All Through the Night
10 p.m. I pull my leg up, bending my knee and planting my foot on the edge of the chair to scratch my ankle while reading the article on the laptop. This makes me think of my father. One of several odd little things that do. My yoga pants are boot-cut and allow easy access to my socks, which also reminds me of him. It’s these little, seemingly insignificant actions, the details that were his and his alone, that comfort me every day.
Three years ago today my father died after a long, admirable, come-here-go-away relationship with hospice. For years he’d had medical problems, an impressive number of heart attacks, a quadruple bypass, chemotherapy, transfusions and more. The only surprise with my dad was that no disease was ever able to put a dent in his positive outlook, his love of life and people, and his incurable charm.
The itching is vague and intermittent, lacks any visible cause – no rash, no bug bite – just like it was for him, but so far, thankfully, not severe, as it had gotten for him. I pull the sock down over my heel, and examine the evidence of Gold Toe around my ankle. His voice whispers in my mind then, asking me, Honey, if you don’t mind, could you just take those little scissors and cut the edge of my socks? His ankles had swollen to the point that his socks were unbearably tight. Though I do remember being mildly shocked by how tight they were, I’m trying to remember detail now. How deep were the indentations on his skin? Exactly how puffy were his ankles? Mine are nothing like his were, but there are now marks where there were none two months ago. I’ve approached this in my usual Junior Detective style, considering how long have I had the socks? (Ages.) What is the general condition of the socks? (Old, somewhat stretched.) Is it even possible for socks this worn to leave such a detailed pattern on the skin? (Uh, that would be no.) What do I know of fluid retention that began in the ankles and is now also in the face? (Kidneys, the liver – the usual suspects. Or maybe something else) I flip through a mental rolodex of my symptoms versus his diagnoses. This makes me feel close to him somehow, though I wonder sometimes if that even makes sense.
And what if it doesn’t? How could that feel so strangely comforting? I’ve tried to sort this out on occasion, but lately find myself wondering why. How important is it to make sense? What sense is there in death or grief or illness anyway? This week I was cleaning out my office, where many of my father’s books, journals, and other belongings have sat, mostly untouched, since he died. When we moved everything out of his apartment, I couldn’t bear the thought of throwing away his belongings, or giving them to anyone else. It felt like erasing him. Like letting go. And I wasn’t ready to. I took boxes of his things to my apartment and, unable to do much else at the time, piled them in the office and left them alone. I took the laptop out to the dining room. Being in the office was unbearable. Just walking in, looking at those boxes, unleashed an unstoppable surge of tears. Now, three years later, I have started going through some of these items, treasures from his past, many of which mean something to me only in that they meant so much to him.
Our culture is one that thrives on excess, on business, on filling up every second of every day, every inch of your computer or tv screen. We are bombarded with junk mail, spam, a 24/7 cell phone, texting at all hours, non-stop news and more. The more stuff filling up the time and space, the less I want around me. I’m downsizing. Simplifying. Going through closets and boxes and throwing away articles of clothing I haven’t worn in ten years but have kept just in case. Despite a few moments of hesitation (but I might need it for, I dunno, something) this feels more liberating than I imagined. Until I enter the office. I expect to spend hours agonizing over whether to get rid of things in the name of simplifying, or holding onto things I’ll never use but want near anyway. Instead I sift through his things late into the night, feeling warm, smiling, like I’m spending this time with him.
Since he’s been gone, I feel a gentle tug sometimes, an uncanny sort of calm that never seemed possible to my high-strung self. On occasion I feel a peaceful acceptance at moments that would normally have me fraught with worry or indecisiveness. I spent many late night hours going through cards and letters friends had sent him, or some of his mother’s things, worrying over the fact that I couldn’t let them go, even though many people said I should. It’s time they’d say. Or Why do you want to hold onto that? More often than not I don’t even know why. Because it was his, that’s why. Because it was part of my father. That’s all that matters.
This week I took a few things out of one of his boxes and put it with a bag of items I’ll give to Salvation Army or Goodwill. Most of his things I put back on the shelves or back in boxes to keep. I’m not concerned with whether I should let go of this or what it means to keep that book but get rid of a CD. I’ve no idea how long I will keep these things, or if I will ever give them up. Today this is what I need, what works. So I will sit here, with some of his things nearby, examining my ankles and remembering his, and listening to all of his favorite songs. I will play what we came to consider our song, one that we danced to in the living room one summer afternoon in 1989, and I will sing along with Cyndi Lauper until the tears crack my voice, but it will feel good. It always feels good to listen to our song, dance in my living room, imagine him there, and know that he is here.