Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Hawai`i Journal #3
In the past year, my father has turned into a Tiny Dad, a baggy collection of joints, knees, curled shoulders and pointy elbows, his silvery head winged by a startling pair of fleshy ears that would make him look comically Yoda-like if they didn’t signal his waning. Immediately after Edward died, he started shrinking, yet even at Thanksgiving, I was still able to look him in the eye. Now, however, I can gaze straight over the top of his head. Grief has boiled him down to his essence.
Shortly after we arrived, my Tia Cora handed him a stack of photo albums, because as his older sister, she knows what he needs. And while my mother flees the room unable, unwilling to stir the memories, he settles onto the sofa and pats the cushion next to him where I press in and we begin to flip through years and years of childhood. Every few pages, my Tiny Dad points to a faded photograph and says, “Look here, mijita, there you are.” I touch his arm and say, “No, Daddy, that’s not me. That’s Edward.”
And I wonder how painful it must be for him. To look into my face. Does he see me? My brother? Some mix of both?
Sometimes, strangers would ask Edward and I what it was like to be twins, which would either make me eight years younger or him eight years older. I’m thinking the first. Once, my brother answered, “We are twins of a sort, two sides of a coin. I’m good.” Here he jerked his thumb in my direction, “And she’s evil.” Then he’d clutch his belly, doubled-over by his I’m-so-hilarious-laughter. Let’s be clear. I’m the funny one.
In college, he did his best to hone in on my side of the coin; he grew his hair long and pulled it into a ponytail, bought a used motorcycle, joined a rock band, swiped a case of beer. But he was still saying, “may I help you with that,” and “yes, sir” and opening the door for the ladies. So his tenure as a bad boy was pretty short, but not for lack of gusto.
Thursday would have been Edward’s 37th birthday. And having barely survived THAT funeral, I doubt my capacity to survive another so I hope my Tiny Dad stops shrinking before he disappears and he himself becomes pages in a photo album, a collection of stories and memories and misgivings. It’s possible, of course, that these fears are misplaced…and he is simply suffering the crash before the bounce back.
When I first moved to New York in the late 80s, before I was accustomed to the characters and the clowns, the angels and the devils that make up the city, I was easily startled by whatever sidled up next to me. Once, while waiting on a subway platform, a battered man who’d lost both legs just below the hips and had accommodated this huge emptiness by pinning up his pant legs and knuckling his way on a skateboard, he pushed up next to me, shoulders to knees. I assumed this was the Tap so I reached into my purse for a couple dollars and held them out. He looked up at me and my money as if we were a plague descending before shoving his way past and rolling through the open subway doors. He wasn’t begging; he was elbowing me out of the way like every other New Yorker.
This week, I’ve renounced doom and opted, instead, to believe that my father has pinned up his empty pants and is knuckling his way forward. Diminished. Changed forever. But still choosing life, step by step.