I keep going back to the last time I saw him, in April of 2007. We had made one of those vacations that's not really a vacation that those of us who have moved away from their families have. Ten days of crazy driving, literal itineraries, literally a guilt trip.
This is why my dad never wanted me to get married. He never wanted to share me. Many, many trips were made from wherever I was living to his house. I would lay in the grass in the warmer months, split wood in the winter, or sweat it out in the house. (He heated his house with wood & it was usually around 85 in there!) I got there when I got there & I left when he had to go back to work. We would work on my car, wax it, mow the lawn, go into town to rent a movie, visit with his neighbors, go fishing. Just sit at the kitchen table & talk.
That last visit was nothing like that. MiniMe was 18 months old. My dad's brother & his wife had come over because they'd never met her. Dad spent most of his time on the front porch where he could smoke. MiniMe was stir crazy from all of the driving. We decided to bundle her up & take her to the cute neighborhood park up the street, even though it was in the 40's.
My dad had booked & paid for us to stay in a hotel near his house. He knew it would make it easier for me to negotiate spending time with him. It hurt me to think that he felt like he had to weigh things in his favor, but I let him do it, mostly because he wanted to.
As we all watched MiniMe scamper around the park, we were all fairly quiet. I know my Dad & I were thinking the same thing. She was exactly the age I was when he & my mom divorced. She looked so much like me I could tell it pained him. I felt like I was breaking his heart. I ached for him. I didn't know how to make it better.
But MiniMe did. In her innocence, she was just herself. She scaled the apparatus with no fear & sufficient grace. My dad was amazed by her. Her joy healed the pain. Her giggles were contagious. He commented on how capable she was & how he could tell we didn't chase her around, waiting for her to fail, & how he thought that was the way it should be. I watched him circle the park with his camera in one hand, cigarette in the other. I wasn't happy with how he looked. He looked sick. He had gained weight. His always there cough was worse than normal. He was quiet, with a fake smile plastered on his face. I wanted desperately to drag him out to the barn & ask him what was wrong, but I was afraid. I was afraid of leaving The Huz to have to run interferance between MiniMe & my family that he didn't know very well. I was afraid of what my Dad would say, more, though.
We left early because we had to get MiniMe to bed. I said goodbye to everyone, but to Dad probably at least six times. I just wanted an excuse to hug him. But everytime I did, I pulled way feeling a littel nauesous. He reeked of cigarettes. His body felt tough, like over-cooked chicken. His arms were thin & frail. It scared me.
We intended to go back the next morning, but when I called & grandma told me Dad had already left to make a run, I didn't want to. I didn't want to go back to my Dad's house, be fawned over by m grandmother or stepmom. As I've said before, that's not something I did when I was at his house. I wanted to see him. At the same time, I was kind-of glad that he had left. Being there now was awkward & awful. It was too much of a reminder that things are different. Too stark of a difference because I had changed so much, not necessarily for the worse, mind you, but drastically, none the less. Seeing my father, physically being with him, was strange because we had been apart for so long. When we spoke on the phone every week it wasn't so obvious. We were always the same. To see each other made the changes so exaggerated it was disconcerting.
We were in Michigan for several days after we left my Dad's & his route at that time was north through the Upper Peninsula, down through Wisconsin, into Chicago, over to Cincinnati, north through Toledo, than back to Port Huron. He called me on my cell phone a few times while we were there. His mood was cheerful, better than it had been on the playground. He talked about MiniMe in a way that told me he did see her as her own person. He expressed joy at getting to be with her. He was happy that I was home; that we could talk about where I was at the time & he knew what I was talking about. He would call when he knew my phone would be shut off to leave me messages telling me things he couldn't say to me in real time. Sweet things. I remember that I saved his voicemail messages from when we were there for like three months after that trip. It made me feel like I was still there.
Thinking about this trip has brought me a sense of peace about my Dad. I realized that looking back, it wasn't physically being in my Dad's presence that I needed so much as the connection. I have decided to convince myself that the connection is still there, even if the talks, the hugs, the smiles are not. Thinking about the overwhelming smell of cigarettes, the sorrow of things lost, I am trying to convince myself that we are liberated from those trappings, now. What it is truly is reminding myself that I am still me. I do not need his validation or even celebration, no matter how much I miss it. I ams what I ams & I only need to be a little more assertive of that. It was not he who made me, it was me all along. But still, it sucks that I can't talk to him about our plans, about this new daughter, the one in my belly & the one I'm becoming, about everything. I refuse to be one of those people that sits around talking or writing letters as if he is still there. It's too morbid. I'm looking for something more uplifting. That's what I miss.