Sixteen years ago today my father died.
He has been gone for almost half of my life. Functionally it is more than that, as he has not met my husband or my children, seen where I lived, experienced things I have created and dismantled.
Thinking of him has gone from every painful minute to daily to weekly to monthly. I talk about his preference for a certain candy bar when shopping with the boys, but it is fact more than his essence. Like a memory triggered by a picture the story conforms to the the boundaries of the information in front of me, the story is about as alive and vital as the candy bar in its wrapper.
I wonder too, how much my memory of him is shaped by exactly that…memory. I revisit the same stories wearing a path in the sand. The other tales are somewhere over the next dune…hazy, inexact, blending in with the landscape.
Our relationship is like a first love perfectly preserved in the golden memory of youth. He died when I was 24, and he is not around to participate in the monotony of daily life. He was present for the transformative moments of that transition from girl to young adult, and then gone to be romanticized.
It feels disloyal to have him fade in places and sharpen in others. Yet it is inevitable. I look into the faces of my boys and seek him there. I see him it in a leg cross, and the crook of a finger. When Leo asks if we can build a rock garden in our back yard it is as if he is sitting at the table in front of me. I don’t want to ask, but I do, and Leo explains they have been studying gardens in art class. Still, probably most students didn’t have the connection which Leo did…some sort of cosmic echo coming through the years.
I seek the double helix in my children and remember how much my father loved spirals and fractals. Patterns of nature. His art was supposed to elicit questions of what is natural and what is manmade. I realize there is 50%of those same spirals in me. Nature and nurture both, just like his art. I see him in the face looking up at me instead of the one I looked up to.
When I sit at the coffee shop ranting about the disappearance of sweat pants it turns into a performance rather than a conversation. This is how our family dinners went. He picked a topic and worked himself up to a frenzy. I feel his righteous wrath running through me. I see the slightly charmed slightly alarmed faces of my friends me as I rant about pants and I feel like him. As the years go on I become more of a homebody…for the last 7 years of his life he didn’t leave our house. Leaving some of the irritating details of life to Steve, like bills and cooking has echoes of his relationship with my mother. When I examine the surface of the bark of a tree, following the folds down to the root system instead of up to the leaves I have images of him, large calloused fingers outstretched to stroke the bark with characteristic gentleness. Relentless sports talk was his soundtrack, and is now mine. First to help keep him with me, now because he still teaches me in his death.
Mostly though he is alive in shadows and echoes instead of his huge brash technicolor self. A man who didn’t wear socks, who would trace my face with his sculptors fingers, understanding my features as planes of a whole instead of disparate parts to analyze in a mirror. Seated at the head of a table challenging everyone around him, eating white rice. Leaving to pee before every single dinner, although each second of the day outside of this one was his own to manage. His time was too magical to interrupt.
Maybe he knew it would be short.
Happy Valentines day to my first Valentine.
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