Do you ever have one of those days, weeks, months, where things start happening, and they start to bring stuff you thought you’d left behind for a while right back up into your face, surrounding you, and staring at you, demanding attention?
And you get really tired of just looking at them looking at you, and you realize that the only way you’re going to get away from them is to fight your way through them?
I’m fighting. Hopefully I’ll find some breathing room on the other side.
The strangest thing happened to me yesterday. I was driving down Kirby, headed for dinner with friends. I was stopped at the intersection with 59. I was sitting between the Taco Cabana north of Bennigan’s and the building that has the Red Onion in it. And I smelled this smell.
It was a combination of motor oil and Jim Beam and cigarette smoke and… and… and something indescribable, but undeniably warm and human. I guess it sounds fairly terrible, if you didn’t know it, but I did.
It was Daddy.
For a second I was absolutely certain that if I turned and looked over my right shoulder, he’d be there, in the back seat. With that quiet, still look on his face that he’d get when he was concentrating on something, before he’d look up and see his little girl watching, and smile. Why he’d be sitting in the back seat, I don’t know. But that’s just where the smell seemed to be coming from. Which makes no sense. None of it made any sense.
Because he wasn’t there. Not even in spirit. I’d have felt that, wouldn’t I? And I felt nothing. Just the smell, the memory. And the pain. Trying to drive down the road, make my turns, the every day business of getting where I’m going one step at a time. And all the while my soul flailing around about me, reaching here and there like a blind man searching, searching for the warm touch of a remembered hand. Surely it was right there, just a second ago?
And now it’s all back. It’s been creeping up for a while, and it comes and goes like waves on the beach. I guess I’ve seen it coming. Things have just been happening.
I’ve made some new friends. Eventually, somehow, it always comes up. Normally, because I’m still lax in the tense I use when I talk about him, it’s a little uncomfortable. But no matter how smoothly it happens, it’s never easy for me. The tears just fall on the inside now.
Then I went to my friend’s commitment ceremony. I love her and her family very much. I’ve pretty much been part of the family for years. I lost touch with them all a bit when I left home and got married. But Daddy still stopped by to visit them every so often, and Daddy was always willing to help out anyone who needed help he could give.
It was my friend’s father that Daddy was helping when he died. The visitation in Castroville was the first time I’d seen my friend in years. My ties to her and her family will always be inflected by my loss, and my grief. Not in a bad way, because I love them very much, and I love him very much. I don’t think I can even begin to explain. But seeing her and her family brought it a little nearer.
Then last week, a man in the community band I play in, with the same name as my father, and probably not much older, had a light stroke. He’s recovering very well, and was in band on Wednesday, and everyone was so glad to see him. And I hope very much that he’ll continue to improve, and be healthy. But it wasn’t many months before Daddy died that he had what was probably a small stroke. He was driving, and he lost vision in his left eye, and lost feeling in his arm and hand, and ended up taking out a mail box. And it came a little closer.
So all these things, and other things, have brought me here. To a point in time when some stray accidental scent from a city full of weird smells can turn me around into a tight little knot inside myself. Curled around the old grief, and feeling it in new ways.
I’m trying to date again, some. Who will tell any man who starts to matter that the worst and last mistake he’ll ever make is to hurt me? Who’s got my back like that now? Who will ever cherish me like that again? Whose other, better self can I possibly be as truly as I was his. As he told me I was.
He told me, not long before he died, that he knew I understood him better than anyone ever did, because I was like him. But that I was more. I was the person he would be if he could go back and try again.
And I didn’t tell him what I would give anything to tell him now. It was in my heart, but it was hidden. I told him everything I could. But I somehow couldn’t tell him that he was the person I was going to be before it was too late. That I had so many of his gifts frozen inside of me, and that my greatest wish and prayer was to break them loose, thaw them out, and raise them up. That he was full of a life and a love that I was too afraid to fill myself with. That he gave himself in ways that I was too terrified to risk. But that whatever it took, I was going to do it, damn it, because when I die, I want to have lived.
See, when I lost him, I couldn’t let him go. I couldn’t. But I couldn’t keep him unless I became all the things I cherished in him, all the things that made me proud to be from him. It was the only thing I could do. I know I can be those things. They were his gift, and I hold them in myself. But it takes so much courage, and sometimes I’m not that brave. It takes so much strength, and sometimes I’m not that strong. Sometimes I’m so damned tired of being strong. It’s worth it to me, but it makes me so tired. And it hurts so much.
It still hurts. Every time I throw my feelings of into the ring, which I do every day to some degree. Every time I invest my spirit and my energy in any sort of gamble, and let’s face it, all of life is a gamble. It hurts. It hurts to drop the chips on the table and step back, and it hurts even more to watch someone else scoop up the pot. But I keep on doing it, because if I didn’t, I’m pretty sure I’d lose even more.
I’ll be fine. I can be as strong as he was. I can be more stubborn than he was. And I lost him in himself, but I found him in myself. And if I hadn’t found him there, I wouldn’t really be alive. But it still hurts so much. I try to keep him alive as much as I can, because it’s the only way I can do this. And I do believe I will see him again. If I had no other reason to believe in heaven, I would cling forcibly to any faith that gave me that chance. To see him and tell him what I didn’t tell him.
I’m not sure I believe in ghosts. I don’t discount them. But he wasn’t in my car yesterday. Not that way. Sometimes, even if it’s a blasphemous wish, I do wish he could be. I want something I can face, even if I can’t touch it. Some feeling of a presence that could never be anything but loving, outside of myself. Something reflected back of all the love I’ve had in my heart for over four years now, and that will continue to build up in the years to come, with no father to give it to.
When he died, a good friend who lost her mother when she was thirteen told me two things. “You’re going to see him. You’re going to see him everywhere. It’s okay, you’re not going crazy. And it will get better, but it will never be really right again.” Those things comforted me, really. To know that I wasn’t crazy, and that it was okay if I never got completely better. Four years and change later, it still can come over me some times. In the strangest ways, for the strangest reasons. Ever day is better, but no day will be what it used to be, or what it would have been. That last is not actually an unmitigated evil, but it’s still hard.
This is what I’ll be working on tonight. This is what I’ll be working on my entire life.