Fourteen years ago today my father died.
Which means that he has been gone for more than a third of my life. Functionally it is more than that, as he has not met my husband or my children, seen where I lived, the things I have created or dismantled.
Thinking of him has gone from every painful minute to daily to weekly to monthly. At least in a prolonged way. His preference for a certain candy bar comes up when shopping with the boys, but it is fact more than his presence. Like a memory triggered by a picture the story conforms the the boundaries of the information in front of me.
I wonder too, how much my memory of him is shaped by exactly that…memory. I revisit the same stories more frequently wearing a path in the sand. The other stories are somewhere over the next dune…hazy, inexact, blending in with the landscape.
His character though is like a first love perfectly preserved in the golden memory of youth, not having to deal with the monotonous bumps and bruises of life today, 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. And inevitable. So I look into the faces of my boys and seek him there, telling the genetic code to be damned. Show me more than a quarter. And it is in a leg cross, and the crook of a finger. Leo asks if we can build a rock garden in our back yard because they are such a good place to think. I see him in the face looking up at me instead of the one I looked up to. I don’t want to ask, but I do, and Leo explains they have been studying gardens in art class. But for a moment he was standing right in front of me.
I seek the double helix in my children and remember how much he loves 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.
When I lament the loss of sweat pants for yoga pants and it turns into a performance rather than a conversation I feel his righteous wrath running through me. I see the slightly charmed slightly alarmed faces surrounding me as I rail on and I feel like him. The pull of home and the magnetic repulsion of the bank feels like him. Leaving some of the irritating details of life to Steve, like bills and cooking has echoes of him. Checking out the folds in the side of the tree, following the folds down to the root system instead of up to the leaves brings 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. 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. Sending my mother the message that her time didn’t matter, and me the message that his time was too magical to interrupt.
Maybe he knew it would be short.
Happy Valentines day to my first Valentine.