I’ll admit, I was a bully, that is, until my brother turned 12 and could suddenly pick me up with one hand. However, up until that point I was guilty of locking him in the linen closet on a daily basis and whispering “Greeeemlins!” until he cried.
The two biggest scars Dax has on his forehead and leg also came from me, one directly and the other not so directly. He was only four or so when I accidentally cracked him in the forehead with a Louisville Slugger. My sister was pitching, or, maybe I was using the T-ball stand still—what I do know is that Dax suddenly appeared behind me and I whacked him full on. His little head sounded like a coconut being split open. Blood globbed out and my sister screamed in the hysterical way that only she could. “His brain is coming out of his head!” Indeed, it did look like that.
Two years later we were running through Mac’s Milk convenience store and my friend Erica (or me) clipped the corner of a pyramid of glass Canada Dry gingerale bottles. The pyramid toppled and bottles began exploding on the tile floor in our wake. Dax, unfortunately three steps behind us, was caught in the middle of the glass trajectory. When I turned my head, a gigantic piece of glass was firmly planted in his lower leg. Off to the emergency room again.
I can’t be blamed for his dislocated arm at least. That was Kiley and a wrestling match that turned violent. Although, I’m surprised all of us didn’t dislocate every limb in our ridiculous attempts to get the end of the couch closest to the console TV. We had no mercy. Sometimes it took two of us to pull the offending one from the best seat. Bowls of salt and vinegar chips would be dumped, cans of pop would tip and spill down the side of the couch, remote controls would be thrown at head level—all for this prized couch corner.
Then there were the brutal wars over what was being watched on television. Dax was the only sci-fi fan in the house and it seemed like Star Trek and Deep Space Nine played non-stop, 24 hours a day. By this time Dax was a powerhouse with biceps that could crack walnuts. There was no chance that I would win in my pursuit to watch Thirtysomething or Northern Exposure.
When dear Dax wasn’t monopolizing the TV, he was firmly planted at the kitchen table with the newspaper. Nobody was allowed to share the table with him, not even the cat. In fact, the rest of the family wasn’t even permitted to take a section of the newspaper until Dax was finished.
After he had read the paper and used every bowl in the kitchen to make pancakes, we had to evacuate the kitchen area again so he could do homework. If my dad attempted to move any of the textbook or binder piles, there was a meltdown of apocalyptic proportions.
Dax and I shared a room as this was the safer option. Kiley and I battled more than Dax and I did. Plus, she needed a room for her gossipy phone conversations that she had on her private phone line. Dax and I were amiable enough, and if he wanted me to turn out the light because I was reading too long, he would gently kick me from underneath my top bunk. And when I say gently, I mean, five swift horse kicks that shifted my vertebrae. Or, sometimes it was both his feet lifting up the mattress below me until I gave in.
Several chase scenes took place in that house on 62 Arthur Road. Most dangerous was the circuit through the livingroom across the slippery shag, a quick L-turn and then the full-on leap into the sanctuary that the bathroom provided. This was the only room in the house with an inside lock. But, being the crafty fighters that we were, a locked door posed no threat. A Q-tip or ice pick could pop the lock in a second.
When we weren’t fighting over the end of the couch and Star Trek, there was a nightly eruption somewhere around 7:30 for first bath. Because we lived on a property with a well, and because we were apparently pioneers, my parents insisted that we all share the same bathwater. If you were number five, the bathwater was downright swampy and tepid with shaved leg stubble, Kiley’s long hairs and Irish Spring soap scum. The bathroom that was a sanctuary in the above-mentioned chase scenes became a war zone. Even if you did land second bath rights, Dax would slip in. If Kiley and I managed to beat him to the safe zone, there were half-naked tug-of-wars. That door remained on its hinges, my bedroom door did not (but that’s a story for Kiley’s tribute). To the left of that bathroom door, in the woven grass wallpaper, there was a dent as deep as thumbprint from the dog’s brush being flung at 100mph at the offending person taking a bath out of turn. I think it was Dax. And I’m 97% sure it was me whipping the dog brush at his head.
I am amazed that we all survived relatively unscathed. No weapon was too dangerous though—Dax smacked Kiley over the head with a frying pan, somebody threw a hammer, Kiley used her Cabbage Patch Kid like a heat-seeking missile and I was known to use spoonfuls of pepper to blow in wide-eyes peeking through bedroom doors.
Ah, but there were gentler times. Like the days before Dax had biceps and belonged to the 4-H Baking Club. He actually received a certificate from Betty Crocker for his baking know-how. His Betty’s Bread Pizza (a gorgeous braided and stuffed loaf brushed with egg white) is still my birthday dinner request. When he was still in highschool, a friend of mine hired him to make the baked goods for her party. Of course my mother had to foot the bill for all the ingredients (I think she still brings up the price of walnuts) and Dax pocketed the cash. We think it was to the tune of $100.
Because we lived in the country, we couldn’t take on the part-time jobs city kids were privy to, like newspaper delivery routes. Dax found his own steady income by taking over responsibility for the vegetable garden. He would till the ground, plant the seeds, weed, water and toil, then sell the produce back to my parents. It seemed fair.
When Nintendo first emerged on every kid’s must-have wish list, Dax had already purchased one with his vegetable crop money on a cross-border shopping trip to Buffalo. He had a “Fat Cat” account at the Royal Bank and had already purchased stocks I think. With his Nintendo, he wisely charged Kiley and I 25 cents a game, and hid it and the Super Mario games when not in use. He made a killing from us and my mom who needed beefsteak tomatoes and pints of raspberries.
I think Dax was ten when he ambitiously took on setting up a saltwater fish tank. He funnelled all his earnings into financing the aquarium that was big enough to swim in. He ordered Protein Skimmers and special UV lighting from Pennsylvania and continually had UPS shipments arriving. His tank today is evidence of his young passion.
But we knew Dax was an original early on. He wanted to keep his name unique and would send away for seed catalogues and fish information using his alias “David.” Every electrical appliance was dissected on a regular basis, he tried to make dill pickles glow in the dark with 9-volts and he had a drawer of at least a hundred batteries that he would test on Saturdays with his battery tester. Dax belonged to the Radio Shack Battery Club. He channelled Chevy Chase in National Lampoon with his elaborate Christmas light displays. Even our bunk bed had Christmas lights.
On vacation (and Torti vacations were remarkably similar to National Lampoon’s), if we were anywhere on the ocean, Dax would vanish at first light. The rest of us would be patiently waiting to begin the day’s itinerary, and Dax would be a speck, 10 kilometres down the coastline, poking at some sea anemones or inspecting tidal pools.
As much as he loves fish, the poor kid is a barfer on a boat. Totally afflicted with seasickness. This was first witnessed when we spent a week in Kennebunkport, Maine and decided to go whale-watching. My dad who has an aversion to boats to begin with, stayed on shore and ate ice cream cones for five hours. On the boat Dax quickly turned slate grey and barfed on my mom’s pant leg. My mom barely flinched and simply rolled up her pant leg.
Dax and my mom were tight, even before the barf-on-the-pant-leg incident. When Dax was in high school he found my mom’s parked car (as she was working at a retirement home close to our school that day) in February, and left a Hagen Daaz ice cream bar on her windshield, for her birthday. Of all the gifts over the years, I think that is the one that stands out the biggest and brightest. Mine came when I was in the jungles of Costa Rica over Christmas. Dax sent me several homemade cut-out snowflakes so I wouldn’t miss the snow in Canada.
He still surprises us in wonderful and unexpected ways. Like the time he asked if I wanted to see Blue Rodeo in Guelph at Club Denim. I said yes, of course! When the concert date approached I asked Dax when and where my girlfriend and I should pick him up. “What? I’m not going to the concert. I only got tickets for you two, I didn’t want to go!”
He surprised me most on one of my saddest days. We were at a funeral for our friend Jane. Dax and I both had tears running down our cheeks as we stood in front of the casket. A recent ex-girlfriend of mine approached me at the casket and said she had separation papers for me to sign. I could follow her out to the car to get them. I was stunned. When she turned and left, Dax said he was coming with me. As I walked to her car, Dax kept watch, just in case she tried to create a scene (bigger than the one she had already created). I was so proud of him in that moment.
I’ve been proud of him many times, and grateful for his company. When I traipse off around the world and move here and there, Dax is always happy to have me back. We laugh our fool head’s off, drink pretty martinis, make messes of each other’s kitchens while cooking, gossip, watch crappy movies and carry on like the best of friends. Because we are.
I remember a party at Dax’s condo just before I moved out west. Somebody asked Dax if he would miss me. I overheard him say, “Of course, my best friend is leaving me.” It broke my heart.
We haven’t fought since the frying pan and “FIRST BATH!” days. In fact, even when we were younger, we were an unbeatable twosome. We’d talk about our dreams for hours (his were always about being abducted by aliens and having scientific experiments done on him). We’d make lists of what Hollywood stars we’d want to be with. We’d do girls first, then guys. Madonna, Sigourney Weaver and David Duchovny found spots on both our lists.
I always had a willing companion in Dax. My poor grandmother never had any nylons or wire hangers left as we’d rob her of them to go tadpole and crayfish hunting. Once I convinced Dax to walk to Burford with me, just to see if we could. We took the train tracks behind our house and had to call my parents from a convenience store some five hours later because it was dark.
We would take off on our bikes and cover over 70km. We went camping and slept in sleeping bags that the cat had obviously pissed on at some point when they were in storage. We canoed the Grand River and laughed by the fire over memories of when Dax wanted to be a Corvette when he grew up. He didn’t quite grasp the inanimate object thing. Now he’s a dual degree biotoxicology-microbiology PhD student in a cancer research lab, which is way cooler than any Corvette.
Not only can he shake the best martinis and sing Tiffany songs by heart, but he routinely throws three-course dinner parties with entrees that way surpass his initial Betty’s Bread Pizza days. His kitchen is stocked with cannoli tubes, a pasta maker, ice cream maker and Silpat sheets (which apparently are the only surface cookies should be baked on!). He’s a handsome devil who can pull off a bikini top better than most girls. He’s my favourite guy in the world.
Happy birthday, Dax. Sorry I locked you in the closet so often and cracked you in the head with a baseball bat.