It is a vignette in my mind. A snapshot. It pops unexpectedly into the foreground. Actually it isn’t a snapshot. More like a series of still pictures, captured in slow motion, and my memory roves backwards and forwards over them, as if caressing a set of still frames in a very short movie.
It happened during a day that seems like a very long time ago, and involved my father. I was twenty or perhaps twenty two years old – the exact dates and times are not important because now they float fleetingly in the present.
To understand the import of the event, and why it seems to be etched in my mind, it is perhaps necessary to paint the events and people that wove their way towards it – like reversing the ripples from a stone dropped into a pond.
My father was a tall man, large in the chest but with strangely thin legs. He was a big man in many ways, and he could dominate a space with ease. It wasn’t really through physical strength or power, because he was far from an athletic person, but rather from the power of his personality and intellect, and the manner in which he projected this outwards to all around him. As a professor, he was used to talking in a very loud and dominant voice to a submissive audience, and this habit spilled over into his personal life as well. He answered the telephone by grabbing it roughly as it rung, forcefully placing it near his ears, and bellowing his last name down the earpiece, challenging whoever it was on the other end to respond – daring them to justify why they had the temerity to interrupt his day.
Our family was not a demonstrative one, although myself and my sister knew unequivocally that we were loved and treasured. It was just not all that common to be hugged or touched in our family, and I cannot recall my parents every kissing or even holding hands. But in a similar way I knew they loved each other.
At the time I had finished university and was embarking on my second job, and I was regarded as bright and capable of doing almost anything. My parents had inculcated in me a combination of humility and confidence, largely around my intellectual skills, and in those areas I could stand with my feet firmly planted on the ground. However in emotional and relationship areas I was rather more wobbly, and during my time at university I had decided to enter my first marriage. It was not my wisest decision. The woman whom I married was my first real girlfriend, and the headlong fall into intense emotional commitment was like a drug to me. I was ill prepared for it. Needless to say it did not last very long, and within a few years I decided that it had broken down and that we must divorce. Well, to be truthful, it was rather more traumatic than that. I had discovered that my wife was sleeping with my best friend at the time, and this being the swinging seventies where almost anything goes, I had been convinced that this was indeed a rather normal state of affairs. It wasn’t.My rather fragile and recently awoken heart was shattered in the process.
I vividly recall on the day in question that I had decided to tell my parents what was happening, and inform them of the impending separation and divorce. I was nervous about this as to me this was my first big failure. And failures were not allowed in my family. Willpower, intellect and effort could solve any problem.
I called my parents from my office in the city, but to this day I have no recollection of what was said and by whom. All that I can recall is that my father insisted on coming in to meet me later that day. That in itself was very unusual. He was a very busy man, and people came to him. We agreed to meet across the street from my office, in a park on the edge of a busy street.
The next part is my memory. I can see it as if I was there right now. It was autumn. The leaves were turning brown on the trees. It was a bright, clear day. My father was wearing a brown green woolen jacket, ones that you see professors wear in movies, with a pale green shirt. His trousers were a dark greenish grey, and he had a brown leather belt.He was striding purposefully towards me, but was only a few steps away.
I do not recall how it happened, as if the freeze frames are missing a few steps, but I suddenly and unexpectedly found myself enveloped in his arms, and he was holding me tight to his chest. The sensation was like being wrapped around by a friendly bear, and I instinctively sank into the grasp. He seemed to hold me like this for eons, but in reality it was probably only a few seconds. And then without releasing his grip, he spoke in a loud firm voice (I don’t think my father has ever whispered anything in his life), “It’s okay son, no matter what happens we are there for you, everything will be okay.”This was such an astonishingly personal thing for my father to say, that I recall being stunned.But then the clip ends. I don’t know what I said or what we did. It just floats there, lost, but the sensation lingers – warmth, the smell of wool, the release as if I had grown a few inches, the strange feeling as if our hearts had connected by a new thread.
It pops in and out of my head. Small things remind me of him, and what he did and said, and this little vignette is suddenly in view. And when it does, usually I smile. Occasionally though a tear forms. Because I am reminded of another hug, a more recent one, when he was dying from cancer. This time though, he is frail and I am strong, and I hold him close in my arms, and hug him tight. This time, though, nothing is said.
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