I apologize in advance if it takes a little while to get to my point.
I’m a natural born procrastinator, you see; due to circumstances beyond my control (not at all, a joke, a lazy excuse in the shady blaming of genetics) I’ve never done today what I could put off until a year from now. A majority of my early memories are childhood rooms full of fantastical and unmitigated mess, prepubescent head-hangings in the face of fatherly harangues on my pervasive lateness, and teenage anxiety attacks, having left a school project or paper or both or many until it was nigh on impossible to complete them, until it was a near certainty that I’d be making up for my past forever, never able to get even a breath ahead of my life.
My papa couldn’t understand it. Any of it, really; any of me. Why couldn’t I just do it, whatever the it of the moment was that I was neglecting? Was my not doing it a rebellion? Was my refusal to even acknowledge it a deliberate attempt at pissing him off? What was so bad about it, anyway, that I couldn’t just goddamn get it over with so I could move on to the next it? I grew up growing apart from him, unable to comprehend his unceasing anger, bewildered by my inability to do anything, by my inelegant inertia, my desire to devolve into nothing, nothing worth taking notice of, please God, just to be invisible! The more rebuked I was, the more removed I became.
It wasn’t until I emerged from the conflagration of college, scorched and sloughed of all my previous protections that I could start seeing myself, start being able to push past my past and into a terrifyingly unknowable future. I began to see that I could vacuum. Pay bills. Meet deadlines. I could even, shockingly, do the dishes, and something more, discovered that I liked doing them, that something happened in my brain when up to my elbows in suds and hunched over protectively around my new-found ability, an opening and a calming and a tentative finding of my center. Accountability for once, for myself.
And as I found these new parts, I began finding my way back to my pops. And he to me. I can only surmise, on his part, what the impetus was. Even so, it wasn’t until a couple years ago that I felt the first tenuous strings between us, acceptance and genuine interest humming along the thin wires that drew us steadily closer. We still disagreed on many things, and kept the worst of the hurts tucked down, not ready yet even to acknowledge their presence, content for the moment to rediscover the outsides of each other, content to let the depths rest until the strings could bear more weight.
I called him on his birthday, the ninth, in June, and we talked about politics, always difficult with us, but a new string we were testing, and I sang him his favorite song, and we made plans for my oldest niece’s wedding the next week. I would join him and my mama on the fourteenth, we were driving out to Utah, and would spend two weeks together there, and oh, all that time to talk and just sit by each other’s side, a luxury we hadn’t had in many, many months.
Waking on the thirteenth, reading an email on my phone from my mom, dad went to the hospital last night, he’s okay, but will probably miss the wedding, and call her when I can, and noticing a couple of voicemails from my mama, I called her, never mind that it’s five in the morning, I should call, and when she answered, asking, so, he’s in the hospital again, what happened this time, my mother saying, I’m sorry, Cara, he died.
One day until I was to see him again. Six days until his oldest grandchild was to be married. Driving home that day, driving to my mother and my brother and my sister and somehow, impossibly, not my father, my family now minus one, an absurd equation, really, we left the next day, planning the service while driving to Utah, attending to obituaries and bridal showers simultaneously, meeting my other two sisters out there, who, left so long without my mother, had become lost and lashing, all of us grasping at normalcy like demented children, a wedding on Saturday and a funeral on Monday, smiling for pictures at them both, my family imploding and exploding, yes, simultaneously, shatteringly, with aftershocks that still reverberate within me.
And ever since that day, when I heedlessly spent the last of my words as I watched him lowered and laid to ground, how in the absence of tears I flung my eulogy into the quickening wind, dry cheeked and now dry voiced, with only silence to guide me gasping through a landscape of ripped-open skies, trying to reach the other side of the storm, driving down highways bereft of names, looking, always looking and never finding, running, running until I realized I was standing still, all I’ve been able to think of is my ten year old wish for devolution, to be gone into nothing, and how I didn’t fully know what that meant until now, until I became a daughter of the disappeared, and had nothing to speak with just as I finally had something to say.
And through it all, I never really cried. I kept waiting, but when they came down, they were meager and fleeting. I was a miser with my misery, hoarding it inside away, knowing that eventually I would have to rifle through the bolts of pain, reconcile the many currencies of regret and total up the volume of anguish so I could put a final sum on the whole transaction of my grief. I was afraid of the wealth I would find, so I remained locked as I persuaded myself over and over again that I had lost the key, ignoring it tightly clutched in my hands, pretending the resultant bruises were from a beating far more bearable.
In four days it will be four months since I’m sorry, Cara, he died, months of recriminations and remembrances and a delving so deep into the past I was afraid I would never be able to take that next breath ahead of me, into a life devoid of my dad.
And then, a handful of days ago, weeping. Weeping, breaking, shaking the sadness straight out of me in violent spasms, in tremors worthy of Richter, unforeseen but finally unlocked and welcomed in embarrassment, and relief, even a strange, upward joy, and an afterward cathartic cataplexy.
At last. The pushing-past moment. At last, a hesitant foray into an incalculable future.
Another gift, unexpected, returned as the tears and tremors shook themselves out; my voice has found its way back to me, and with it, a keen need to save some part of him, some part of ourselves, who we were becoming, together, who I am becoming, now, hanging on, refusing to part.
So I write, and hold my words up into the world and say here, I’m here, and I want you to hear me, to see me now, please God, just to be seen! I’m here. And I’m not alone. I am myself plus one, plus the many I love, have loved, will love, an immeasurable amo, amas, amamus of life. An infinite equation, really.
And my point, yes, I haven’t forgotten it, you see, it’s been here, inside, all along.
At this end, I can begin. Done with this dislocation, I can inhabit myself again, and though I won’t be able to see my father ahead of me anymore, whenever I hunch over, elbows deep in the certainty of who I am, protected and open and calm, he will be there, always at my center, and accounted for.