A Dad in the Life: Part II
“My phone once autocorrected ‘namaste’ to ‘manatee’ so I started making it my signature signoff and it has really opened my world up.” – Dad
My dad spills himself back to sleep wearing my five year old brother like a backpack, the remnants of a nightmare still fresh behind his little eyes, and is somehow able to dip the stem of his feather back into the watercolor of a dream where, in a real life scenario, he announces to a crowded room that that’s a wrap on so-and-so’s storyline. How easy closure would be if we could run our lives like a movie set. He wakes up later to a purring cat between them, a quiet chainsaw splitting them back into their own separate halves, his neck still sore from hovering his head on the pillow, yet again, as if it were a fragile chest cavity housing within it the metronomic lull of a familiar heart.
Last night he remembered Red House Painters was a thing after more than a decade of not remembering. They now play softly while he takes a dimly lit shower. He says he mainly focuses on loofah-ing (with the energizing orange-ginger body-wash that my grandmother had bought for me) the heck out of the area where his neck meets his shoulders because that’s where your face goes and he wants his hug game to be an experience that engages all of the senses. Have you forgotten how to love yourself (◕(’ 人 ’) ◕).
Dad usually sings to me in order to wake me up. Nine times out of ten it’s something that goes like, “hello there angel from my nightmare/unsuspecting victeeaauummm” that I guess is from a band called Blink 182. I only know about Blink 182 from these two stories he tells: 1) in the winter, when we didn’t have heat, he was eating a poptart in bed and could see his breath and he said out loud “I guess this is growing up,” then listened to the silence of the void for a bit and whispered, “Blink 182” 2) the guy dropping heat in the stall next to him had taken a phonecall about girl scout cookies and my dad blew up his spot by flushing and then listened to the guy talk about my dad flushing to whoever was on the other line and it was really fun for him and the end of the story is somehow, “all the small things Blink 182.” Anyway, so this morning when that little abyss inside me between dreamstate and wakefulness hears “I’m in love for the first time” in the key of The Beatles’ Don’t Let Me Down, it immediately shoots back with “I see your fart in the moonlight” and as far as horoscopes go I’d say it means that I’m in for the most romantical of days today.
Somehow I end up getting blamed for potentially making us late because I am putting a paper into my backpack too slowly. My dad can be a real horsehole to me in the morning, especially when we’re trying to get out the door and time seems a scarce resource. After I express my worry that the little conflicts that arise between us carry over into perceptions of personhood and he senses in me the fear that I feel like something is always my fault, he makes a speech about the space between us (inherent in all relational interaction) and how it’s sort of like subatomic particles made up of various factors and the baggage that they may contain and how he thinks it’s a fun way to think about unconditional love and family: this focus on the invisible intersection of all of our individual crap and how we should be trying to tune into it as much as possible so that we can do a better and better job at sort of blessing it in order to consistently bring to it our best selves and most of the time that involves cutting each other a whole lot of slack. And maybe he is just defining empathy as this elusive and heavenly middle ground, or a bridge to it at least, but he says it’s where he’d like to live with us two little beans forever and ever amen. I am me, you are you, and us is just some swirl of space created in the middle and god can be there too if we leave enough room (◕(’ 人 ’) ◕).
I know my dad hopes that at least he is to you what you are to him: something to look forward to experiencing for the two seconds it takes you to walk to his seat and instantaneously decide every time weather to sit down or not and how somehow the anticipation of those two seconds is enough to keep going. And I know he will sit beside you here on this train, dear stranger, until every last person has gotten off because he is just not all that eager today to return the parallel lives you’ve lived together for the duration of the ride to the one line read on a palm.
He tells me he pictures it like this: he sees the same person on the train almost every day or on the walk from the train to work and over a period of time you both maybe start glancing at each other in a knowing fashion and after a month or so of that you start smiling at each other and then after another couple of months you say hi to each other every time and after some more time you sit together or walk together and begin to get to know one another in tiny increments and these fractals become some sort of version of a love that appears so slowly that one day you just notice it in the white space that all the shittiness of the world used to take up.
While pulling into the station, he catches a tourist taking a picture of the trains coming in as if in awe of something that is just my dad’s every day and it reminds him that everything can feel brand new depending on which set of eyes you’ve grabbed off the nightstand that morning. Baby eyes to you and yours this Friday season (◕(’ 人 ’) ◕).
Yesterday my dad wanted to hug a co-worker because they both needed it bad and he was pretty sure it would’ve started a chain reaction in the office where they all just held each other but he psyched himself out of it and now, after finding out that she has called out of work, he still regrets it. On Monday it just won’t be the same. Luckily, since moving to a building housed on a concrete pier jutting out into the Atlantic, his days have become just a series of smoke breaks spread throughout the day but where he breathes in ocean air for two minutes at a clip and this is able to nourish him. He also spends some of that time chasing seagulls because looking at their little legs go as they refuse to fly always cheers him up.
My dad had a moment last week when he and a dog spent some really peaceful time staring into each other’s eyes through the glass of one of the offices near the bathroom that he likes to put his number twos in and, to tell you the truth, until just now when he saw the dog again with their owner and they had a tearful reunion, he hadn’t really been exactly sure that the dog was real (this being the day after he had gotten a little high and then took a long shower and then brushed his hair for what felt like a good portion of the night while taking a virtual reality style tour using only his mind of every apartment he’s ever lived in and then putting on the most comfortable clothes he owns: boxers with the stretched out waistband, one of his grandfather’s old hanes undershirts, his ex-sister-in-law’s sweatpants, socks my grandmother says are Oprah’s favorite, two-sizes-too-big hoodie left by the guy who painted our house, brunch hat, and mesh running shoes, before going to a 10:30pm showing of a movie on a Sunday night with the best friend that let us live in his basement when he hit the reset button on our life; all of this a series of acts in the subtle art of self-care).
The only e-mail he gets worth noting is one from his dad. Subject line: The God Equation. Body: Euler’s identity is like a Shakespearean sonnet in its absolute simplicity. Makes you wonder how important must that number 1 be?
The office across the hall is inexplicably having a costume contest and the vibe put out by grown people in disguise is such a great vibe. After eating a snack at the urinal while peeing, something he can’t seem to stop himself from doing, on his way to wash his hands, he ends up running into a guy getting his costume on and the guy is just so happy/feeling so naughty that my dad smiles at him and the guy goes “RON BURGUNDY, BRO” and my dad is like “RON BURGUNDY TO YOU TOO, BRO.” Ron Burgundy to us every one (◕(’ 人 ’) ◕).
Every Friday night we’re at our mom’s so my dad goes down to our small town’s movie house by himself where he orders a pizza special (crafted and named according to the movie they’re showing) and tries as hard as he can to feel things while also abstaining from alcohol. He has said that all he wants is for the theatre to be his Cheers and for him to be its Norm and then also for him to be his own Sam and Diane somehow. I’m not sure what any of that means but I can tell he’s proud of himself when he says it.
This night he takes in Mr. Holmes and thinks it should win the Oscar for best colors or whatever that award is called. He has a basic pizza with ground beef and onion and a medium coke. His review, according to his Twitter, goes something like this: sometimes when we’re alone it’s us punishing ourselves and sometimes we’re alone for so long that we forget what it was that we did wrong / sometimes telling good lies is an act of love but every act of love is terrifying to perform because it opens your world up a bit / the more variables you add to your life the more chances there are that they can shift and fuck your whole world up / it’s math somehow and it’s beautiful.
After the movie he likes to take a walk and try to unlock memories that his brain might’ve discarded due to years of damaging it. There is something, to him, about how small your life looks when it’s no longer your life and he always ends up contemplating the optical illusion, when standing outside any one of the buildings you did some growing up in, of like how could it possibly contain the infinity of your childhood within its diminutive structure?
He takes a picture, at dusk, of a church with its steeple cut off because it feels like a metaphor for something and he wants to remember that feeling. He seems to get struck, every time, by how he has always grown homesick at dusk. Weirdly, he hopes the same for us, his kids.
While walking to his parents place to grab their car for tomorrow, he stops in front of a neighboring house to basically just huff the lilac air for a bit because it is like inhaling memories. He is just standing there in their yard with his eyes closed, humming the chorus of a dance song he has just made up that goes, “finding your god in dark matter tonight,” when the cops drive by and stop because he is acting suspicious and he has to tell them, before they drive away, not to worry that he is just emo (◕(’ 人 ’) ◕).
A while ago I had sent my dad a text that was like “i love you you you” which he had perceived to be a typo attributed to an overzealous thumb but later I had asked him if he got it and sang it to him Hotline Bling style, which led him to teach me the asterisk trick like, “i love *drake voice* you you you” and now I send him texts that are all, “*tina belcher’s words* uhhhhhhh” and it’s like oh ok I’m getting it, I’m almost there but I AM only ten. At home now, he’s able focus on answering the texts I’ve sent him throughout the night.
My little brother catches wind that we’re chatting so he makes me call him and whenever they talk while we’re at our mom’s they both tell each other that they’re hugging the phone but I’m pretty sure they’re both probably not. When they finish up and I get on the phone to say our goodnights he tries teaching me about paying more attention to environmental factors as opposed to chemical reactions, in preparation for the chunk of my life that’ll rear its head over the next batch of years with regard to chasing an already experienced high, that four beers with a buddy in a dirty basement on a stomach of Cheetos, for example, isn’t going to feel like the four beers after a nice supper with the family, on a beach, with a revolving cast of friends and intermittent conversations with crushes, that the formula to rely on for the next experiment isn’t the alcohol content, that it’s not about upping the dose i.e. having 5 beers next time because of a perceived adaptation in my physiological makeup, but rather it’s about more of the same people, more beach, more smells, more laughter, more crushes, more sharing of guts etc. also that fun doesn’t necessarily equate happiness. He tells me that a boring story starring a character you truly care about is always better than an exciting story starring a character you don’t give a shit about and sometimes learning that one takes a long time. To tell you the truth I haven’t really been listening because I don’t know many of his eighth grade words.
Before we hang up he tells me that we often commit to a misguided pursuit of greatness when young unknowingly setting our future selves up for a difficult reconciliation instead of seeing the value in tenderly working towards the steady accumulation of the small and the good. He wants to encourage me to break everything down into small, manageable and concrete bits, but to also be extremely forgiving to myself along the way. He calls me “poppet” a bunch and then we hang up because it’s late and I’ve fallen asleep.
He plugs in his phone and then digs out a blank postcard along with a disorganized arts & crafts kit. He painstakingly starts picking out and gluing tiny letters onto the front of the postcard, the picture of which is what looks like a science textbook drawing of the circulatory system but where a “hang loose” hand, instead, takes up the space normally reserved for the human heart. It is one of about a hundred such postcards I’ll find years later in a small chest in our attic. He’d explain to me that after separating from our mom he had felt like he truly was traveling, even if only emotionally, so he had come up with the idea of sending us postcards from various points in his journey.
The letters on this one as he finishes gluing are: “GREETINGS FROM A BLACKHOLE OF SELF-IMMOLATION.” On the back he begins inscribing:
hi your life is everyday
there is no fixed point besides your death
but also there is a god inside you and gods never die as long as you keep feeding them ok