Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
I grew up on a huge collection of my parents’ vinyl records they kept in our wooden cabinet stereo. Records were always playing. The Platters were one of my favorites. They were also my Dad’s favorite. He recently came out to California from Idaho to visit or possibly say goodbye. He’s elderly with many health problems, including Lewy Bodies Dementia. He still remembers most things. Occasionally, he gets that far-away look in his eyes, and for a short while, he isn’t there. I hadn’t seen him since my kids were little, so I’d estimate close to 20 years. Our relationship has been a distant one since I was in high school. Distance means he wasn’t living in the USA and traveled so much I didn’t know where he was for most years. He missed a lot of my life. My 16th birthday, high school graduation, wedding, births of my children, and the days that turn into years primarily mold you into the adult you become.
I am now 46.
I met my Dad again last week. He was once a strong, intelligent, well-spoken, and educated man. To meet him now, you would see a pale elderly fellow who has lost a few inches of height. His hands shake, making it difficult for him to hold on to most things, especially a knife and fork. He still wears his nice slacks and dress shoes. Instead of a belt, he wears wide suspenders over his undershirt and layered sweaters, so he doesn’t chill. He speaks slowly and purposefully, as it takes some mental effort to remember what he is trying to say. His eyes are still blue but with a hint of grey and always seem to be a bit watery. Maybe from his age or maybe from the memories he has made or, regretfully, the memories he did not make. I sit close to him on the sofa and look at his pale hands. They are spotted and frail. My father always had strong, capable hands. He could build or fix anything. Now he is grasping a can of Cherry Pepsi with both hands to combat the tremors, allowing him to place the soda to his lips without spilling. It reminds me so much of my children when they were small.
He goes outside to smoke a Marlboro. It takes him a while to walk to the sliding glass door and maneuver the latch. I take this moment of his absence and will the tears I have been holding back to stay in my eyes so nobody can see that I’m already mourning the father I lost. The father I never really got to know. The father before me now that I just met. His eyes are full of love and regret. He loves me. I know that today. I wish with all my being he could have been this sweet lovely man years ago. How would my life be different today if I had the confidence to know a father’s love like this? I miss him again, so I walk outside while he smokes the last of his Marlboro. He mentions that it was a Platters song that he danced with my mother to on their first date. His eyes are full of tears. Swimming in the pale gray of those eyes, I feel the regret. The memories. A wife that he has not seen in over 30 years. She was the love of his life. I can see it; no, I can feel it. I put my arm around him, and we walk back inside. A bit later, I say goodbye to him, and he tells me I am beautiful and amazing. I pray that I will see him again.
His flight left today for home. I haven’t gone anywhere, but I am left to unpack the emotions and hurt I have held onto for years. They have shaped me into the woman I am. I feel peace. My father loves me. He always has. I listen to all the old songs we played on records, and for the first time in years, I have begun to heal.