Sunset. A cool, autumnal breeze. A railroad crossing to my right. The silver tinted, blue waters of the bay shimmering on the horizon. A miscellany, to be sure, yet they are connected inside my mind. Experiencing them together causes a sadness to wash over me. My memory is stung by sharp, disjointed images, my senses overtaken with unconscious associations. He was here once.
All of the stories from my childhood come rushing into my mind at once, each one shouting over the other to be heard, flourishing a bit here and there just as he used to. All vying for attention and converging into an indistinct, yet thoroughly recognizable, single story: the story of my father’s life. I can almost grab hold of the entire thing right then. I can see it and feel it! I could retell it. I could write it down. It’s complete and mesmerizing! Then it is gone.
Memories are such fragile creatures. Broken by a fleeting thought about what to make for dinner or by the car in front of you merging into your lane too closely. I imagine memories as being encased in a soft-shelled bubble that pops and dissipates unceremoniously in a single instant. A trait eerily akin to the way we lose the people those memories are of. Yet, memories are also tough enough to withstand the paralyzing terror which grips us when we do lose those of whom we have made our memories.
The first few “awakes” after loss are filled with enough overpowering shock that it doesn’t occur to you that you won’t be seeing the person again. Then one morning, you’ll wake and find it’s the first thing on your mind. You’ll realize that the person with whom you both laughed yourself to tears and cried tears of the utmost sadness is now completely outside of your reach. There will be no new experiences shared or memories made. The realization will be shattering enough to send you into a frenzy as you try desperately to remember every last thing they ever said to you. You will panic as you grasp for every shard of every shared experience and you will try frantically to hold onto the sound of their voice, the ring of their laughter, and the smell of their hugs. You will feel dizzy with the overwhelming sense that you can’t remember them at all, much less any details of what they said or of the times you spent together. Eventually, the memories will return to you on small waves and you’ll think you hear their voice in the din of conversation over Christmas dinner.
Then one day, in his unforgiving way, Father Time will have moved an entire year past you and you will be amazed that it’s September again. You’ll be blown away at the thought that three hundred and sixty-five days have eluded you. It will occur to you that it’s a Leap Year so an extra day even slipped in somehow. You will cry. You’ll heavily avoid thinking about that morning a year ago- how your heart pounded mercilessly as you tried to restart your father’s. You’ll pass the hospital that was unable to save his life and curse it silently, knowing inwardly that it isn’t their fault and that cursing a building won’t change anything. You’ll curse it anyway. You will plan to go to the cemetery but decide against it, after all—just like he used to say—no one is there.
Yes, that’s right, your dad isn’t in that empty field. He’s in your memories. The ones that come flying into your mind while you’re trying to sleep. The ones that bombard you while you’re grocery shopping and pull at the corners of your heart—and the corners of your mouth—when you see Red Velvet cake and remember that was one of the last things he mentioned having a craving for. Your dad is in the thoughts that remind you to be kind to people, even when they are not kind to you. He’s in the thoughts that remind you not to let go of your faith even though you want to. He’s in the deep brown of your eyes and high cheekbones. He’s in your laughter and your smile. He’s in your heart as you watch the sun come into view, rays of warmth bursting into your hemisphere and filling it with light. He’s there beside you—all around you—as those rays fall across your face and you breathe in the cool air which signifies another opportunity to be all that you can be; and when you need a reason why, he will be there.