Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Years Don't Lessen: On a Father's Day Without a Father

The first time that I saw Pirates of the Caribbean, it was with my husband and our three children. There is a moment within seconds of the movie starting that Orlando Bloom crosses the screen, and it knocks the wind out of me. “Oh! That looks just like my dad!,” I gasp.

“Cool, mom,” say my kids.

“No,” I say, “I mean it. It really does.”

But they have already stopped listening and keep sucking on their Sour Patch Kids, while I sit, frozen. They can't understand. For the next 27 times that Orlando pops up on the screen I call out how he could be my dad. My kind children politely look at me, and nod.

I haven't seen my father since the beginning of first grade, and now I have him in front of me, larger than life, for 90 minutes.

“My dad. It’s my dad.” I whisper, but I know I'm saying it to myself.

* * *
My father had skin the color of shiny copper and eyes that were green with flecks of yellow. When he smiled, he made me grin so wide I thought my skin would crack.

Growing up, we had a radio in the kitchen, a beige plastic rectangle with gold colored dials. The station was set to AM radio and The Beatles were always playing one of their Top 10 singles. I would hear the music from whatever part of the house I was in and come running, ready to dance the Twist for my father.

He couldn’t hold back his laughter at seeing me shake my five-year-old body back and forth while I sang for him, "Ooooooh he was just seventeeeeen!” Laughing and clapping, his smile opened into double laugh lines on the left side of his cheek. They would get so deep that they looked like I drew them in with black magic marker.

My parents were from Colombia, South America, but coming to the United States didn’t stop them from having the parties they were used to having there. In our basement, their old records would be pulled out: Carlos Gardel was the favorite. My father, holding a brown bottle of beer in his hand and his always present cigarette perched on his lips, would slide his feet back and forth until he was in the middle of the basement floor. I would secretly watch, hidden around the corner of the steps. Seeing him dancing with his eyes closed, lost in the music, was more than I could bear. I would blow my cover and run to him. My summer nightgown streaming behind me and my bare feet slapping against the cold cement floor, I jumped into his arms. Finally, I would be there, his cheek scratching against mine and pressing into his neck to breathe in Old Spice. I wanted him more than anything else in the world.

My father didn’t talk very much, he mostly laughed. He would wink, I swear it was only to me, and I would cover my mouth with both hands to stop from exploding. My father knew how he was my everything, and it was not something he ever took lightly. Each gesture to me was a grand one and his magic was in making time stand still. He could freeze a moment by looking into my eyes and all around me became distant and fell away. All that was left was just my father, and me, and that was the world.

I was in love with my father. I would wait at the end of the day for him to come home from work, my forehead leaning with all my might against the front screen door so I could see as far out as possible while I watched for him. Then, there, in his grey work overalls, I would spot him. Like a horse bursting through a gate, I galloped down our front steps. Taking two steps at a time I would begin shouting, "Papi!" When he saw me, he would stop walking and crouch down, and wait. It was then that his dimples would appear.

One day, I popped out the mesh of our front screen door from the force of my body. My father had to replace it.

* * *
These memories of my father flood over me that afternoon as I watch Orlando Bloom on the screen. I force myself to concentrate on time with my family, but I can’t stop missing my father. My throat begins to ache and I only see him, with his eyes closed, a palm of one hand softly on his stomach, the other held up in the air, swaying his shoulders side to side as “Adios Muchachos” plays on our stereo.

I have to excuse myself from my children and leave for the bathroom. I don't have the time to explain to them that I didn’t have my father long enough. I was a little girl who adored her father and he was here for much too short a time.

My father died two months into the start of my first grade; a shocking suicide. His death so abrupt that no one could get me to stop looking out of our front screen door for him. They gave up trying to pull me away, and I made the mesh pop out again. No one was there to replace it, and it remained split, with a bulge in the middle until my mother moved us to a new house.

My life has been filled with Father’s Days since then, and all of them, without him. I have never not thought of my father on this day and of how much I loved him. This Father's Day will begin like all the other ones have since, with my first words being, Feliz Dia de los padres, Papi. Te amo.

Happy Father’s Day, Papi, I love you.
* * *

1 comment:

  1. I'm so sorry Alexandra. My uncle committed suicide when I was 8 and my cousins were 9 and 6 so I know a bit how you feel.
    Suicide is the most tragic of deaths for so many reasons. I can't imagine how you as his daughter--who loved him the way I loved my father--almost unreasonably in a good way---feel on days like today, his birthday and so many other days in the year.

    I hope the good memories are the most frequent ones.
    I know from your writings how much you love your mother and sister. I know, again from your writings how much your sons and husband cherish you.
    I hope that you and your sister have only wonderful lives with much joy, music, laughter and dancing.



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