Thursday, September 18, 2008
Today is the 21st anniversary of my dad's death. If he were alive, he would be 67. Last year I crossed the threshold of "I've lived longer without him than with him" that seems to be a milestone of the grieving journey.
Today is a beautiful day. The clouds are a slate gray edged with white. They fluff past my office window hinting at moisture. It's going to be about 80 degrees. It was hot the day he died in Phoenix. 100 +. We bought chocolate milkshakes at the Burger King on Peoria Avenue on the way home from the hospital. I then stopped eating for months.
Today, I am no more sad than I am every day. No day passes without that whisper of regret that I cannot call him, that he will never meet Keith, that he will never read a single one of my books. But I no longer expect that every time the phone rings, he'll be on the other end. I don't see him in passing cars anymore. I don't hear his voice, even when I try desperately to do so.
Twenty-one years is a long time gone.
Sometimes I wonder if I ever knew him at all -- if I just made him up, or if every single memory I have of him has been constructed in the framework of what I would have liked, rather than what actually happened. I can no longer remember at all. This year, I've written a tremendous amount about him, and my current YA novel is also working through his story in a different way. Yesterday, my agent called. There's a bite from New York on the YA book. Wow. That was fast. Of course, a bite doesn't mean a purchase, as I experience over and over again. But a bite feels good. His story continues to connect with others.
Today, as I write this in my townhome, watching the clouds change, I look at a picture of me, Dad, his parents, and his sister at the dinner table in our home in Wilmington. It was my 15th birthday. Only his sister and I are left. His sister is 76. In the picture, Dad is sitting in front of an oval mirror, so I can see both the front and back of his head. His moving forward and his moving away.
Is there a single thing I have written that did not come about as a result of his illness and his death? I don't know that there is.
The picture at the top is of dad and me in about 1969. I remember that book, and I remember that couch, and I remember the sound of his voice on the top of my head as he read to me over and over and over throughout my childhood. He whispered stories to me before I knew of language.
What does it mean to be a father? I can never know. I know what it means to be a daughter, though, and a writer, and I know that no matter what transpired during his life with us -- the things I remember, the things I don't remember, and the things I have made up -- what is solid in me is language. Is stories. Is the power of marks on a page to open up our hearts and connect us to something larger than ourselves. This has never faltered, even when I stopped eating. Even when I stopped crying. Even when I could never stop.
Today, when I think about what I would say to him on this day he dissolved into whatever is next, I would say, "You did great. Thank you. I am well."
Rest in peace, daddy.