My dad’s birthday is today. He would have been 90 if cancer had not taken him. In my memoir, Face (see excerpts here), I write that I had a hard time bringing who he was, and what he meant to me, to the page. It was a struggle, and I still don’t feel I did it very successfully.
Memory is a fluid thing. It moves and undulates and morphs with time. I knew him so well, knew that he loved jelly beans and golf, that his Catholic faith formed him and sustained him, that he loved my mother. That he loved me. That his love is perhaps the reason I was able to overcome the trauma I experienced throughout my childhood. But in the writing, I struggled to explain how very much he meant to me. Recounting the memories I have of him, it felt soon as if I were just reciting a long list, without really bringing him to life.
Perhaps my memory—my psyche—doesn’t want to go there. It’s too painful, just like all the hospitalizations and surgeries. I couldn’t have determined which hospitalization happened on which date without the notes from my surgeon. Which time was I made to lie naked in a hospital crib under a large oxygen tent? Which time did I awake and believe I was somewhere other than the hospital, which frightened me to the point the nurses had to get permission to lift a corner of one of the bandages on my eyes so I could see? Which time(s) was I made to lie for hours, my arms strapped to the bed, as plasma dripped into my veins?
We strive to create a narrative of our lives that makes sense, and when events don’t make sense, or fall along the story line, we make things up. I am sure I am guilty of that. But the individual events I write about in my memoir are as concrete and vivid as if I were living them today. The memories just as jagged and piercing, just as white-hot with emotion, as if my insides were searing with grief.
I wonder sometimes how long trauma lingers. I spent many years stuffing it into a very deep place, thinking if I did it would no longer hurt me. How wrong I was. Excavating that past has been devastating. Also clarifying, opening—my chest feels cracked open; I am breathing again, but damn it’s painful.
How I miss my dad, and wish he could be here to see his daughter step into her life, finally, authentically. Terrifyingly.