My name, in those days, was Anne Bonny.
I’m told I was born in Cork, Ireland, sometime before 1700, but my father never told me the year, nor the day nor month of my birth. I should think he never really cared enough to know. Later, I would imagine I was born at sea in a night tempest; mountainous waves throwing the ship around like a twig in a rolling barrel of grog, my mother spread-eagled on the deck, her hair splayed out, screaming like a wild banshee. The sea has always felt like my true birthplace. It is where I found myself. It is where I found Mary.
I regret that neither my birth nor my early life was quite that romantic, however. I was an illegitimate child of my father – a lawyer – and his housemaid. To escape the scandal, and his wife’s wrath, my father dressed me as a boy and passed me off as a young clerk, opening legal letters and such. That was until my chest started to grow in, and my rosy cheeks and lips likened to those of a lady. Gentlemen and not-so-gentle-men began to pay me attention. Whether or not they knew I was a lass I do not know, but they nevertheless took a liking to me, be it a boy or girl they were after. More than once, I had to fight a fellow off, which was not a problem for me. My father used to tell me I inherited my rage from my mother – we both were crowned with the virago’s tell-tale tangle of fire-red hair – but I reckon he had more than a little to do with it. Eventually, when one particularly over-amorous lawyer made his advances, I stabbed him in the neck with a paperknife. He spent some time in the infirmary and it kicked up a fair old stink with my father. Before long, the truth of both my sex and my parentage was uncovered and my father left Ireland a disgraced man – with my birth mother and me in tow – to start a new life in Charles Town, Carolina.
That first day of our voyage to the colonies sticks clear and sharp in my memory, like the pleasure-pain prick of a hatpin. It is a memory almost as sharp as the first time I saw Mary.
Have you ever crawled up the bowsprit, at the very foremost point of a schooner? The ocean is all you can see. All you can smell and hear. A five-foot scooch backwards and the topsail and fore rigging will surround you. But sit up at the tip of the bowsprit and there is nothing but unsullied water all around.
I remember straddling it on that day, my boots crossed tight underneath at the ankles, watching two dozen gulls dip and swoop above my head, my eyes squinting in the afternoon sun. Looking out over the vast ocean, the wind whipping at my curls, I felt like a bird myself. I felt free. I felt like home.