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Kate In the Sun

Let’s formally bring in Kate Parrish.

We have Jenna and Abby. One or two others may yet be mentioned. But Kate is also going to be important to this story. We should properly introduce her.

No one disputes that during the early 1970s Kate Parrish knew just about everyone on the Space Coast. If you do as I have done and you go into each shop, each hotel lobby, and each bar, club and restaurant between Cocoa Beach and Daytona, you will hear a story about Kate Parrish. Among those old enough to have been working or living on the east coast of Florida during the heady days of Apollo, no one exists who doesn’t have a story about Kate Parrish or the Cocoa Creatures. (More on them later.)

Kate’s journey to Florida had not been without effort. Which is not to say that it had been difficult to get to Florida. That part was easy. Rather, Kate’s labors concerned throwing the sheets out the jailhouse window and lowering herself to the outside world. In truth, the warden was probably looking the other way, but still a plan was required and its success never was assured. No warden likes to lose a prisoner, even a troublesome prisoner. So there were some scenes in the Parrish house, but they didn't amount to much.

No, what’s important is that Kate got out. While not without complications and casualties, her escape secured her freedom, just as she had designed. Better still, her life out of prison made in her exactly the sort of off-balance spirit she had only dimly recognized as she grew up, a spirit that was impossible to fully realize in her parents' house, which was not a place in which to fulfill dreams but to form them. It's not hard to know why.

Kate’s relationship with her parents, and with her father in particular, never jelled into intimacy. They were them. She was her. It was like a marriage of convenience: each side knew its role. And though the players performed their parts well enough, the drama never quite worked. Young Kate knew that her parents were more interested in themselves than in her. (Someday I’ll tell you about Kate’s parents and their courtship, and you will understand why Kate felt outside the real life of the Parrish house.) Her parents loved her, yet Kate felt this love as not much more than the fulfillment of a duty. The sad truth is that Kate’s parents probably never wanted children. They stopped with one, and that may have been either a blessing or a curse for Kate, who had only her parents against which to measure her worth.

Measuring was common in the Parrish house. Her father had not been kidding when he said that everything in life had to be paid for. Every emotional transaction in the Parrish house required a toll to be paid. She might emerge from her room, on her way to a date, and hear her father say, “Your mother used to wear a dress like that. You have no idea how beautiful…” Her mother would grin, privately pleased, and Kate would wonder whether her mother understood how such remarks made her daughter feel, whether her mother knew that her daughter’s mouth would go dry, as if abruptly Kate had been dropped into a desert, not a soul in sight…and whether her mother knew how often Kate left the house determined to prove herself more worthy of the dress.

When exactly Kate arrived in Florida, few can say. But at some point during the early 70s, she became ubiquitous on the Space Coast. A lifeguard at the Cocoa Beach Holiday Inn swimming pool speaks of Kate not as someone who came there from the land but as a mermaid who emerged from the sea. No matter how she got to Florida, whether she swam there or drove, on its beaches Kate Parrish found everything she wanted. No tolls. Love freely given and taken, like picking up shells half-buried in the sand. Washed in a warmth very different from the humidity of Virginia, Kate acquired not just a tan but also a different way of thinking, as if the wetlands, the flatness, the low, libidinous bungalows hidden among the pines and mangroves, physically rewired her brain. Thirsty girl drank. The more she drank, the more she became the woman she was meant to be. By the time she met Al Borden, there was no going back.

Once someone knows who she is, a rip to that weave of knowledge can tear her soul into several frayed pieces.

Fortunately for Kate Parrish, Al Borden was made from the same cloth. A rip to one would have ripped the other. Kate was lucky that way. The world does not always respect the radiance of a soul in new clothes.

I watched Abby learn that lesson and God that was terrible.

© Mark Dodson

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