There are days when I cannot reconcile your absence, and others when I am fortunate enough to avoid any reminders at all. But there is always alcohol, the always, always, never-ending foe who whispers such kind invitations to the stupid darkness.
I went a day without, weary of the casual forgetfulness that has plagued my recent social interactions. In a car, on our way to a baseball game, I had forgotten the name of my cat. Weary of verbal gaffes that are too frequent to pass off as charming foibles. At a presentation, I gave an update on one of our former committee members who had resigned to take a new post, saying, 'John is no longer with us,' and in the awkward silence that ensued, in my brief confusion, I realized my regretful phraseology. 'I mean, he's fine. He's just no longer on the committee.'
But you know the saying about vices, they don't bring out the worst in you, they expose who you really are. Sometimes, unfortunately, who you really are might be quite beautiful. And so it was with our fathers. At times, they chose not to drink because they knew the destruction it wrought, but the price they paid for that discipline was the disapprobation of their children. he was a dour, boring drag of a man.
And her mother knew this. She fell in love with a beaming ray of light, but quickly learned the value of sunscreen. So she shielded her children from the ultraviolet.
There was one night, though, and of course, every so now and then you cannot find the sheltering shade and you are already on the boat, so she let him shine his light. As kids, they were backdrops in the scene, but as kids, they were also the only sober observants in the place, and they could see that their dad actually had a bottle in his hand. and another. and another, and my god they were impressed he hadn't had to run off into the woods by now. The sisters saw something they never saw before. His smile.
God it was radiant. He was brighter and taller and utterly everywhere. He had his own gravity, and the other adults were drawn to him, as though he were a planet gathering moons. And then, unbelievably to them, he started to sing.
Now that was a shock to their reality.
But the biggest shock of all was that from the first note, it was entrancing.
He can sing? they wondered.
It sounded like some sort of old pirate song, and later they found it was more appropriately known as a sea shanty. But the initial shock of that first note caused them to laugh, preempting embarrassment. However, that sensation soon passed, and they knew they were in a moment.
And it wasn't just the words and the tone and the pitch. He had transformed into something wonderful and mesmerizing, and suddenly obvious, as though the old painting in your guest bedroom was an apparent work of art and you just never thought to recognize it, to believe it.
At the end of the song, the entire gathering was so silent you could hear a pin drop.
Their mother, knowing how to cap a moment, eased into his arms and swayed him away from the crowd, away from the bar, to magnificent applause. Was that our dad? they asked. They never got an answer. They never saw that person again.
Years later, I brought up this story on a walk. She told it again, though some of the details had changed. It wasn't a party, it was a family gathering. It wasn't a bottle, it was a glass. There wasn't a silence, there were cheers.
I don't know if it actually happened, it was so long ago. But, after he was gone, I just couldn't help but feel sorry for the world in that moment for the gift they'd been denied.
I know this will take me, as taking is in its nature. I woke up on Sunday, having dreamt my legs were shattered and necrotic, bone showing through a turtle shell pattern of dying skin. A week later, I had my first night's uninterrupted sleep in ages. I don't know if it actually happened, it was so long ago.
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