Jul 2020 08

My keys have gone silent. It’s too hot to write. July has me in its grip. Even the idea of banging out some words seems like too much energy to exert. So here’s a few not-well-crafted words that spilled out tonight on exactly that. The heat. The heat of Belize, much like this, in a July from long ago. 

 

It hits you like a wall. An invisible wave washing over you.

When the airplane door opens, if you are standing inside the aircraft, and in front of the doorway as the airseal is broken and the bright mid-day afternoon sun hits you, that’s what happens.

Like opening the oven door when you’re taking the cookies out.

The heat surrounds you, engulfs you, and starts sucking the life from your body.

This is Belize when you arrive. Then they wheel some portable stairs up to the plane and you descend to the tarmac, where it’s even hotter.

Your body has to adjust. Or doesn’t.

Even when the sun goes down, you feel it all around you. Like being in the womb, perhaps. Why they drink hot tea at night, I still don’t undestand.

I was 14. It was July in Belize. Belize City was under a summer heatwave. And there was no relief in the city. No wind or ocean to jump in – believe me, you don’t want to jump in the brown Belize City harbour.  There is just dust, and the sun, and the people buzzing about on ‘Belize Time’, in a rush to do everything but also nothing. And the zinc roofs absorb the rays all day and make the streets even hotter.

My body was slowly betraying me. Like cookie dough on pan under an element.

My first trip to Belize. I was meeting family members I’d only heard about for the first time. Bert , my father, had brought his only son to Belize. Finally. I was eager to show I was becoming the man they were all expecting. But I broke out in hives.

“Prickle heat” my Nana called it.

I was sweaty all the time, itchy, and red. Like a diaper rash.

“When you get out to the Caye,” my dad said. “It will clear right up.”

After a few days of this prickle heat, I had to stay indoors. All day while my dad went to visit old friends around Belize City in the sweltering heat, I stayed behind in the empty family house.  It was just me, the stolen Chicago WGN TV signal broadcast across Belize (the Cubs played every afternoon back then), and my Aunt’s dog Frisky.

Frisky would meet his demise some ten years later at the Caye. He would swim out too far in the evening, blind and disoriented, and would never be found.

The Caye. The family plot of land on an island off the coast of Belize. Where my dad and his siblings spent all their summers.

Where I was told my prickle heat diaper rash would miraculously clear up.

“The boy is going to be tall,” my aunt said one evening after dinner to the entire family as she looked me up and down. But it didn’t come to pass of course. Another night, the biggest man I have ever seen, Uncle Herbert, with his shocking red hair and burly beard, arrived to visit my dad, his favourite cousin. I held out my hand to meet him and he said in a booming Belizean voice, “You don’t shake my hand, boy” and he smothered me with the tightest hug I have ever felt in my life. Like an entire clan of bears grabbed me.

The Belize City Bradleys to their credit tried everything to make me feel at home and like one of them.

But I didn’t. I was an alien. An alien with a rash who couldn’t go outside.

“Assmissuh Bradley hewans suh lawbstah”

“What?”

I had no idea what this fisherman was saying to me. He arrived in a small boat. Just rowed his little dugout boat up on the beach, and he hoopped out, and was talking to me. And I couldn’t figure out his accent.

“Assmissuh Bradley hewans suh lawbstah.”

I was on the fabled Caye. Sand under my feet, the ocean breeze caressing my weakly wiry Canadian frame. After a day or so now, the salt water had started to make my skin feel better. I stung a bit. But I wasn’t the hot mess I was in Belize City.

It was just my dad, cousin, and myself on the island. And they had gone on a walk to the other side to check out the coral reef, leaving me to just hang out. Island Man Boy. Guarding the family shack house on the family plot of land on this speck in the ocean.

I was playing with a bunch of sand crabs. Digging elaborate channels for them to crawl through. Then this fisherman showed up.

“I’m sorry. What?”

C’mon, Andrew. Find yourself, dammit.

“Ass. Missuh. Bradley. He wans. Suh lawbstah.”

He slowed it all down for me, the city boy.

“OHHHHHHH. Ask my dad if he wants some lobster?”

“Yes.”

We nodded together and smiled, finally understanding each other. The fisherman showed me his lobster catches.

It hit me like a different wave. This one coming up from the bottom of the ocean, through the sand, into my legs. And it grounded me for the first time in my life.

That night with my cousin and my dad, I ate my first lobster. And we played cards. And we listened to the little radio that brought us the Belize News like – “Manny Castillo, please contact your mother urgently in Corozal. She needs to talk to you about the house.”

My heat rash was gone.

I finally felt like I was indeed my dad’s son. And also, me.

When it is hot like Belize here in Toronto – rare – I channel that summer and remember that my dad was right. “It’ll all clear up when you get to the Caye.”

Indeed.