Chicago. Ruts, sometimes two feet deep, run across the road, but it’s still
manageable for walking. Farmhouses occasionally dot the landscape,
two-story white Victorians with plastic-wrapped windows and wide-open vistas, nothing but fields and a lint-colored sky. Often when I step
outside, the wind howls. Automatically, I hunch over, pulling a woolen
scarf up over my mouth, and walk, glad to be stretching, to be part of
the elements after sitting at my desk. On one of these walks, I glance up
just as a flock of birds bursts across that gray sky in lyrical formation, a
small, sudden glimpse of beauty. Probably flying south. I stop to watch,
admiring them, and instantly think of my father, musing on how we
both like birds, how one summer we sent each other snapshots, almost
always blurry, of the birds we’d seen. My father. In my mind, I see him
laughing, the way he shows all his teeth, his eyeteeth like mine, long and
pointy, his eyes lit up at a good joke, reveling in pleasure. My father. I
see him at three am standing in front of the open refrigerator’s halo of
light, half asleep but hungry, looking for a piece of Monterey Jack cheese.
I see him there because I often wake then too, my body, like his, a metabolic tornado. My father. I see him at the breakfast table, reading the
newspaper as he did throughout my childhood, so absorbed he forgets
to loosen his hold on the handle of his coffee cup.
Now the birds are gone, the sky empty, but I’m still thinking about
my father. For many years, I haven’t imagined talking intimately to him
or casually laughing as we did when I was a kid and we’d find ourselves
staring compulsively into the refrigerator at three am. I haven’t imagined the sudden recognition of pleasure we both have when we arrive
at Wolf Bay or Soldier Creek, the two of us intrinsically drawn to water.
I haven’t imagined a fit of uncontrollable laughter, loud and raucous,
another thing we have in common. On my biyearly visits, I’ve kept my
arms crossed and my mind shuttered, revealing little beyond the daughter who left, still a partial stray. I’ve never let him “in.” As this thought
lingers, I feel a shift, a loosening, as if something inside me is unwinding, breaking apart. And then I’m running, flinging off my coat and
gloves and hat, anxious to sit down and write.
As my fingers race across the keys, I know I’m writing this to myself
as much as to my father, describing the complications I’ve lived through
after the disaster of my marriage and how I’ve come to understand my
choices, how art and writing have provided me with a way to unravel the
tumultuous story bound up inside me, a story that includes him, that has