a more precarious flower
Words don't like forcing. When pushed, they fight back with kick and claw and bite, resulting in nothing but torn-up papers and cramped hands. Finished sentences rarely result, and the ones that survive their troubled gestation usually prove to be truly ghastly infants.
The past week has been tough. The next few will be tougher. I am approaching the one-year anniversary of Dad's death with something deeper than apprehension but differently-flavored than dread: knowledge conveys its literal meaning, but precariousness conveys its resonance.
It's extraordinarily rare that I talk to anyone about what happened last year. Even now, a year later, I don't have the mental distance or emotional stability to do it, so I leave the words hanging, swinging, between my lips and another's ears.
The mirror tells me I am not fundamentally different.
* * * * *
I stayed in Arkansas for a full week in what turned out to be one of the last weeks of Dad's life. I wish I could say that we talked, and that we made up for all the fighting and arguing that went on when I was younger. We didn't. Terminal cancer patients often have more desire for conversation than their body can sustain, and this was the case with my father.
The earliest hints of spring were coming to Arkansas; the grass was green and the afternoons were warm. Steadied by his walker and his morphine, he could shuffle from his green recliner out to the back porch, where Mom would place a chair. He would sit in the sun, his cap pulled low over his head to protect his head, newly balded from the chemotherapy, from sunburn.
Sometimes he would doze, but it would not last long. He would be back inside within an hour.
Once, when Mom and I had fussed over him and gotten him settled back in his recliner, Mom asked if I could watch Dad for a while so that she could drive to town and buy groceries. I curled up on the couch with my knitting and a book.
For most of the time that she was gone, Dad napped. When he woke, we talked briefly. I'd just fixed lunch. I pulled up a chair near to his recliner; he was lucid, and seemed like he wanted to talk.
For years, I had said that all I wanted was a chance to ask for an explanation for many of the horrid things that had been said and done during my younger years. His was the presence I most feared as a child, and as I grew older, our personalities formed a damaging symbiosis: the father who expected everything of the daughter, no matter how unrealistic the expectation might be—and the daughter who would have done virtually anything so that she might have met his expectations, just once.
I sat there, eating my sandwich with the sound of a doomsday clock ticking in my ears. He was there, and listening, and not only was there no one else in the house to hear my question, he was physically unable to dodge me. It was my opportunity to ask him the one question I had wanted to ask him for as long as I could remember:
Why? Why did it have to be like this between us? Was I ever enough? Could you just say so—just once?
It was there, on my lips. This would be my only opportunity to ask; the cancer was gulping him unmeasured as we stood witness. I could have my answer—or I could choose not to ask, knowing I would then never have an answer. I looked at him and saw—for the first time—not the man that he had been. I had lived in fear of him, and his opinions about me, for most of my life; now, the only way he could have a glass of water was if I was prepared to bring it to him.
Instead, I brought the glass of water, and hoped it tasted of forgiveness. What I had hated and I had feared was gone, and in its place was someone who needed care more than I needed answers.
I buried him answerless, tearless, about two weeks later.
* * * * *
The mirror tells me that I am not fundamentally different, but in me lie the memories of everything that transpired last year—events both named and unnamed—and they have changed me. They change me still. Forgiveness burns, flames, and then subsides, the necessity of its being noticed a necessity no more.
What blooms in me, more often than I care to admit, is sadness—a darker and more precarious flower than forgiveness. Accustomed to its form now, I see it more easily than I did before. It is difficult not to look at the people I love and wonder, who will be next? Will I have warning, or will it come in the form of another late-night phone call? How will I manage? How will I cope?
As the days have crept closer to March nineteenth I have found that the tears come with less warning, with less reservation. With them comes a vicious, bitter edge to my sense of humor—which, as most of you know, was pretty sardonic to begin with. It isn't pretty to witness. Struggle and emotional upheaval is no more poetic than it is enjoyable; I enjoy having it around as much as, I suspect, you enjoy reading about it.
In the meantime, I made a special trip to the store, buying a couple of densely-lined notebooks and indulging my taste for ballpoint pens whose nibs leave wide, thick lines of ink behind them. I am painting the new nightstands for the guest bedroom, and I am trying to find as many words as possible to scrawl with those pens into my new notebooks.
The dance card of March is full to bursting: three Shakespeare plays this week, a Jackopierce concert, the first dragon*con meeting, a performance of Cirque du Soleil's Varekai, and the visit of an old friend.
I will manage.
The words will come when they're ready. The rest will just have to wait.