My sister had left home when I was 10 when Daddy went to jail. “It was her fault,” he said, “She asked me to so I did it.” It occurred to me that that would be the first time he ever did anything his children asked and something right awful too. I came to know she didn’t ask, on account that I was always trying to take his hands of there; out of me. It didn’t work. He was arrested again, only this time he said he didn’t but he did. Another case of “She said He did.” He limped to freedom, me to a life of hard labor. My crime? Being. I was fifteen.
I remember ripping out the pages of a hardcover children’s book. I meticulously glued in my poetry, penned on Hilroy lined paper. With great care, I covered the book so that now, my words were bound, just like me. I carried that thin volume with me, clutching it to my chest like a country mouse in the city with my last piece of cheese. I lost it in the Drug Mart, on account that I was always losing precious things. I was in the city now, run right out of the country by the long arm of my father’s law. His law was all that matter round those parts.
His name was writ on a slip and stuck in the middle of my very own handmade hardcover book. My country English teacher knew him well. He was the English Department Head at the fancy new city school I was going to attend.
He called me to his office on the first day of school, his mouth full of mirth, his eyes shining. “Have you lost something,” he asked. I shuffled my feet and tried to hide my face in my short hair… “I’ve sure lost a lot,” I thought, but didn’t say. He opens a drawer and pulls out my beloved book. Someone had turned it into him. He was well known ’round those parts.
Fast, furious and friendly we became. He, my mirthful mentor; I “his ray of sunshine at the end of the day.” I would visit his office every day that I did not go to work to tell him the unfiltered everything. I poured the sum total of my soul through his wizened hands. His eyes always delighting in my presence, my soul always shining in the glow of his obvious favor. He was to me, the father that my father could never be. I had written as much on the back of the graduation photo that I had given to him.
In my grade 10 yearbook, He quoted Yeats, “One man loved the pilgrim soul in you.” I thought he meant he loved my tattered, torn, and traumatized soul.
With the utter naivety of a child, I assumed broadly and wrongly that he saw me as the child I was. It would not be the last time I would be so wrong. As a parting graduation gift, he took me for out for lunch. There he told me that I had come to mean a great deal to him, that he could not imagine me as a daily absence in his life, and that he had fallen in love with me. He asked to kiss me and since my “no” was broke, he did. He was 52, I had just turned 18.
I loved him. Utterly. There is a younger place inside of me where I still do. A place that longed to be loved by a good father who delighted in my pubescent presence, without predation. It was not to be. He never was a father to me.
He died recently. Just, actually. Funny how some deaths resurrect the dead. Stranger still how some ashes reignite the agony of the soul of a hungry, heartsick, hunted girl who wanted to harbor near a safe shore. He was the first man I trusted after my father and he was the first to brutally break that trust. He would not be the last on either account.
I had read Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet just before I left my fathers house when I was fifteen. I poured over the words of that 18th-century Lebanese Christian prophet, later sharing my passion for Gibran’s work with my now late mentor.
Just today, as requested by him, Gibran was quoted in his obituary. I cannot help but think he would know that I would read it; that someone would send it to me. Someone did.
Tonight, I ache.
I haven’t more living words to explain the deeds of the dead. The dead cannot address the agony of the living. This wound is as old and as perfuse as his ashes soon will be. These things should never be.
I have not shared his name.
I cannot utter it anyway.
My lips and my fingertips will not obey.
Nameless losses they will remain.