28 5 / 2012
I forget sometimes that my father was once young and that inside him
somewhere, is a Montana farm boy climbing trees and falling off horses. I
forget that inside him are all the same ribbons and coils that made him,
him. I tell my daughters about Grandpa, tell them how he climbed a water
tower when he was three, tamed a stallion when he was barely five. I tell
them how before Grandma died, Grandpa pedaled a blue ten-speed six miles
a day at age seventy-five, and that he went back to school at age
seventy-eight to earn his GED. My daughters don’t hear much outside their
ipods, don’t see much beyond the abbreviated texts that beep every two
minutes: OMG! LMAO. FML! I touch my four fingers to my belly fat. I take
note of the bumps, the cellulite, the stretch marks that remain even
thirteen years after having carried my twins.
I forget that none of us ever really overcomes loneliness, that it
follows us, and gropes our backs with its sticky fingers. I call my
father to remind him we’re together in this cold, gray vacuum, and that
of all things, it’s our sadness that binds us, not our DNA, not our
family history. But when I hear his fragile voice drowned out by the
television, (Jeopardy, I think) I stop. My father takes his pain on the
rocks. Figuratively speaking, since my dad has never touched a drop of
alcohol. In fact, other than television in the evenings, my father has no
crutch, no vice to dull the senses. His Love has died. He is alone. His
heart beats slower every day while the blue body of his bike collects
rust and other damage.
I forget that everyone has a right to say when they’re done. That
is, without the help of self-pity. I wonder how dad will say goodbye.
Will he be taken overnight like mom? Or will there be other signs, the
giving away of property, final words of advice? I try to decipher the
long pauses over the phone. He clears his throat and I imagine tears. I
feel my neck and throat sink into my heart. But then dad asks, “How old
are the twins?” I look over at my girls, and they’re as clueless as I was
at their age. They won’t know their Grandpa until he’s long gone, and by
then he’ll be nothing short of a legend, the mythos of our family tree.
“Thirteen,” I say, and I tell him, “Tell me who you were at thirteen
dad.” It’s better I think, to talk about the distant past, rather than
this thing we cannot process, cannot accept. His stories take us
somewhere that’s easier to breathe. The words “I love you” are like an
unopened letter or an unpaid bill. But still, I feel us fighting it,
fighting the shadows together.