To my father, who lived for us, for God, and for all the things beautiful in this world
It is not easy to see you grow old. It reminds me of death, and heaven – for I do still believe in heaven – and nothing scares me like the idea of my father, a man of the flesh, weak and impotent, being transformed into an omniscient spirit watching over me, counting every sin I leave behind in my trail of destruction. For some, the thought of a dead loved one is comforting, for me it is the stuff of nightmares. It is the stuff of the Last Judgment, except this time I am Minos, and the serpent strangling my neck is my own tail. Sometimes I forget, too, that my mother is watching me, and has been watching me for the past 15 years. Every regrettable word I’ve uttered, every godless moment in my life – she’s been there, probably. It scares me too that I will lose another parent. Not because I can’t live without you, but because I can, and too well, too happily. At times I forget my own mother existed.
When I was a kid, I used to pretend that it was all a dream, and like Sleeping Beauty, someone would wake me up from my slumber and tell me it was just a nightmare, shush. I read somewhere that this is a common coping mechanism for children. Perhaps I became too good at this, for I am awake, but dreaming. When my heart is broken, it feels more unbearable than a child’s grief. I am more rooted in the future than the past. This is something I should be thankful for, yet there is guilt. Time makes me feel sub-human. It is a testament that there is no such thing as a lasting human attachment, when there should be. There must be. It is not possible to feel so much, to have your words burst in your heart and blood cloud your eyes, only to have it all be reduced to nothing. But it is. My memory is white, and fills with the nearest and brightest explosion of colors.
When I was a child, we would lie in bed together and talk of good times. I saw you cry, your face collapsing into itself, your head bowed in prayer, your heart, lonely. I asked what you wanted for Christmas. You replied, “a wife”. Today, you are just a phone call away, but I never call. I fear being too close will lead to a discovery. That the strong grown up woman you think you are proud of is broken, so broken, like the rest of the world that you choose not to acknowledge. I keep up the noble lie while I can. It is a secret I will bring to your grave.
Home is an empty nest, today and tomorrow. You find yourself sitting in front of the TV, gaping at the fishing capabilities of pelicans, a bottle of red on the table. I wonder if you realize then, and now, that though the TV is in the living room, you bought it for yourself, because this room has no living, and no one is here except you. And though you subscribed to Cable, it was for you, and not for us, because no one is home to watch National Geographic anyway.
These days, your daughters are busy women. One is in Austria, buying souvenir chocolate, attending Philharmonic concerts, and finishing her accounting degree. The other gets home at 8.30PM on most days, sometimes later, working in the building with the pretty rainbow windows. It’s a river away from Clarke Quay, a stone’s throw away from the fears that plague you at night.
When she comes home, she showers, goes into her exuberant yellow room, turns on her computer, and writes. She writes stories that you will never read, scholarship essays that you do not bother to read, and text messages to other guys in her life that you wish you could read. She sleeps at 1.30AM on most days, texting in bed or by the hairdryer. You see the glint of her phone as you pass by, but you know you are not a welcome visitor.
In the morning, your daughter emerges, and she sees you installing the water filter you got from Robinsons yesterday. You are so excited by it, because this is your job – providing for the family, ensuring a steady flow of expensive, filtered, alkaline water. You ask her to try it but she takes a rain check and says, oh I’m late, I’ll try it when I get home, thanks!!
You frown and call her a chicken.
Then you follow her to the door, watch as she opens it and turns the key, locking you in.
She tells you, with a mischievous smile on her face, the refrain you’ve drilled into her heart:
Don’t climb high and low
Don’t play with fire
Don’t invite boys over
Turning back, she waves casually and blows you a kiss. And then she disappears into the lift, the doors closing in on her.
Categories: Stories and Casual Thoughts