1 December 2015–It is my time. Over the years it has always been the same. Never secretive, but usually alone. It just feels better that way. In the same way we shared mid-day telephone calls so I could have you to myself. In the same way we wandered to and fro across the mountains, you building me. It was my time. It was our time. It’s the same today. The late autumn’s hard crunch of frozen leaves, mud and grass. Brown, faded color lost to time. Fallen needles carpet the mosses and the long ago shed leaves of the maples pile high, surrounding all that blocks the wind. Today I carry a rake, something to fill the time, to give purpose, to do a job. Almost as if I need an excuse to go. It has almost become ritual: mornings, late fall/early winter, by myself.
The air is chilled today, the mercury hovering well below the freezing mark and my breath comes out in grey clouds. It hangs in the air like the cigarette smoke of my youth, coalescing around my face, offering its cold comfort. I walk around the headstone and make a circle or two before busying myself with the rake. The tears come easy as I stand there moving leaves and talking to a rock. Somedays tears don’t come at all. Today they flowed freely, more so than they had in a long time. But it is cold and they don’t make it down my cheeks. They are thick and heavyset and freeze to my beard in small droplets while my shoulders heave violently with uncontrollable, unreasonable sobs, my head tilted back, choking, standing, with a rake in my hand. Despite it being nineteen years ago, right here, right now, it still feels like yesterday.
I don’t want control. I don’t want to get myself together. I let it come and let it go and finally I can keep raking. I move the leaves back and forth, clearing as he would have it, ending by the rock. My mother calls it hers, but I think over the years many of us have sat there. “This is where I sit and talk to your father” she told me once. I imagine as way moves on to way, it is where I will sit and talk with her one day too. May it not be soon. I lean the rake against the rock and take a seat. The rock is cold in the morning’s sub-freezing temperatures though, so I don’t sit long.
I stand and try to walk out, but I can’t. I turn and wander back, pulled by guilt or maybe duty, as if I know that I haven’t spent enough time here over the years. I know its true because I feel it and think it. Once again I am pacing and lapping the stone, before finally pausing at the plaque, flat, grey and etched with a name and dates. Next to it a small, yellow, burried Tupperware cup from years ago acts as a ornamental vase for a long dried, cellophane wrapped, bouquet of flowers. I look upward, from the plaque and vase, and through the trees. I see the home I was raised in, the one in the 19 years since, my mother has worked so hard to keep, the one they worked so hard to build.
There in the bitter, grey air I think of the words we never said. Despite never hearing them myself, I now remember them, implicit in the the scratch of his mustache and unshaven cheeks as he tucked me in and kissed me goodnight and the leathery toughness of his weather beaten skin and callused hands. And I know it in the memories of a glistening brow and farmer tanned arms tearing at the Fruit of the Loom, pocket t-shirt while moving the rocks, splitting the wood, pounding the nail or hiking the trail.
I understand it in all that he did but for him, he didn’t stay around long enough for me to grow up and say it. When I finally did, those three little words fell unheard onto cold, frozen dirt. And now I can only hope that he knew.
(Editors note: I post this here in remembrance of my father’s passing which occurred twenty years ago today. For other posts about him click here or here, though I suppose there is a little bit of him in all the posts I publish.)