Read by Michael Spencer-Davis
Michael Spencer-Davis has been a professional actor since 1986. He has worked at all the major regional theatres in Canada including The Stratford Festival and has performed in over twenty world premieres working with playwrights that include Brad Fraser, George F. Walker, Vern Thiessen, Peter Hinton, Trina Davies, Djanet Sears, Raymond Storey, Conni Massing and Bev Cooper. Recent credits include: playing Gardiner Greene Hubbard in the world premiere of Silence by Trina Davies, directed by Peter Hinton at The Grand Theatre in London, Ontario; Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth directed by Mitchell Cushman for Outside The March and Company Theatre. In the summer of 2018, Michael returns to Stratford for the world premiere of Paradise Lost playing Belial and Raphael directed by Jackie Maxwell.
The first cruise we went on was a recommendation from a friend in Kathleen’s support group. She had a daughter with Down syndrome and said they took great care of her, made sure to include her in the ship’s activities. It was different with cruises, the friend had said. They have someone whose whole job is to make sure people mingle. The boats were big enough to have lots to explore, but it wasn’t like being in a strange city where you can’t let your kid out of your sight. There were no bad neighbourhoods.
At the first port of call, Starr dutifully trekked along with us. We were let off to explore a market in the old colonial town, but Starr found the noises and the smells alarming. There was a crate of chickens squawking, wings poked out through the wire at painful angles. The flapping, knowing how they would meet their end, upset Starr.
When the second excursion came up, Starr wanted to stay aboard. We were nervous to leave her by herself, but knew she couldn’t get off the boat easily, was in no danger of getting lost. “I’m twenty-two,” she’d said. If Melly could be trusted to go to university on her own, Starr could be left for the afternoon.
At first, Kathleen and I followed the tour group to a church famous for a local artist’s paintings of the saints. Outside, there were five or six vendors with knock-offs, eight-by-ten wood blocks with pining Marys, decapitated John the Baptists and a woman with a plate of eyes.
After lunch we were supposed to go to a main square for a dance performance but I pulled Kath away and we grabbed a fresh coconut with a straw from a street vendor and walked down to the water. We sat on the wood pier with our feet over the edge and pointed out starfish to each other.
“There’s a snorkelling trip a few stops away,” Kath said.
It had been so long since I’d seen her do more than a lap or two in a pool, I’d almost forgotten Kath swam in high school. That when we’d gone camping, she was the one swimming across the lake and back.
“Do you have to worry about sharks?”
Kath laughed and shrugged, as if she’d been expecting me to ask her something else.
“How good a swimmer do you have to be?”
“It would be too much for Starr. In case there are waves or fish that scare her.”
“I meant for me. Could they give me a life jacket?”
She leaned over and, for a few minutes, we necked like kids behind the bleachers. Her nape felt electric in my hand, her curls thick and damp in my fingers.
When we pulled apart, it took a moment to realize Kathleen was crying. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” She pulled her hands to her face and hung her head.
“I’m feeling guilty too.” I wiped her cheeks with my thumb. “We don’t have to go snorkelling.”
She shook her head and got up.
It was a quick walk back to the ship and we arrived before the rest of the group. Kathleen tried hard to reassemble herself so that her eyes wouldn’t be red when she saw Starr. We found our daughter by the pool playing with a beach ball, passing it back and forth between two preschoolers. She waved when she saw us, but didn’t make any move to leave.
A woman in a recliner put her book down to talk to us. “Are you Starr’s parents?”
“We should probably be paying her.” She nudged her husband awake. “She’s kept Bea and Noah entertained for over an hour. It’s the first time since the drive to the airport that we’ve had a minute to ourselves.”
Then, after supper, one of the few newlywed couples glided over to our table. “Are we still on for tonight, Starr?”
Kathleen tilted her head.
“There’s a karaoke competition,” the groom explained. “We thought the three of us could go – my wife’s been picking out songs.”
“We’re doing a duet,” Starr said. They’d caught her reading the event poster and had introduced themselves.
We’d been on shore maybe five hours.
We went down to the competition and stuck around to see Starr sing a few tunes, but it was clear she wanted to spend time with her new friends. The groom’s younger brother had a developmental delay, he confided to Kath, and he promised to make sure Starr got back to the room safely.
For the rest of the week, we went out on the port stops and Starr stayed behind. We went snorkelling, to a concert, a banquet. It was like dating again, twenty years later.
Starr was having a great time, photos with the captain, participating in group activities, napping whenever she felt like it. Every day, people would come up to us, Oh, you’re Starr’s parents? It felt like we’d given birth to the fifth Beatle.
She was living at home then, after the group home disaster. Our daughter lit up on the cruise ship in a way that I hadn’t seen since she was a kid. It was terrifying for us. The first realization that maybe she was better off without us, that she was better off on her own, that she no longer needed us to mediate her social interactions. And it scared me how much fun we were having, how obvious it was that we’d been missing out on a crucial part of our relationship. Toward the end we began to be filled with new possibilities for the three of us.
When we disembarked, of course, we rediscovered that life is not a cruise ship. We were two years past the push of the transition planning leading up to Starr’s high-school graduation and didn’t have much to show for it. So far no jobs had been a good match and there were no spots available in the full-time day program. All the skills training workshops she was interested in – customer service, food preparation, retail basics – had wait-lists. Our eligible in-home supports were limited. So Starr stayed home, bored. Fought with Kath over the littlest things, called me at work nearly daily to take her out.
Thinking about it now, I do see Kathleen’s point about how far we’ve come. How much we have to lose. But mostly I’m angry that the world isn’t more like it was on-board. It would take so little to support Starr, even without us. Someone for day-to-day meals and errands; someone to take an interest at work; some friends to take her out; family to cover the rest. It’s more than Kathleen and I can muster on our own. But from a whole community? It doesn’t seem like too much to ask, to expect.