Every time it happens, it takes me by surprise. I catch a glimpse of a man and he is familiar, sending a zing of recognition through me. Is it his height or the way he carries himself? His walk? His thick hair ruffling in the breeze? I don’t know for sure, because I can’t remember any of those things clearly anymore. But occasionally I happen upon a man who reminds me of my father and for a moment I can’t help but suspend disbelief. I’ll pretend he isn’t dead, after all. And he’s here, in my city, to finally reunite with me. I know it’s not true, of course. I’m not crazy. And I’m not a child – in fact I’m a year older than he was when he died. But I always let myself believe for just a moment and I feel a tiny flutter of childlike expectancy in my heart. Does everyone who loses a parent when they were young do this? See them in places where they cannot be and get foolishly hopeful, just for a few seconds? We never stop wanting our parents to see us, after all. I once read that children need to see their parents’ faces light up when they walk into a room. I always make sure that my kids see me seeing them and loving them from afar. It’s not hard to do. They are my favorite faces to see.
I don’t think of my dad very often anymore. It’s much too hard to picture him, as he’s been gone 32 years this month. He was tall and smart. He was quiet, an introvert. He had a very dark sense of humor. He had demons that killed him. I too am an introvert with a dark sense of humor. I think I’ve made friends with my demons and I don’t think they’ll kill me. Well, maybe we’re not friends. My demons and I hold each other at arm’s length, regarding each other warily, to be sure, but we’ve developed a mutual respect. I’ve become a remarkably productive citizen and a responsible and loving parent. I feel like I’m faltering sometimes, but still I avoid most of the self destructive bullshit that attracted me when I was younger. I’m also honest with myself, for the most part. I don’t know if my dad was aware that his demons were starting to win. Or if he cared. But I know that losing him to them was my first and biggest heartbreak. And the one I never got over.
My kids ask me what he was like and I’m never sure what to say. The thing I remember most vividly about him is how he could be right next to you in a room, but it would feel like he wasn’t there at all. He was already a ghost to me before he was actually gone. I fear I’ve inherited this tendency as well. I’ve been asked where I was, when I was right next to someone, more times than I can count. I think it’s partly an introvert thing, the need for time and space to process things alone, but it’s also…more than that. I am working on finding a balance. I think I still have time.
I dream of him sometimes. He just appears in my sleep and hangs out with me, like no time at all has passed. He never says anything profound, but there’s always a point when I tell him that I thought he was dead and we laugh and laugh. Then I wake up and I’m strangely happy. It would be just like him to haunt me in this way.