His right hand was scarred and burned. It was freckled in a golden hue against stark white skin; remnants and reminders from a long ago accident. Today, I stare at my hands with an intensity I didn’t know I possessed because I know that but for the scars – our hands are the same.
I have my father’s hands. The shape and form of his and mine are the same.
You see, I had forgotten that fact…forgotten that our hands are twin hands. Today as I stare at my hands I realized that the way we heal is by forgetting. When you lose someone you love, people tell you to cherish the memories of the times you had but they don’t tell you that in order to heal your mind makes you forget. I think John Green says its better than I can in his book The Fault in our Stars… he says “The pleasure of remembering had been taken from me, because there was no longer anyone to remember with. It felt like losing the memory itself, as if the things we’d done were less real and important than they had been hours before.”
As I stare at my hands, I am trying so hard to remember him. Trying to find a memory that isn’t one of the still frames or photos I have of him; to not simply remember a photograph or one of his sayings. I want to remember something real. And I can’t. The only things that come to mind are images I keep in an album or stories I’ve told a thousand times. I cannot remember how he smelled or the sound of his voice. I cannot recall his favorite meal or favorite color. In twenty years, my mind has worked to heal itself and cover over the scars in my heart and head by forgetting. No one warns you about the forgetting. From the first breath I took after I heard those words “Sherry, Daddy died.” I have been forgetting. Its how you get through the day with grief – by forgetting. By not letting the thoughts of your despair get the better of you – so you place the parts of him that were real in some far off corner of your mind. And eventually you can’t reach them. Your brain starts to reposition your memories to allow you to heal… to allow you to take the next breath.
But today, I am staring at my hands and willing myself to remember. To remember past the photos and anecdotes and remember the man – the man that had to give me enough love in sixteen years to last a lifetime.
I can picture his hands now. That’s how I remembered the burns. I can hear how his ankles would pop when he walked. I can’t remember his smell, but I remembered his cologne. His voice still eludes me all these years later. I talk pretty openly about my father and even about losing him. But I’ll always toss in a joke or a funny story to make people feel less ill at ease. Not today. Today I will remember the man I lost twenty years ago. I will stare at my hands and listen for my own ankles to pop. I’ll try to track down Aramis cologne. I’ll find a VCR and put in an old family VHS so I can hear his voice. Today I will not stop the tears from falling or the grief from showing. Today is exactly twenty years since I stood in the Gentry’s kitchen and answered my mother’s phone call. Exactly twenty years since I heard the words that I have never ever been able to drown out “Sherry, Daddy died.”
How is it that I can forget him but not those words or that moment? Why can I picture Mrs. Gentry’s face as she took the phone from me that day? But I can’t picture his smile or hear his laugh. What part of my brain holds on to the memory of silently staring at an electrical outlet for an hour instead of recalling if he preferred salty or sweet?
The forgetting is what heals us. When you lose someone that you love, it is actually not all at once. It is slowly, in bits of tiny pieces of history with that person. Your mind fragments them into video clips and your brain starts to reposition your memories to some far off place in the recesses of your psyche. That movement is what heals you… its what lets you take your next breath and the breath after that. It forms them into a character in your story instead of being real. You start to only think about the things people tell you about the person instead of remembering what they were to you. And eventually, you heal because they are no longer real.
Perhaps its selfish and maybe even pitiful but today I want my father to be real. I will stare at my hands until he is no longer the man in the photograph but that he is real again. I think perhaps he deserves that… to be real again. I will wait until I can recall an image of him in my mind that isn’t a photograph that I keep.
Again, John Green said it better… “I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.”
I miss my Dad.