By Garon Whited
My first memory, I think, is of my Pop. My first clear memory, anyway. He was smiling down at me, holding me and a bottle, and I was happy. Looking back on it, yeah, it wasn’t normal, but it was all I knew. How was I to know normal people didn’t use telepathy? I got used to having near-constant contact with ancient and powerful minds before I was three months old.
It’s a good thing I didn’t learn to talk until much later. I’d have blabbed about it. Being educated in a psychic household meant my intellectual development proceeded at unprecedented speeds, but I didn’t learn to lie to people for quite a while. Just naturally honest, I guess.
’Lemme tell you about my Pop. He’s always been a major fixture in my life, darn near the center of it. If I don’t try to explain him, you’ll never believe me. Anything I can say about Pop isn’t a definition. It’s a signpost, a direction of departure, maybe, with a whole intergalactic hyperspace system of qualifiers farther down the road.
First off, he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Oh, he’s brilliant, in a highly-focused genius way, but he can be as thick as a brick sandwich. He’s a walking bundle of contradictions and he’s too complicated to fit in a nutshell.
On the other hand, he could put as much space inside a nutshell as he pleased.
Second, he means well. I said he can be a bit thick. Well, remember it if I tell you more about him. He’s a wonderful man and has always had my best interests at heart, but he can tarmac a six-lane highway to Hell with his good intentions.
And third, he’s a vampire wizard from another dimension with an unstable shadow and a small universe disguised as a cape. He used to teach freshmen physics and computer programming, and he’s been known to murder people who are unkind to children.
Maybe I should’ve led with that.
Thing is, there’s a lot to my Pop we’re not going to get to, not ever. All I’m really going to go over is how he relates to me, not how he got to be… whatever he is. This isn’t about him. It’s about me. We’re going to have to detour into stuff about Pop because some of it is vital to understanding who I am and how I got to be me. So bear with me if I seem to go off on a tangent now and again.
For most people, our family’s weirdness is either invisible stuff they never get to see, or so utterly unbelievable they can’t comprehend it. It took me a long time to realize how Addams-family-weird we were, but you have to understand, this is what I grew up with. He was always just my Pop.
My name is Phoebe Kent. I’m as close to normal as it gets in our house. The rest of my family is almost as weird as Pop.
My mother—in the sense anyone mothered me when I was little—was a horse. Her name is Bronze. She’s not really a horse. She’s a spirit. She can possess objects, and she usually possesses a car when she’s not inside her special horse statue. She doesn’t talk, exactly, but I can hear her feelings clearly enough it’s like she’s speaking. She’s the one with the most sense, I think.
Then there’s my crazy uncle. That’s Firebrand. It’s a big, fancy sword who usually hangs in the fireplace. It’s got a dragon-spirit inside it, so it’s telepathic and catches fire. Pop said it was a bad influence on me, but I’m not sure he meant it. Firebrand and Bronze aren’t sure, either. It can be hard to tell with Pop.
About this point, you’re probably thinking, “Wow. That is one messed-up childhood.” And, if I were whizzing along in your roller-skates, I’d probably be thinking the same thing. What makes this even weirder is the fact it wasn’t.
That’s right. Looking back, I can see how Pop was doing everything he could to be a good father. The poor dear had no idea how to do it, so he went with the spaghetti method. Throw everything, see what sticks. Considering what Pop had available, it’s not surprising I am the way I am. Or maybe it is, depending on how you look at it. He did his best, even when he didn’t understand what he was doing. He tried.
No, he did more than try. He made it a priority. He made it his mission in life and death.
What I mean is, Pop was always available.
No, I don’t mean he spent every free moment with me. I mean he didn’t have anything more important to do. Literally put, I was the most important thing in whatever universe we were in. He didn’t tell me to go play. He never said he was busy. At the absolute most, he might tell me to hold on a second until he could safely stop what he was doing. If I was awake, my Pop was awake, and he was there. Piggy-back rides, kite-flying, all sorts of lessons, hide-and-seek, you name it. If I wanted my Pop, I had Pop. Even if I didn’t want him right that second, Pop was no more than a loud shout away.
I could go romping through the woods with my dog, Gus, and Pop would be at home, doing whatever Pop did, but also waiting, ready to come for me at a moment’s notice. I could yell for him in the middle of the night and he’d be in my room before the echo had time to get sick, much less die. There was never a moment of my life when I didn’t have the warm feeling of knowing my Pop was there for me, no matter what, no matter the hour, whatever it took.
I recall a time when I was… five, I think? I broke my ankle. I was swinging on a rope from the hayloft at one place we lived. I didn’t land well. Even though it hurt, even though I cried, I didn’t mind it so much. I knew Pop would be there almost as soon as I yelled for him, and he would fix it. In my five-year-old brain, I knew Pop could fix anything.
It’s been a couple of decades and I still have a hard time imagining there’s anything he can’t fix, if I ask him to.
There’s a confidence that comes with knowing an ancient and powerful entity loves you unconditionally and will always have your back.
The first memories of my Pop are some of the purest memories I have. He touched my little mind with his, like a grown man touching a newborn’s nose with a warm, gentle fingertip. I think I learned to laugh, right then, or I learned what laughter was. Until that moment, everything was confusing and colorful and impossible to understand. Then I saw the world around me with Pop’s thoughts to filter it all, organize it, make sense of it. I still couldn’t understand it, not in the slightest, but I knew two things. First, I knew Pop. That guy, that shape, that face. That’s my Pop. Second, everything around me, confusing and colorful, could be made sense of. I would figure it all out, and my Pop would help me do it.
I guess, when it comes right down to it, that’s when I started to be me. By touching my mind directly, he was able—or was it unavoidable?—to give me a sense of self. The universe divided into two things: Me, and everything else. Well, three things. Me, Pop, and everything else, and only the first two were important.
Pop did his best to introduce me to as much of the everything else as he could.
As another for instance, we had a gas fireplace pretty much everywhere we lived. Firebrand stayed in the chimney, hanging there so it could live in the flames. Dragon spirit in a sword, remember? But every Christmas, starting when I was almost three, Pop took Firebrand out of the fireplace and put it on the mantel. Why? Because Firebrand wouldn’t appreciate the cold draft coming down the chimney every Christmas Eve.
Maybe your parents went all-out and hired a guy with a red suit. They rented a sleigh and some reindeer. Money can buy a whole lot of things, including a pretty impressive Santa Claus experience. Even if you only went to the mall for pictures or something, “Every kid gets to meet Santa!” Yeah, sure. Did you get to go up a ladder to the roof and feed the reindeer? Did you get to ride the sleigh through the sky? No? Did you get to help? Did you hand presents from the Big Bag to the fat man so he could go down someone’s chimney?
I did. Don’t ever tell me there is no Santa Claus. You met him for a photo op. I helped deliver presents via sleigh-borne airdrops.
The first time I met him, he came down the chimney in a bunch of sparkles, like when a campfire log breaks and sends orange sparks whirling up into the sky. In this case, the sparks were white and silver, like moonlight on snowflakes, and they whirled down the chimney in a narrow tornado. The end of the tornado struck the floor, formed boots, and proceeded upward to produce a big guy in a red suit.
Want an even weirder moment?
Ever meet the Monster Under the Bed? I don’t mean “Lay there and fear the Monster Under the Bed.” I mean have a conversation with him. A real conversation, out loud, both ways. Pop once stuck his head in my room and told us both to hush; it was time to sleep. We both said okay, and he wished us both a good night.
His name is “Fred.” He likes me. Here I am, probably twenty years old, now, with a different world, city, bedroom, and bed—and he still stops by once in a while to visit. What does that tell you?
Come to think of it, what does that tell you? ’Cause I’m not totally sure what it should tell me.
I really did have a fantastic childhood. We went to other worlds, collected rocks, and once I think we visited Fairyland or some unreasonable parallel of it—I got to pet a unicorn as a birthday present for several years. His name is Argestes. He still comes out of the woods when I call. I think we’re still friends, despite the fact I’m disqualified from touching him anymore.
Pop really gets around. I think he made a special effort to go places and show me stuff. I get the feeling he would be happy with a workshop and a library, but I needed more than mere book-larnin’ for my education.
I’m not sure what it was that made me decide to be a superhero, though. Maybe it was the comic books. I had a lot of those, growing up. Or maybe it wasn’t any one thing, but everything.
Still, just to be clear, let me say it again: I’m the normal one in the family. As close as we get, anyway.