This is how it starts. You’re walking along the Battery, with an eye on the water beside you. Your eye stops on a pop of sunlight in the water, and you instantly recognize that it’s a dolphin momentarily breaking the surface. Because you grew up in a suburban neighborhood, more than an hour from the sea, this sight never becomes commonplace, though you have lived here for more than seven years. The sight of a wild, sea mammal mere feet away always brings amazement, a sudden intake of breath, a child-like joy, and for that you are grateful. That thought leads you to wonder how a dolphin feels to the touch. Their dark charcoal, wet skin looks both like dense rubber and muscle. Like the strongest, most durable leather ever made.
The thought of leather makes you think of men’s dress shoes, specifically Dad’s, and you immediately wonder if Mom has given away all of his clothes and shoes to Goodwill. You don’t remember her saying so, but you do remember her asking you just days after his funeral what, if any of his clothes or possessions, you might want. You could not even begin to think at that point and took one of his old wool cardigans knowing it would pacify her need for you to have what you want. Right now you want his shoes (though they are far too large) and his old watch (which Mom cannot find).
And that thought brings you to the thought that death has a true physicality to it that has, at times, left you bewildered. In the place of someone who was, there is space. And things left behind. There are shoes whose worn places remain still, as if trapped in amber. There are wool cardigans with wooden buttons that remain folded in drawers. There are piles of v-neck undershirts with BADMAN written in permanent ink in all caps on their collars. There is a phone call you want to make, to tell him of the dolphins that seemed to swim in time to your walking pace. There is the question you want to ask, “Dad, did you ever touch a dolphin? How did it feel?” As has become habit, you try to comfort yourself with the notion that he sees what you see – he knows the question and the answer before it becomes your thought. You aren’t sure any of this is true, but you wipe the sweat from your forehead. You keep walking.