My favorite memory of my father is a bright spring morning, where the sunlight was shiny and squeaked when you came to fast around a corner. I was wearing my easter dress, as we had just come back from mass, this being way back in time when retail type people didn’t have to ruin every single day of the week letting other’s buy tchotckes. I can recall the sway of the ruffled hem, and the tiny, almost transparent hat on my head. We were walking down the main street of our tiny little town, just walking.
My father reached back, and up, and pulled me to his shoulders, my dress lifting in the breeze as I giggled. He grunted, let out a quick breath as I settled on his shoulder, and held my hands for a moment before I slapped them on the bare skin of his head.
“Last time babe. Your Dad can’t pull this off anymore.”
But despite his aching back, 45 or so, he let me ride in the sunlight one last time, proud of my new height. And we walked to the river, my mother beside us, quiet.
My father left us for another year today, and I, ungrateful child, couldn’t even rouse myself to say goodbye. I felt an ache at my rudeness, texted my brother to apologize when he landed.
But it’s more than being rude. Every year he arrives a little bit older, with more grey, more wrinkles. He’s not a young man. Ever year he leaves and I worry, will he be back? Will he return? Will the hug, the back slap, the joking nudge be the last time I see him, last time we touch in life?
It’s horribly morbid but I think it every year-how it’s only a matter of time before age robs me of him, steals my one last person, another inch of my family and soul. He’s finally taken to walking with a cane, after being hounded all winter. He’s admitted, to himself, that aging is inevitable.
But I have trouble. In my mind he is still the vibrant, witty and private man that raised me, the man so steadfast in his love and devotion for my mother that I have never once heard a complaint or regret over their life together. A man who did whatever, anything, he could do for me.
I know it’s not all true. I know my father has many faults, faults that have sliced me in hidden places. My father has been, a various times, a drunk. He hasn’t always been the best father, hasn’t always treated me well. But grief shows itself in many forms, and I knew that, even then.
What we have been to each other are companions on a road I wish on no one. With my brother out of the house at university when my mother died, it was merely Dad and I, facing the world, facing the terror. We closed ranks and marched together, one holding the other.
I left home at 16, and knew then, as I know now, that I helped drive him to drinking. I’ll never forgive myself for that. What was a problem we might have resolved exploded, and home was never home again. He couldn’ t be the same father to me anymore.
But we had seen the same jaded sunsets, written the thank you message for the paper after the funeral together, dealt with my period and posters of Corey Haim. We had been there, in the echoing no-man’s land of after, and had found a tenuous allowance. We understood.
When he leaves, I feel it. I practice for that last time, for the after again, the place without him, where only memory slips through my hands, instead of advice and wisdom, sadness and anger. I practice for imagining myself as an orphan, alone without the guidance of either parent. I imagine the loneliness, the wiped clean whiteness of it all, glimmering.
I’ve watched my father these few months, enjoying his granddaughters, their laughter, their reactions, their intelligence. I want so desperately for my mother to see him like this, unguarded, interested, mischievious, in love with the daughters of his daughters.
They take him for granted now, knowing he’ll be there. Tomorrow they’ll wake up and realize the bed really is empty, and the basement strangely quiet.
They’ll know then.