Songbird

Last week, I went out to see friends and hear a great band play. I saw lots of folks I knew and met some new ones, all of our voices growing louder to hear one another over the amazing music. Before long, it was too loud to talk and that suited me fine. Sometimes you just need to soak in sound, let harmony and melody mix in your brain, feel the drum reverberate through your chest.

I left the bar late and found myself stunned by the sudden silence into which I’d tumbled. My ears rang as I walked to my car. It was an exquisite night: finally, actually cool, dry, the merest sliver of moon, like the edge of a plate perched high above the world. Fall in South Carolina.

As I got close to my car, I said aloud, “Hi, Daddy.”

I’m not sure why.

Maybe I was overcome by the beauty of the night all around me.

Maybe I was happy and wanted him to know it.

Maybe I was calling out because I wished he was there.

Maybe the reason doesn’t matter.

From the darkness, from a tree near my car, a songbird sang out.

Then, just as suddenly, a chorus of birds further away answered back.

Then, the songbird sang out once more.

And then, quiet.

Oh.

Hi, Daddy.

Moonlit Ride

Dear Dad,

Because I don’t have your opinion to ask anymore, I often feel uncertain. My self-esteem sometimes gets tied up and dependent upon silly things that seem crucial at that particular moment. Later, I shake my head at myself for doubting my capabilities and capacities. I try to think of things you said to me years ago when I was in doubt, or in tears. I make decisions more quickly now, but I don’t feel confident in many of them. I make them, and hope, if they’re wrong, they will quickly reveal themselves as such. This is part of it – the loss of you. Me feeling uncertain about me because you are not here. Me feeling somehow unsafe. I could not have guessed how those feelings would and have manifested. Mostly because the way in which they manifest differs daily, vastly.

More than two years ago, two friends and I drank a bottle of gin, piled onto a moped and took off downtown to “watch the moon rise over the water.” At first, I protested, still lucid enough to realize the inherent danger and stupidity of this undertaking. I quickly caved to the collective “come onnnnn…”

As we three drove over the bridge, I told my friend that my butt was, in fact, falling off the back of the moped and soon the rest would follow. “I’m falling off,” I said urgently. She responded by silently gripping my butt with both hands.

I didn’t fall.

I remember looking down at the asphalt as we sped on, thinking how quickly everything could go horribly wrong. No one with a helmet. All of us careless, yet somehow carefree.

I was certain you were watching this from wherever you are. The moon, always my sign for you, was out, big as a beach ball, lighting up the water. I imagined first that you were angry – then, laughing.

I was much too old to be doing something so reckless, so stupid. And yet, somehow, I felt alive in my fear, exhilarated by the knowledge that I was purposely doing something I knew was dangerous and irresponsible.

For some reason, I had to feel like I could actually die. To see if you would save me? So you didn’t seem quite so dead?

I don’t know the answer to that. Maybe the gin does.

July 18, 2011

Dear Dad,

Two years to the day that we sat in a room that smelled of newsprint and coffee as you silently slipped out the door, just as you did when I was a child falling off to sleep. I am still sometimes surprised and amazed by your absence. I am still sometimes surprised that it’s possible for me to exist as flesh and bone when you don’t.

Lately, you’ve taken form as Ella Fitzgerald crooning for the crowd at the bar where I wait for a friend. You’re the tiny end table with the hand-painted cherry design in the antique store – the same table that served as home to your ashtray, corncob pipe and lowball glass of Budweiser that I’ve never seen since. You’re the smell of Skin Bracer aftershave in a crowd, though I can never find its source. You’re the shared eccentricities infused into each of us: the lone eyebrow that raises on its own whim. You’re the harmony of the hymn sung in a rare visit to church. You’re the “do you remember” moments we share like a secret language. You’re the bend in my path that I cannot see past. You were and will always be, the moon.