Monthly Archives: January 2017

NO PHOTOS….NO PICTURES…that night

 

I’m in bed. Eyes fluttering to wakefulness. My head turns to the wall of photographs stealing my attention. I feel pleased with their spontaneous arrangement; their frames containing only duos looking down on me. My youngest daughter’s right arm lays warmly around my shoulders, her left arm around my clavicle like a necklace…a smile overwhelms my soul like breakers splashing on the ocean floor.

My thoughts picture my wedding photo sitting across the room on the antique chestnut dresser. I’m not looking at it. Still, a tear slithers down my right cheek, then another straddles my left cheek. I see my dad leaning toward me. I quickly kiss his cheek; his large knuckled hand is gently settled on my white satin sleeve. Daylight fills the awkward space between our bodies.

Why do tears return again and again since dad left me in 1977 by way of heart attack? Since the early nineties I’ve cultivated tears like ‘pearls of god’ like poet Rumi speaks of.

There were no photos of my daddy holding me as a child; although there are photos of him holding my one-year-younger baby sister standing in the palm of his hand on his outstretched arm. And a professional photo of my younger brother sitting on my daddy’s lap, his small hand enveloped by dads.

Just weeks before my mother died in 2002, while emptying her apartment,  I did find a photo of daddy holding an infant; my mother says it is me. Yet, why do I doubt it even now? We are outdoors – where? He’s in a suit – why? I could have asked when mom was alive – why didn’t I? I’m a Marriage and Family Therapist for god’s sake – not for my sake?

Before climbing out of my iron wrought painted white double bed where I sleep alone, my unconscious soul tells me to get up and search for the wedding photo of dad walking me down the aisle of the Tabernacle Baptist church. I need to see my arm entwined around his. Now, I’m sobbing like a baby. Really, is this possible?

I do love babies: I can’t help but stop as I walk by, seeing them staring up from Wegman’s shopping carts. Mother’s voice along with others still echo in the distance: “don’t stare, it’s not polite.” I say, Stare on baby! (Pause – take a look!) See through me like a magnifying glass burning a (w)hole in a dried-up leaf.

I have saved photographs in albums since my two daughters were born 4 decades ago – most of them line up on shelves in my apartment’s living room or bedroom, so I was surprised not to find the two wedding albums of my first marriage there. I’ve been married four times. Shocking?

The flame of my flash light leads me up the stairs of the garage where boxes of ‘unnecessary’ things for my apartment rest. I move boxes of self-published books  to the side so I can access boxes of past journals. All of a sudden I feel liquid on my finger, and then see red. Two days previous I had sliced it when prunning a plant I needed to move indoors before fall’s freezing.

God darn it! No, damn it! Am I not supposed to find that photo – why the delay? Am I reopening the wound of missing my dear daddy?

Not until I’ve applied a small band aid do I think: maybe feeling my blood being spilled in search of his touch, as tears flow, is enough? Like blood brothers? sisters? father-daughters?

Returning to the upstairs garage, band aid applied; I move Grammy’s 3′x3′ framed portrait, christmas decorations, ‘dad’s stuff,’ back packs, those wedding albums still ducking out of sight. I’m losing hope. My heart says, press on. Precariously,  my foot on the edge where I could tumble down the stairway, I take in a breath of exhilaration, as small albums of purple and blue flash before me. Opening the box flap reveals the two white book-like albums of my first marriage to Chuck, who left me with two daughters to raise after he came out as gay, after being married to me for six years.

I gather more appreciation for my dad’s presence when Chuck and I return to Ithaca, NY in 1974, so he could attend graduate school for music performance. Chuck sang “Ich Liebe Dich” to me during our wedding ceremony; one of the few times I permitted myself to cry – it’s acceptable at weddings, right?

Back then, I didn’t connect the significance of Chuck choosing a German song with my dad being born and raised in Germany until he was seventeen. Dad sailing to the USA, obtaining US citizenship, choosing to fight against his own country in WWII. It is still hard for me to comprehend such a huge gulf of courage.

Now, my tears take me back to being sixteen, when my mother yells, “He’s not your father!” during one of our frequent fights where I am defending my dad. My memory goes black. I’m in a tidal wave of aloneness. My shock locks away my pain in a safe, until I’m in primal therapy, where I retrieve images  of me running down the stairs; outdoors, swinging on the sturdy steel swing set my daddy constructed for his three children. (Thanks John Lennon for writing the song, Primal Therapy.)

While in graduate school studying to become a Marriage and Family Therapist, I ask more questions of my mother: “Why didn’t someone come and talk to me – comfort me?”

Mom responds, “we left you alone; thinking you’d get over it.” This is where my dad’s courage failed. He went along with my RN mother’s direction too much until they divorced when I was in nursing school, and dad wrote letters to me every week. Letters and cards flaunting feelings like: “That I am very proud of you.”

At some point a letter asks why I wasn’t affectionate or demonstrative anymore with him…did I have any insight as to why? I can’t remember what my response to dad’s letter was. Being a curious daughter with my dad, and a rebellious daughter with my mom; I am quite certain I would have wondered during the required therapy group of my psychiatric rotation. I have a box full of dad’s hand written letters that I cherish like I do my two daughters. Disappointingly, I never found my letters to dad when he died – only a few very loving cards I sent him. It never feels enough.

Returning to my apartment with the box of daddy’s letters in my arms, and the Chuck-wedding albums (glad I never chucked them:), I sit on my living room floor, remove the 5×7 photo from its plastic sleeve, as tears wash my 70 year old face. I rub them into my crow’s feet and smile wrinkles; I tell others: tears are the best moisturizer I know of. Naturally. They laugh. So do I.

For the first time, I “pause – take a look,”  Sy Safransky’s (editor and publisher of The SUN magazine) words that he reads at the Big Sur writing weekend in October 2016. I love that my arm is entwined around dads as he walks me down the aisle. His serious face belies the love I feel from his sensitive special heart. My smile is wrapped in closed-eyes; so like how my heart was back in 1969.

On my way to see clients that same day, I stop at Kinkos, place on the scanner the 5×7 photo of daddy and me on that sad-happy wedding day, and presto it is enlarged to an 8×10. I stare at the photo, amazed that my soul has pulled me along like a toddler; then lifted me into daddy’s arms like how I remember him carrying me down Aurora street when I was five or so, after my butt was accidentally burned with scalding coffee at a work picnic.

The next day, I’m writing my tears down in Wegman’s cafe, swearing I will not be embarrassed or ashamed as I walk to retrieve napkins to wipe my snotty nose; tears have already soaked the hankie I store in my purse.

Another day that week, I’m pausing to look at the wedding photos of daddy: dad holding my 3 year old niece’s hand; talking with my brother and Chuck, the church congregation with us at the altar, daddy giving me away, dad and Chuck’s dad talking, the formal after wedding shot of us with our parents, the reception line with dad next to me for seven photos!, my kiss on his cheek, daddy walking me down the aisle, front and rear view:); where I touch my dad for more than a second or a minute; pleased  that he is next to me. Also, that he stands next to me in the reception line and not my mother. How fine. Through eons of time. In my heart.

As long as I remember you, you will be here.

 

Addendum:

{One more day later, I am placing the two 8×10 photos of daddy and me at my wedding in an old tattered leather album that can only hold two 8×10 photos facing one another, where the etched faces of Clark Gable and Vivian Lee look at me when I bought the album at an antique store. When I remove the photo of daddy and I that already lived for years in a single 8×10 frame on my chestnut dresser; I find to my surprise, a xerox copy of me as a toddler with my trike, attached to two smaller photos of me as an infant being held by my mother and daddy. I had forgotten. I had placed it there. Now no longer covered up. The love of my daddy. Exposed. Held}