The Generosity Of Heartache – or – If You Know Grief, Then This Is For You
A man and his wife walk into a coffeeshop. He is tall and retains the slender build of his youth. She is small with a well-etched scowl on her face. It would be easy to frame her as the difficult one in the relationship, but there is more written by the crease in her brow than the gross inferences one can draw from her disposition. She is not angry. I know this because I know them, and in a moment, I will tell you how. But first: he takes her by the hand, leads her to a table and helps her sit. He whispers something to which no one else is privy, not that anyone else really minds. There is no dawning on her face, no point where they meet in mutual understanding. But this one-sided overture is not new to him. So he does like he's done before: he kisses her hand and then stands to order two small mochas with whipped cream. Whipped cream, she likes.
Five years of Alzheimer’s, and I think I am pretty good at spotting it now. I love this couple; they immediately become my mother and father. I see my dad in him. I see his devotion, how uparty (stubborn) he was. When I think of my dad, when I really feel him, I get a tightening above and behind my left ear. I would say that this is a phantom pain, or some iteration of intuition, but how can I know for sure? When I think of his passing, I get a tightening across my entire head. It is not a physical phenomenon, but more energetic. But feel it I can.
What do we say about our parents once they are gone? My childhood was far from perfect, as I'm sure yours was. Yet just like dust meanders into well-worn crevices, I involuntarily drift into the greatness that the heart is blessedly permitted to feel. I don't know if my father knew this, but I hope that he did see a glimmer of something buried under whatever hard-heartedness life rubs out from us. Nevertheless, I look at pictures from my childhood and it is clear to me now: I adore him. He knew the secrets of great dadness: flexing his biceps for two wide-eyed little girls who, if just for a moment, thought he was the strongest man in the world. He readily shared his goofy smile, dancing around the living room like a battery-powered jitterbug to Abba, singing, ‘You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your liiiiiife!’ And, of course, that voice: deep and throaty, the one for which we all now long, the one shaped by the chisel of Slavic determination. He scared a hundred boyfriends, you know. Every single one of them. ‘Verrry, verrry, extra-ordinarrry,’ he said, with an emphasis on the rolling r.
(But not me. I did not run. I knew his secrets. I knew his anger better than they, but I also knew how to melt him. I was his Achilles' tendon; I was his migraines; I was his scapegoat; I was his heart.)
In the immensity of grief, sometimes I whisper: dad, dad, dad, dad. Now I know that I will always whisper to you. Can you see? I now measure every man by you, every overture, everything that someone says. I think, Is it real? Is that a true reflection of what is inside of you? What would dad think of that? You have left this thing on me, in me, this indelible thing that I cannot even call a mark because it occupies every rung of my cognition. You are in all levels of my consciousness. Time passes, and you have left, and I cannot find a thing to fill this void that remains in the wake of your departure. No other conscious being, no speaker, no breather. Nothing can fill it; nothing is shaped like you but you. And maybe that is a beautiful thing, the beautiful side of loving and losing.
By the way, the animals: they come close, but in the end, they are not you. If you are sending the hawks, the kites, the deer – please don’t stop. I love them. But even they are not you.
I guess they are the next best thing though.
You are my favourite writer and I love you
You are communicating with yourself and with all who are invited to your spectacular writings. Your invitations always reward us with intimate revelations about real people that deserve our attention. The raw image of your father chasing away 100 boyfriends exists in high contrast to your verified claim to being his heart. Thank you for this vivid set of images, and we all know that you will live well because of the reverent and honest memories you created with your dad.
You so easily (or apparently so) touch the heart Monica. Never stop writing x
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