landed at eleven pm. My father met us at the gate looking very happy, relaxed, and tanned. He loved eating in airports so he insisted on taking us for a pina colada. This was a lovely start to the holiday, drinking a flavoured coconut drink with small umbrellas in it made it seem exotic and fun. I couldn’t wait to get back to my father’s place, go to bed, and wake up the next day to enjoy what was ahead of me. However, things didn’t turn out as straight forward as that. 

We set off from the airport in my fathers rented car, a ford. It was the kind where the front seat was a bench so Kim and I got to sit in the front. We hadn’t seen my father in a few months, so we all wanted to be as close to each other as possible. At that time everything seemed so fully of mystery and adventure. I had no idea where we were headed, it was dark, we were driving on a motorway and there was hardly any traffic around. I was so excited, talkative and just really happy to be where I was.  

Our car came to a rise in the road when my father had to slam on the breaks because there was another car in front of us doing a u-turn. A black car. There was also an eighteen wheel truck behind us travelling at 80 miles an hour on a road that we all thought was clear. It wasn’t. I don’t know how we didn’t go through the windscreen because we weren’t wearing seatbelts. I guess the car was spinning out of control. The dark of the night seemed to be obscured by a bright light around us. It was odd. Why was the inside of the car so bright? 

When the car stopped spinning we tried the doors in front . They wouldn’t open. I don’t know if that is because they were stuck or we were panicing. We climbed over to the backseat. My sister, is one of the strongest people I know. She is just plain powerful and when she is angry, watch out. She managed to kick the door open. The car was engulfed in flames. Kim ran straight out fast, scarred and angry. I didn’t. I looked at the flames and calmly thought that running through them was just something I could not do. I wish it didn’t sound like a cliché, it certainly shouldn’t be one, but in my head I prepared myself for dying. I remember how clearly I thought, ‘ok, I didn’t think I was going to die at 12 but it’s ok, I can do this.’ No doubt it was only seconds between Kim running from the car and me having these thought but they seemed to occupy a great space. 

It was during this pause that there was another explosion and it caught my hair, on the right side and my top. Before I knew it my father had smacked me so hard that I found myself on the other side of the car. I didn’t feel it. I didn’t feel anything. I just knew that I was no longer sitting where I had been. I looked out the car door, through a window of flames and saw my father on fire rolling towards the grassy bank on the edge of the motorway. I called his name and ran out to him. 

Strangely, I didn’t go directly to my father. I somehow connected with my sister and we wondered away from where my father was lying, through the grass and into the darkness. Fortunately, there was an outstanding man who just seemed to know. He brought us back to my father. This man, I don’t know his name. I assumed he was in the army because he was wearing army-style trousers. He didn’t have a top on, he looked strong and powerful. He was also quiet. He, I will never forget, and as I write this tears stream down my cheeks because this man who didn’t speak that I can remember, who moved very little was the anchor at that moment. He sat back on his heels beside my father and he was there.  

My father was conscious and lying on his stomach. Kim and I were beside him, Kim sobbing. My father soothed her, reassured her that everything would soon be alright. I didn’t cry. I just looked wide-eyed and tried to make sense of the commotion. There was so much happening, so many people around. I didn’t look my father in the eye. I looked at his foot which was bluish, his small toe red and bloody. 

I don’t know how we got back up the hill, Kim and I. It seemed so busy and bright up there. All kids of people had stopped. We were taken to the ambulance briefly. I think there was some concern over a young group of boys who spoke to us. The man in the ambulance, driver, or paramedic I don’t know, spent quite a bit of time shouting at them. I didn’t speak. I didn’t utter a sound, I didn’t shed a tear. 

We eventually travelled to the hospital in a police car, at the back with the metal grate separating me and my sister from the police officer. When we arrived we sat in the corridor as if no one was really sure what we were doing there. A male nurse came over and asked some questions. I tried to respond but he was not happy with whatever I said and shouted. I tried again, that seemed to work. He then looked at me and said, “The first thing we have to do is brush your hair.” I was so confused, so startled and desperately trying to make sense of things. I responded, that everything I had, had burned in the fire. He walked away. 

We were brought to a small room, with a bed and a chair. The door was closed. Every once in a while the door would open and someone would ask a question about where we were headed when my father collected us from the airport. We had no idea. X-rays were taken, Kim slept. I sat in the chair next to her, wide awake, thinking that I would soon be seeing my father and then I would know what to do. But that didn’t happen. 

At about five in the morning I heard a very distinct clickety-clack down the corridor. The door to the room Kim and I had been in for several hours opened and my step-mother appeared. She looked stunning, dark and beautiful and in an off the shoulder, Spanish style top, her hair falling in luscious waves around her face. She threw her arms around me and cried, “Your father is going to die!” A tear rolled down my check. Then she left the room. Kim slept, I stayed silent. 

We never saw my father that night, or that morning. Kim and I were picked up by my step mother’s father and taken to the condo to see our 2 year old sister who also couldn’t make sense of why her mother had left in the middle of the night. Eventually we flew to Montreal. My young sister was greeted by her aunt. I can’t remember who greeted Kim and I. We spent maybe a week with my oldest sister. She had many phone conversations with my eldest brother who had left university to fly out to my father’s bedside. These conversations often ended with my sister crying. She told us that my father had been flown to a burn centre shortly after my stepmother had arrived at the hospital. I didn’t know, and I didn’t cry, and I stayed quiet.  

The end of the week was Easter. We were going to spend it with my aunts, my father’s sisters. However, I became very ill, doubled over in pain, constantly, so we didn’t go. The time came for Kim and I to return to Winnipeg. I wanted to stay in Montreal, I wanted to be close to my sister, I wanted to be where my father lived so that I would be there when he was. I made a fuss about it but we still had to return. My sister didn’t take us to the airport. Kim and I travelled by taxi on our own to the airport where we boarded a plane for Winnipeg. Kim and I didn’t talk about anything. Two and a half hours later we landed and were greeted by my mother and step father. I shouted that I wanted to stay in Montreal. They shouted back that didn’t I realise that my father could die. That was their explanation of why I needed to be further away from him. It didn’t make any sense to me.  

I continued to be ill with severe stomach pains for several weeks and missed school. I think it was during this time that the knot was attaching itself to me. My mother took me to the doctor and there were lots of whispers, as if I didn’t know what they were whispering about. I guess I was put on some kind of vallium. Eventually, the stomach pains subsided and I returned to school. Kim and I never discussed the accident and I don’t recall my mother saying anything to me about it. Some friends asked a few questions. I didn’t see my father for a year. I didn’t speak to him for a year. There was only one correspondence during that time and that was two restaurant paper placemats, that you could colour in, which were sent in the post to me and my sister. 

A year later, Kim and I got on a plane to fly to Montreal to see my father. In fact I think we flew to Toronto and my brother picked us up and drove us to Montreal. I wanted to know about his time at the burns centre with my father. I wanted to know if he cried. 

I don’t want to unravel this from my core. It is part of me. I’m pretty sure I cannot get rid of it. It informs how I see myself and how I understand the complexities my family relationships, particularly my relationship with my father, which was a good one. My over-riding image is of a man lying on his belly in the grass, in pain I’m sure I cannot imagine, talking calmly and reassuringly to his two young daughters. So when I was finally reunited with him, he hugged me tightly and said in a sort of off-hand, chatty way, “Are you over the accident?” I stayed silent. Today I might answer, “No Dad, that one stays with me.”

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