Dad told me that his favorite song is Clair de Lune and I downloaded a soundtrack last night and just now I realize that this song is in the lineup. It has come on, and my eyes fill with tears. I sit here thousands of miles away from him now, in Doha. Had planned to write some poetic notions, a stream of thought but this song has pulled me now ... here goes.
As with many things, I never knew this about my dad until he told me as I was driving him up to the hospital door, and the song (Clair de Lune which now floods the air around me) came on the classical station--just in time to accompany him into his last radiation appointment.
I went to park the car, shut down the engine and listened to the rest of the song with his sentiments in mind. I cried--he has always been so sentimental and so secretive about feelings, yet once in a while I have seen glimpses, like when you spot something shiny on the bed of the ocean ... way, waaaaay down there. His heart is so deep and calm, and dark when the sun doesn't reach far enough to give him hope--in many cases I see that he shields himself from the sun, mistaking it for the cause of problems when really it is constant ... the clouds are what move, the turn of the world, these are the causes of ups and downs, not the sun itself.
One time, I was sitting in my room, going through a box I had found in a closet somewhere else in the house. I found letters and opened them. They were in red ink. They professed love and pleaded for the return of the beloved. Then, just as I was making my way onto page two of such a letter, I heard a voice. "Put those away, Emily."
The hurt drowned his anger, but both were evident as he loomed over me momentarily and then backed out of the room. How he loved my mother--fiercely, even still. How devastated he was that she took her little green suitcase down the steps for the last time that damp, overcast day. I sat in my diapers on a step and watched. My dad's sadness hanging over like a black cloud. Off to England she would go and to discos in Champaign, forging a life for herself, away from the abuse, neglect and overwhelming responsibility of two girls and an alcoholic husband. She'd find her way as we'd tend to my father's wounds, which kept breaking open.
My sister running round with snot coming from her nose--eyes wild, unaware of what had caused such a storm to set in. But I knew what it was like before the storm, when the sun would shine, when they would dance to "The Great Gatsby" soundtrack and hold me between them ... when mom would lovingly bathe me in the stainless steel sink, or dad would loom over me as I tried to stuff yet another inedible object in my mouth. But they'd fight and she'd cry and slide her back down the kitchen cabinets until she sat on the floor, sobbing. I once ran outside and chased some baby chicks---as we lived on a farm---and capture one's soft, leggy being to present to her. She'd look at me, grab my shoulders and say "none of this is your fault, none of it."
I'd proceed to take the baby chick and throw it on the ground. It would stand immediately and run back toward its siblings---a failure in my eyes, it had not made my mother smile. How irrational yet well intentioned and emotionally intelligent we are as children!
After the divorce, and into his second marriage, his tenderness was more overtly put on display when he recorded "The Captain of the Heart" over and over again onto a single tape. He'd sit and listen to it like this. I knew he wasn't thinking of her, he was still in love with my mother---as was verified in later conversations.
He was so sentimental about me when I was a teenager--telling me how proud he was of me that I was charming and could sell ice to eskimos, that he heard songs that reminded him of me. Yet he has adapted these mechanisms over time that have hidden these sentiments completely.
I had to leave though, that time in seventh grade, I just had to. His second wife was a disaster unto all of us. Love is powerful but decisions like his can really confound a recipient (like me) into feeling the opposite come across. He has had to choose partners and, since my mother, they have never been ones that I could connect with ...
There were moments when he was with his second wife where he would ask me to go to dinner with him so he could talk about his feelings and how much trouble the situation had caused him. And I would listen, tell him to get out, tell him I agreed ... it was extreme and defied our good senses, this situation. The next day, his wife would say something that I disagreed with and I'd protest softly before a hand would come from behind me and swoop into my face---his hand.
The lesson has been at the core of all this: forgiveness. That life and relationships can be so messy in this time where people are seeking real love and healing from deranged family surroundings of the past and not just marriage of convenience. My dad sought it and while he made a first, ardent attempt and a second, misled, attempt, has found it in its entirety now.
It will never be what he had with my mother. That was way more a romantic venture that, if it had endured, would have been an enviable diamond by now. Both of them know this. They laugh in each others' presence, there is still love there and it's obvious. I saw it 12 years ago when he went to Champaign for their school reunion. Mom's current husband and my father went but not before she and Dad had a chance to catch up--laugh, have a few drinks and flirt. How absurd but at the same time, yet a chance for me to dream and put that dream to bed---time, circumstance and maturity were never on their side ... even as they expected my mother's current husband to just accept it, which he did---he has always been the one with more maturity and patience than all of us combined.
I guess that is what my sister and I live to represent---this love that was so true yet never meant to exist in the real world. And we live to find what will in the real world, we are acutely aware of the need for things to work in the real world lest our lives become a car crash from which we worked our entire lives to recover. We live, these light catchers, sitting on the bed of my dad's oceanic heart. These beacons of the past that at once struggle to shine up through world of pain, regret and happy memories that are unarguably just that, memories, holograms of the past.
What rejection that disgusts him in my mother is activated in him when he senses my tenderness especially. Because I am the one who was impressed by her most, not by her total, materialistic and dreadfully self-absorbed personality so much as her compassion and ability to comfort. These qualities I was given by her through direct, daily example, her touch and voice--and these qualities were denied me at age two. These qualities were also passed to her by her mother who was a pediatric nurse---a soft-spoken southern, second-generation English woman who went a bit crazy when her Polish husband stepped out one too many times leaving her with nightmares of dying babies and a huge responsibility of four children, and nobody to keep her heart warm.
So while my father feels this when he looks at me---when he feels comfort coming from me and this fear that I will take it from him---I know this all at once. It is visceral. It is a cat's cradle of emotion. One day I hope we will see it as a hammock, slung between two willow trees. The breeze all around, the sun standing still, shameless, fearless in the sky--showering us with light, with the present and chatterings of the future. And as the sun sets on quiet conversations about life, we will jump out of it and go sit on the roof and wait for the geese to fly over, sitting as still as we can so as not to scare them---hoping to get a listen to their wings beating the air and a glimpse of their aerodynamic V formation.
The cool breeze, the setting sun, drying the tears that filled the ocean of regret.