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“dad’s got parkinson’s,” the email from my brother simply stated. “did you know that?”

no. i did not know that. and no, i can’t muster up the energy or the empathy or the anything to really care. i just don’t really feel anything. nothing. 

i sort of wanted to. it felt weird to be straddled with this information–this terrible, surely-life-changing-for-most-people tidbit of information– and not have some sort of halt to my rhythm, a hiccup in the  moment, a stop. not take a deep breath or not even hold the breath. i just hit “reply” and said, “nope.” and sipped a diet coke and went about the day. i didn’t feel anything.

how can i be this way? how can i? this man, this 83 year old human being is my dad, the person who gave me 50% of my genetic makeup, whose bone structure i inherited, whose love of books and of writers i absorbed, and whose fading black & white photos from the ’50s i have tacked to my wall. i look at this man every day, this man in the narrow black suit, just-so white pocket square, with the heavy black glasses perched on his hookish nose and the apropos skinny tie tacked down to keep from swaying in the wind, striding across the tarmac in barbados, leading my mom in her neat shirtwaist dresss swirling about her narrow calves and her sensible mid heeled pumps. i look at this man in the suit as a stranger, as a character in some film noir movie, an actor playing a role, performing as a husband, as a man, as my dad. i don’t know him. he’s just a 2 dimensional thing. a piece of paper with some mid tone greys and deep blacks and bright whites outlining this life he is supposedly striding into on that tarmac in barbados some time in the late ’50s.

he is a stranger. 

i spent much of my life since 1972 wishing this stranger was someone i knew, someone i could crawl into and learn from and press my ear against his chest and hear the beat-beat-beat and the hollow echo of his voice when he talked or hummed along to his beloved herb alpert: whipped cream and other delights LP. i wanted him to teach me how he did the sunday new york times magazine crossword puzzle in ink. i wanted to spend some more time on his lap while he tapped away at the manual typewriter. i thought about how he could’ve taught me to drive stick shift on his old VW beetle, the one with the cool perforated leather steering wheel wrap. i wanted to borrow that suit in the ’80s when i was listening to “the specials” on cassette tape and feeling really cool in my creepers and red lipstick. and i wanted to know what this man was thinking as he strode across that hot and sunny tarmac in barbados in the late ’50s. where was he going? but really, where did he go?

we lost him somewhere. he went away and never found his way back. or more likely, he kept striding forward, with that purposeful gait i see in that picture on the tarmac in barbados, and let go of my mom’s arm and kept walking towards something. to something. from something. he never turned around. he tried a few times–maybe 3 times over a 30 year period– but they were feeble, sorry, pathetic little teases and he invariably would disappear again for long stretches of time. poof, he was gone. 

over the years, the decades, the lifetimes–my fucking life–i harbored all levels of anger, despair, sadness, loneliness over his absence, his disappearance, his back turning, his forgetting. i stared at his picture, i put it away, i tacked it back up, i let the edges curl up and allowed it to get dusty. i would look at it, then ignore it, look at it again, and walk away. again. again. again.

i was accused often of letting this relationship that didn’t exist get in the way of ones that did. maybe so. but i couldn’t really let go. he let go of me, but i couldn’t do the same. i just could not.

and weirdly, after my own divorce, after all the emotional upheavals and daunting, erratic roller coasters had sort of smoothed out and became less bumpy–a little bit–i realized i had let go of him, too. some sort of switch had turned off inside of me, and the light that i had left on somewhere, in hopes of him seeing it and finding his way back to me from the dark, shadowy mysterious place he had been hiding, had burned out.

i read a song lyric somewhere, i forget who wrote it, but it said something like, “the hand that you hold sometimes is the one that holds you down”. i was tired of holding the non existent hand of my father. so i dropped it. and walked forward. 

and here i sit, knowing the man in the skinny black suit on the tarmac in barbados has an awful, terrible disease, one in which i’ve witnessed in others and found to be heartbreaking. and i can’t feel anything, i can’t squeeze out a tear. i cannot act. i cannot play the part. i dropped the hand that held me down and i can’t pick it up again. 

i feel nothing.

and i don’t really want to look back.

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4 Comments

  1. Bitsy 🙂 – That’s a bummer about your Dad…I guess. I remember going through your Dad’s desk and playing with his typewriter in the loft. The big secret trick was to easedrop on kitchen conversations below by quitely crawling across the steeply pitched floor in that very weird closet. “Oh crap, are the Moms fighting again? I hope we don’t have to leave early. I need more time to figure out how to put Uncle Ed’s ink ribbon back in the typewriter.”

    Oddly enough, tonight was the first time I ever found your blog. My Mom and Peter told me all about it. My Mom really enjoyed reading your postings. I really miss my Mom. I know you miss your’s too.

    I think you write beautifully. Based on the pictures, your house dresses look nice too :).

    Keep up the good work. For what it is worth, I think you’re great.

    Love, Andrew
    P.S. Per my Mom’s specific request – I inherited “Nobody listens to Andrew”

  2. I have found that if you move away to find that better person inside; the best part of all is sharing that person with the family members that have made your life the most difficult.

  3. aloha elizabeth.
    wow. i don’t know what to say except maybe… bravo. i applaud your steadfastness in this situation. i have had a week of family turmoil and had just stated to john that whomever said “you can’t pick your family” was sorely mistaken. another friend is estranged from his father and was just informed that the father is ill and he really should see him. he said, “just because he is sick does not mean he is not an asshole anymore”. my father who was never a part of my life now wants to be and i could care less. his children from other relationships are now trying to connect with me, wanting to be my sisters. i don’t think so. i also had several e-mails recently from my aunt, saying i need to get in touch with my father because his mother had died. why? i had never even met her. and i only remember meeting him 3 times before i was in 1st grade.

    why would we want to pick up more baggage when we have intentionally discarded so much along the way…on every tarmac that lead us to where we are today?

    again, thank you for the image your words created for me in black and white. as you know, i thoroughly enjoy each and every word you write.

    a hui hou.
    (until next time)
    conn

  4. You’re courage and strength of heart is extraordinary. Thank you for generously and honestly sharing.


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