“Oh you’ll take the high road and I’ll take the low road and I’ll be in Scotland ‘afore ye, but me and my true love will never meet again on the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.”
First and foremost, this is for you. Not for them. I don’t need to tell you that I miss you, but I do need to say that I’m sorry. I’m sorry that some days I try not to remember you.
There are so many things that could be said about the so many days that have passed since you did. What I will say is that I remember the sound of your laugh, the feel of your calluses as we held hands in prayer. How you loved Bob Marley, which still makes me laugh out loud. McDonald’s Apple Pies will always be our treat, Budweiser our beer. Rod’s “Forever Young” the song we never got the chance to dance to at my wedding. Your nee-nee alien hands. How you let me practice parallel parking between your friends’ actual cars. The feel of the bristle on your cheek when I kissed you goodnight, every night. The sound of the radio you hummed along with in the old black and white tiled bathroom every morning before school. The sight of you waiting there, at the end of the train platform, every time I came home from college.
The point is, just because I say I try not to remember you, doesn’t mean that I don’t. And I know you know that. I know you know that it’s just because it’s so hard, and it hurts so much. But I’m sorry for it anyway.
Now, on to a few words for them. But I promise that the rest of this lifetime is for you, Papa.
In the beginning, there was sorrow. Every single day.
Then came repression of the unhealthiest emotional nature. Focus on school, Cass. Finish school. You’ll have time to grieve later. Later came and school was finished. No, not now. It’s back to home and back to work, definitely not now. Work harder. Read books, devour books. Put yourself utterly and completely into those books and pretend you are anywhere but here. Wait for Ireland, you’ll be alone to grieve in Ireland. Get to Ireland and what nonsense! Enjoy Ireland! Keep your spirits up because you’re mostly on your lonesome. Look for ways to grieve but feel unfulfilled in that, feel uncomfortable at the idea of anyone else catching on. Do not grieve in Ireland, wait until anywhere else. Keep reading.
Ireland passes, you’ve gotta go home now. Time to prepare for Scotland, oh how you’re dreading Scotland. His place, his home, your first time ever returning without him. Please don’t send me to Scotland, why are they sending you to Scotland? Why has everyone insisted that this is a good idea? That you, of all people, are the choice? Are you not the most unfair of choices? Whatever you do, absolutely do not grieve in Scotland. More books, bring more books. Lose yourself again. You’re not there, you’re not here, you’re in between the pages. Do not mourn yet. Soon. Later. There will be a time.
Return from Scotland, now get through graduation. You only did all of this for him anyways but he’s not here so don’t look up into those stands, no matter what you do – do not look into those stands. Sit by yourself. Stare at your hands. Make the walk, do not look up. Mourn later, after the ceremony and the pictures. Later comes back again and still not the time. Pack and get ready for the changing of lifestyles, the moving away. Start your new job, focus on that. Get down there and wait until everyone leaves. When you’re left on your own in this new place, with these new people, then you can give yourself over to grieving. Months pass in this new place, with these new people, and still nothing. Little bits and pieces here and there but no big confrontation. No realization. No hit.
The Day comes back. It’s one year later. Force yourself, you have to force yourself. You’ve become an absolute professional over the past twelve months, one of the elite class of people able to utterly repress that anything like this has ever happened to them. Not today, no one deserves that today. Not you, not him. Remember it all, every last detail.
And I miss the way he was whistling, walking down the street. And every time I do something I think of what he would say. “Well, it’s cold today, wear a scarf.” But lately, I’ve been forgetting little things. He’s sort of fading and I’m starting to forget him. And it’s like… like losing him again. […] And sometimes, not always but sometimes, I can actually see him. It’s as if a cloud moves away and there he is – I could almost touch him. But then the real world rushes in and he vanishes again.
Before Midnight (2013)
A man was sitting next to me on a plane recently. The stewardess came around to ask if anyone wanted anything to drink and he, being polite, reached out to tap me on the arm. I looked down at his hand, the wrinkled leathery skin that stretched across his knuckles, and I felt as if all the oxygen had suddenly rushed to evacuate my body. That hand, it was his hand, it looked just like his hand. What I wouldn’t give to see that hand again. I still have a tough time looking at most old men that pass through my life on a daily basis. Their mannerisms, their baseball hats, their hands, the way they walk. They all remind me so much of what I had.
The past year has held so many lessons in remembrance for me. The biggest was probably my extreme fortune at encountering a family very similar to my own, in a distant emerald land, who had gone through their own loss of a beloved patriarch. I listened to their stories and their laughter, even offered up a few of my own every now and then. I thanked my stars for them every night, hardly realizing at the time that they were the first to arrive with the needle and thread to stitch me back together again.
Most of what I learned from them was that there is a way to talk about it. I still can’t have anyone bring it up to me, tell me what a great guy he was or how much they miss him. It has to be me, I have to tell the story or make the comment. I want so desperately to be like that family I met, to be the champion of all remembrance on behalf of our beloved Terry.
I spent a year repressing the tears and the thoughts and the memories. Something would happen, a catalyst if you will. I’d remember something or sometime and my chest would contract. The tears would start and I’d hold my breath, bite my tongue, blink up at the brightest light in the room, try desperately to calm myself. I got very good at that, the whole repression thing. I won’t say I didn’t encounter a few massive breaks along the way, because I did, but for the most part I was strictly composed. It got to the point where some nights I’d plan rare allowances, as if remembrance and mourning could be scheduled. I’d lay outside in the backyard of my childhood home or down the street next to the ocean, looking up at the sky and pouring a beer out into the waves surely like the kind of crazy person everyone already thought that I was. I’d pull out my favorite pictures and wish with every breath I had to rewind back to the moments they showed me. If only for one more hug, one more laugh, one more word.
I keep waiting, I’m still waiting, for it to just hit me. Last year I spoke about living within my little removal from reality. A year later and I feel like not much has changed. One of these days the gravity of it all will really register and I’ll just crumple to whatever ground I happen to be nearest to and I’ll sob and I’ll scream and I’ll clutch at the mud thinking that somehow that will fix things. Isn’t that what’s supposed to happen, when you really love someone? When you still feel like a child? You cry loud enough and eventually that’s the pain, that’s the release, it’s all over with. Is my inability to do that what it means to grow up, to learn that this is a part of life?
It’s okay to know that your heart will never heal. Time will not fix all wounds. It may make them bearable, but it may also fool you. There is a balance but I have not found it yet. I try, but there is guilt no matter which side I lean towards. My life is mine to live, and yet I feel I am forgetting him. All my time can be spent in remembrance, and yet too much of that will lead me to nothing else. My solution so far is this: if you begin to remember, remember. The good and the oh so terribly bad. When you have thoughts, think them. When the tears start, don’t stop them. Let your heart ache, let your chest feel like it’s caving. Sob as hard as you can and if you can’t then don’t grow frustrated at yourself because that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with a little repression. It’s when a little becomes a lot that you’ll get into trouble. Some day, you’ll let yourself remember. Until then take your time, take absolutely all of it.
As Alastair McDonald once said, “there is an old Celtic belief that when a man dies in a foreign land, his spirit returns via the low road,” a special road which the fairies take to carry him back to his home. To the man who raised me into the fantastical, life loving little sprite of a child that I am – I know that we’ll be meeting for many more adventures together on all sorts of roads. And until that day when we get to the last one, I will do all that I can to remember you.