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I was raised like our backyard,
only tended with a sigh
when I began to grow wild.
You ask if there were good times.
You’ve asked before. I’m sixty and
have spent most of my life dealing
with their absence, many years of un-
locking what I never had. So I know
how to face what went wrong. I even
know what made them so frightened
and angry, children of the Depression,
unsure if they wanted kids, saddled with
us. I’ve had to mourn them though they’re
alive, and accept what I’ve been given. I
know they’re not monsters, though they
could be monstrous. And when the coffee
stops perking, before the TV drones, when
each is stopped in mid-breath, like travelers
looking down between slats in a bridge that
spans a bottomless canyon, when nothing
can distract them—I know they miss me
and wonder what storms have kept us
apart. And when this moment they so
fear is sealed over, I know they mourn me.
So I keep their scattering of goodness under
a rock in the pool at the bottom of that canyon.
Because the thought of my father putting his
rough hands over mine to help me guide a
chisel and feeling his large heart warm my
back as he leaned over me, and the thought
of my mother looking at me with an open
face before she hardened her beauty, and
the few times we all laughed together—
these are slivers of kindness that will
turn me around and keep me from
the life I have, the one I’ve earned.
They will drown me in what can never
be. The only memory I take out, when
it’s hard to remember their faces, is
the time I entered his hospital room
after his first stroke, when he couldn’t
keep from crying in my arms and she,
she finally softened, and looked at me
as if I were the man she fell in love
with, rising like an apparition
from the old man in the bed.
A Question to Walk With: In conversation with a loved one or friend, discuss your experience of growing up, describing the greatest challenge and the greatest gift?
This excerpt is from a new book in progress, Compass Work: Finding Our Fathers While Finding Ourselves.