And yet, a day later as I sprawl on the double bed in the upstairs bedroom, I’m less certain about the letter. I’ve just laid myself bare. I’ve exposed what I know of the hard places in my life and the turnings within
those hard places.
Read with a certain mind, my letter is an exploration of failure and
Read with a certain mind, my letter is an admission that nothing
important was accomplished.
Read with a certain mind, my letter is a koan, a riddle, a recognition
of what accomplishment might really mean.
For the next few days, I take longer walks even though the cold bites
into my skin. I pull the scarf around my mouth and nose and stare at the
empty fields and the drift of clouds in a flat, gray sky, the horizon a slash
of white in the distance. Then I go back inside and turn on my computer.
My choice has been made.
“Your father wants to talk to you,” my mother says after she and I have
visited for ten minutes on the phone. A week has passed.
“Pat,” my father says in his gravelly voice, the hiss coming clearly
through the wires. I can see him in his bathrobe and slippers, one foot
rubbing his calluses against the smooth pile of the rug, his glasses slip-ping downward on his nose. “How are things up in the Arctic Circle?”
he asks, teasing about the weather in Iowa and praising, as always, the
sunniness of Alabama. “Best place in the world.” But then he goes quiet,
the silence between us thick and awkward.
I wait. Outside my window snow is falling, the flakes light and drifting, coating the roof of the barn and whitening the old dirty snow that
spreads like an endless lake across the yard. When the wind picks up,
the snow swirls, a flurry tossed against the pane, obscuring, for a moment, my view.
“Come home,” he says, his voice soft and deep. “I want you to come
My father and I have both mellowed, even slyly swapped places. Now I
want success and my father wants to slow down, to watch the rhythm of
the light, the way it glitters at noon and then shadows the water in the
pool in late afternoon, deepening the blue. But what surprises me is how
my father becomes my biggest fan, the one in the family who encourages
my writing and teaching, who revels, of course, in any publication or