Sometimes I can get Dad to talk about her. Usually, it’s when he’s drunk or well on the way—that rosy time of night when his cheeks flush and his tongue loosens. He’ll set his guitar on his knee, sit back, sweep his thick, curly hair to one side and his eyes will travel back with thought. He always begins with her voice. How her face opened up when she sang. Then maybe he’ll talk about her ears. Once he said the meaning of life was hidden in my mother’s eyes.
About what you’d expect from a musician.
My dad writes songs in the morning, when he’s quiet and shy. He plays them at night, when he’s brave and nostalgic. I always try to read what he’s written, not the parts he keeps and sings what he’s crossed out and thrown away. Because the meaning of life may very well have hidden in my mother’s eyes, but my father’s truth hides in the lines he’s scribbled. In the words he’s thrown away.
I’ve spent almost a year with that meaning of life line in my head. If it’s true, what happens now? Are we meaningless? Are we hopeless, like those words he’s crossed out, balled up, and thrown away? Have our lives been edited, stripped of meaning? It’s exhausting. My dad is exhausting. Life and its many meanings is exhausting…
I’ve looked for this meaning. I’ve stared into my mother’s eyes. In pictures, in mirrors, in my dad’s songs. I try to see what he sees. What he saw. Sure, Mom was pretty, but when I look at all those old, fading, pictures I just see the way my dad looked at her. There’s this one at a party in someone’s living room. Through the arms and bodies and the mesh of smoke caught in the flash are my parents, sitting on a couch. Mom is laughing, mouth open, eyes wide. But my dad, he’s oblivious to the flash or other people–to the world in the distance. He’s just…looking at her. Yeah, like she’s meaning of life.
Romantic? Yes. Annoying in real time? Affirmative.
He gets frustrated when I can’t remember. It’s like he’s quizzing me with memories. I nod and say I do just so that he’ll let it go, but the truth is that with each passing year my mother becomes more and more of a bedtime story. I mean, I was seven when she died, it’s been almost ten years. How am I supposed to remember her voice, her feel, her eyes. I guess I don’t know the meaning of life.
I know she isn’t coming back. And for me that means getting through high school as both parent and kid. It means taking care of him on those days (weeks) that he won’t leave his room, when he’s content to live in the darkness with his blackout curtains yanked tight. When he won’t eat, even when I fix Lasagna, doing my best to get it just like Mom’s recipe says. It means propping Dad up during holidays, hangovers, when they family or guidance comes to check on us, because the only thing worse than Dad being depressed is Dad being gone.
So he plays guitar. He writes songs and avoids my eyes. I wait for the next time he’s in the mood to talk. About her. About me. About us.
I just hope it’s not all meaningless.