lessons in dying learned from my father
You were hearing voices. They speak to you. In these between times. What are they saying to you? I would like to know as well. But maybe, just like everything else in this relationship, the voices are fleeting, they are ephemeral.
What did it take for you to come here?
What act of bravery compelled you to leave a world you knew to one where you had no one and no language?
Was it the flinty gaze of your father‘s eyes?
The memory of your mother, birdlike flying through the air, pushed back into a vortex from the fists of your father.
Were you always compelled to silence? Or did you try to push back against the tornado of him? Did I do the same with you? When you raised your hand in anger? I cannot remember. It hurts too much.
We have always been trapped in wind tunnels. So deafening that even though we scream, neither of us can hear the other. So it is better to be still. It is better to be silent.
Or so it would have to be believed to be true.
I am watching you now, silent and still in your bed. The one in the hospital, with the gown barely covering the broad shoulders I once hung from. I am full of regret and sadness. How these windtunnels have enveloped us over the years. I am watching you die. If not today, maybe tomorrow. If not tomorrow, then soon. A part of me confesses that this would be a relief for all involved
And then, just like that. I am taken back. To memories that carve deep wounds into my heart. Like ski tracks covered with too much snow. You can still see the imprints, though they are barely there. The snow, this flurry of time has made them so unnoticeable.
We swing from your shoulders, my sister and I. The game as I recall was called helicopter. She clinging to one bicep, still strong and me the other. You lift us off the ground, as if gravity was not something that you needed to obey. You circle, slowly, and then faster and faster as we laugh helplessly as we are thrown askance almost horizontal to the ground.
Again! We shout. Again! And you oblige. Great hulking shoulders that felt safe before they became brutal.
Before the sight of them made us flee to our separate corners. Hiding in the same wind tunnels that we ourselves had carved.
We spoke at length last week. You asked me for forgiveness. I promised you earlier that I would never. And yet here you are now, hunched and slack, lying back, no longer able to lift us off or fly.
A friend tells me that during her mothers passing, she also heard voices.
That instead of filling her with dismay and dread, she felt comforted. I don’t know what death is. I don’t know what life is. But, hearing her story, it is clear to me that there are connections between the two - there are worlds that only the dying can hear for those straddling this line.
And in this moment, those memories from long ago, of bike rides and library cards, of weeping into your hands because there was no money, there was never enough money after another 13 hour work day driving a cab — those memories come unbidden. They start slow, and then they become a deluge, a torrent. I cannot stop, so instead of running away as I once did into separate corners, I choose to lean in. I choose to see you, all of you.
Broad shouldered. Myopic. Tortured. Survivor. Coward. Sharpener of words that pierced into your daughter souls.
I see all of you. The one who packed his taxi cab full of toys to satiate his daughters infinite demands. Who shared the joy of a McDonald’s fish fillet. Who loved purchasing samosas, fresh from a snack shop on Devon Street,
Do you remember when you tried to convince me that God was real? We sat on a green lawn and you pointed at the sky and you talked about the magnificence of the Koran. I did not believe you, how could I? You had taken everything else, why would I let you tell me what to believe too?
Why did you have to make my mothers life so hard? Why couldn’t you two figure it out? Why did it have to be so cruel? All of it. In this field, that lies barren, we know that love can still grow. And as loathe as I am to admit it, as much as I’ve despised you over all these years, I love you and I’m sad that you are leaving
It is hard for you to breathe. They’ve put in a tube to help you. I hold up the scent of roses to your nose. In your semi-awake brain, I wonder what you are seeing? Do the voices have faces? Are they sitting or standing somewhere? Can you touch them?
Do you remember when you pulled a knife on me? When you threatened me? When you wanted to puncture your daughters body — The one that you helped create? If I am an extension of you, had that knife gone through me, would it also have gone through you? I suppose that I will never know.
Do you regret it? You have said that you were sorry, but did you mean it?
As always, she stood between us. The one who has taken care of you all your life. The one who sat while you lectured, while you judged, while you wounded, while you demanded. It took you 74 years to figure it out. I worry how long it will take me. Were you aware of the wounds when you punctured? Did you plan them in advance?
Or was it more spontaneous? Just like your father‘s fist flying onto your own mother, did the red blind you as well?
These are the questions that I wish I could ask you now. But I can ask nothing. I can only sit still. I can only wait. And wonder.