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Fathers in the Mist

Essay By: Bill Rayburn
Memoir



How memory fades with age, and why "what was" becomes surreal.
(approx. 720 words)


Submitted:Jun 14, 2012    Reads: 43    Comments: 4    Likes: 1   


Fathers In The Mist

(Father's Day 2012)

Thirty three years ago, my father took his life. A part of my life went with him. The irony being that I wish he'd stayed alive long enough for me to give him that part of me, instead of him yanking it from me.

At this juncture in my life, my memories of him are faded. They aren't gone; they just have achieved a level of surrealness, his image is diaphanous to where he literally has become someone who is no more real to me than a compelling character in a favorite novel. He is almost a figment of my imagination. I've been alive much longer without him (33 years) than with him (19 years). The cumulative effect of that I could have never predicted. I also can't tell you how I will feel about him a year from now.

I do wonder often, however, whether or not this would be the case had I been closer to my dad, had we had a healthy father-son kinesis. If we showed and shared love for each other, would that bring these fading memories into focus.

I have no fluffy, Pollyanna recollections of walks on the beach, or tossing the ball on the lawn while behind us the coals heated up in the barbecue, or him tousling my hair and telling me what a good kid I was. No rose colored glasses for this forgotten son.

If I had more pleasant memories, would he still be this distant, dream-like existence in my life? Time fades life, whether it is photographs, memories, paintings or mental images.

Just saying the words, 'my father doesn't seem real to me', is compelling in its complexity. What does that mean? I have memories. Some remain relatively clear even. But if I close my eyes, focus my mind and seek out the tranquility that breeds vision, he…is…not…there. I know that part of my life happened, but it does not feel like it did. My life with my father now feels fraudulent.

Death makes people elusive. Since they can no longer be physically grasped and held, we are reliant on much more abstract extensions in order to connect with them, like memory. Even photos and other such tactile memorabilia don't bring them back to life quite as much as we'd like.

Memory can be like that magnetic strip on your favorite credit card, it wears thin with use.

I realize my assessment of my father has softened over the years. By ascertaining and understanding his limitations, I was able to both empathize with and forgive his transgressions. He was not a horrible monster, though I felt that way during the last 10 years of his life. His world was slowly crumbling, and his children simply lost their place on his list of priorities.

As long as I live, my thoughts and emotions concerning my father will be an ongoing metamorphosis. One continuous caterpillar to butterfly and back transaction. An endless loop with each journey being different. They will shape and reshape depending on where I am in life, both physically and psychologically. That is not me playing with or molding things as I see fit. Everything between my ears has the potential for fluidity. My mind changes often about the dead. Is that inevitable?

It is a central irony that only in death do people seem to come truly alive to me. The idiosyncratic nature of human relationships simplifies when one of the participants is six feet under. It becomes up to me to analyze, label and conclude what was. Is control at the heart of this issue?

I have no father to step in, halt my diatribe, and say simply, "Son, that's not the way it was."

Which leaves me as the sole arbiter for my memories. The only one to ascertain truth from fiction. Not unlike a writer editing his own work, this territory is likely rife with land mines. An intellectual nepotism that keeps opposing views at bay.

A second or even third voice is necessary if for no other reason to keep the insular world of solitary life from closing the door to input. Perspective is often lost when there is only one viewpoint.

I fear I have fallen prey to this.

Same time next year, Dad?





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