Mirror in the Sky
With incredible guilt-ridden relief, I left that horrid black velvet dress in the back of my closet, packed my bags, and kept my plans to see my parents this weekend. A few of my friends have buried their mothers in the past few months, and I have inadvertently found myself unable to attend any of the services. Perhaps the universe sees fit to deliver me from facing that hell just now, because I simply am not ready.
Daddy took me to the park Sunday afternoon for a walk along the bay. Every step I mindfully delay to match his pace is a tiny death. His excitement in discovering that most of the ice fishing takes place within reasonable walking distance from the parking lot amounts to so many tears shed later, in the dark, on top of the sea created from his concern that he might not be strong enough to pull himself from the water if the ice gave way beneath him.
The night his mother died, I held my father while he cried. Just he and I, sitting in the dark, the smell of liquor heavy in the air. He looked at me with indescribable anguish, whispered “I’m an orphan again” and crumpled into a quiet and dignified weeping.
At sixteen, I had the sense to be heartbroken for him and honored that he allowed himself a moment of unfettered grief in my presence. I did not have the sense to be absolutely petrified at the hard reality: this man that still seemed part machine would age, himself.
That fear would be borne some fifteen years later, when my Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, when my Uncle and I clung to each other and wept for his mother, when young and tragic death forced itself upon my family like a stain.
Those experiences created a manic rage, a choking desire, words creeping up in my throat, begging for air, for all the volume I can muster- warnings from the rooftops about the fleeting nature of life, about the enduring power of love, about what is important and what is not, and why oh why do we waste so much time on meaningless things when it all goes by so quickly?!
This is precisely why my father no longer grows a winter beard; his whiskers are nearly all white now, and I pleaded with him not to make me stare down his mortality. He lost another of his best friends on Christmas Eve, and I finally acquiesced this weekend, because I can no longer pretend that I won’t walk the Earth without him someday.
I thought long and hard today about why that’s so goddamned scary. I grew up with the constant reminder that he was preparing me to survive without him. I love my mother dearly; I cherish my time with her and worry for her health, I can sense the heaviness of losing her, but there is no cold, hard fear, no tearful three in the mornings, no nightmares, no soul-quaking hollowness.
What am I so afraid of? What am I losing that I cannot live without?
Like most good answers, especially at three in the morning, it’s sickeningly, stunningly clear.
My father sees, understands and appreciates me on a level no one else does because I let him. I make myself vulnerable, I throw open the doors of my heart and let him in to tinker around and sweep up, to rearrange things on the shelves and leave me a list of things to watch for.
It isn’t because he’s never let me down, or hurt me deeply, or temporarily turned me away. Even when our trust was thin and brittle, even when time and maturity called me to set my own boundaries, I kept faith in his love. It hasn’t always been easy, and it hasn’t always seemed wise, but it has always, always been worth it.
I’m petrified that my ability to love with such reckless abandon will die with him.
Now I just need to figure out what to do about that.