It was a face that had seen much and still remained kind. His beard was bushy, fiery red, and constant. And Allister remembered his knuckles. They were roughened. His hands seemed so small in contrast, but his knuckles must have been transplanted from a giant. And he always called Allister, ‘Guy.” In earlier days, he had called him, “Little Guy.” But, as Allister grew older and taller, the “Little” was dropped and replaced by a tone of voice which expressed the familiarity that only comes with raising a child and marveling at how new they have become right before your eyes.
But, the rest of his father was not so clear anymore.
Remembering your father from a distance was not always easy.
Sure, there were scents (pipe smoke, coffee, shaving cream, autumn air) and memories (a Christmas, a dinner, a toss of the baseball, an autumn day). And so many of those things were still there and visceral that it was hard to separate what was simply the smell of pipe smoke and what was the memory of his father’s pipe smoke. It all seemed connected. It all seemed the same. And Allister knew it wasn’t. But, it was.
There was a place between what was happening now and what had happened before and who was there now and who had trod there before, who had stamped a memory into your memories. And his father lived there. And many, many times Allister would sit back and visit that place- sometimes content on the idea of staying there forever.
Allister would distort certain memories and he knew they were being distorted. He would forget certain memories and he was strangely aware that he was forgetting. But, always, there was pipe smoke and coffee and shaving cream and Christmas and family dinners and tosses of baseballs and autumn days with their autumn air to remind Allister that they were there. That they were real.
And Allister remembered that autumn day so clearly. And, yet, it seemed so distant. But, distant in the way that the day before yesterday seems so distant. And, in looking back, Allister often thought about how crystal clear and specific that last goodbye was and how, in contrast, he had no recollection of their first hello. And that was strange.
All around him had been the sights and scents and sounds of the hospital. And, as overpowering as they were, they became a vague hum in the background. Allister’s hand was in his father’s roughened, big-knuckled hand. There was a firmness in the hold. A safety in the hold. And Allister remembered the leaves of a giant oak just outside the window of his father’s room. The autumn air had blown its chill into them and they released from the tree and floated down towards the ground.
And Allister felt himself let go of his father’s hand and reach for the leaf. He wanted to stand on top of a branch and hold the leaf there. It was not time for a goodbye. It could not be because Allister remembered all that they had done and, nowhere in those experiences, had they ever decided on a time to say goodbye. He remembered all that they were still supposed to do. There were more Christmases and family dinners and autumn days.
And Allister’s father was aware of the absence of Allister’s hand and he whispered, “Hey Guy, are you there?” And, when Allister answered, “Yes,” his father said, “So am I.” And, in his mind, Allister let go of the leaf. His father was not the leaf. Likewise, Allister was not the leaf. Allister was the tree. And, to live, there are things we need to release. But, his father did not live in a part that falls away. His father lived in the roots. So, Allister placed his hand back in his father’s.
And his mother came back in the room and, together, they relived their lives (carefully and recklessly retracing). There was much in the way of creasing and wrinkling and reddening faces and laughter. So much that it felt like entire days and weeks and months and years and lifetimes and eternities and…
And, when the time for goodbye came, it was met with a complete and whole silence. The most appropriate phrases tend to be, “I love you,” and, “I will miss you,” and, “I will not forget you.” But, none of those needed to be said. The atmosphere had swallowed the words and turned them into a mist that permeated the whole day and stayed with Allister, nourishing him as he continued to grow.