It was third grade. Mrs. Harkey’s class.
I don’t remember the class so much as I remember her; she treated me with tenderness and subtlety. It was my first year and my only year in her class.
It was a clear day. Bright sun and I remember the color yellow. I don’t know exactly why. Maybe it was the bright sun, the color of Mrs. Harkey’s blouse or just the color of the construction paper we were using to make a Father’s Day card.
This is where I get confused. It couldn’t have been Father’s Day. What kid goes to school that far into June? And even if mad use of snow days had kept us there till then, I wouldn’t have been in Mrs. Harkey’s class. I moved half way through the year to the other elementary school in town.
Yet, I know this day: bright and yellow and Mrs. Harkey and a card. And angst.
Maybe it was for Thanksgiving, a card of thanks to someone special, like a dad. Maybe the mention of such a person is what made the moment forever vivid, shrinking useless details like the day or time of year till they are but distractions in the story.
Whenever and whatever, I remember the silence. I remember the world standing still. The color yellow pulling in my focus as if somehow I could, by myself, figure out what to do now that Daddy was gone.
She told me it was okay. Okay to make it for someone else. My mother or how ’bout my grandfather. So I did. For Grandpa Gerling. There was no doubt he was super special in my life and my sister’s. And it was okay.
But it was never alright.
This is how most my memories are before he came. Blurred. Grey shadows. Splashes of light.
Mixed memories. Some are mine. Many I have used my sister’s memories and my mother’s tales to fill in the shadows and enhance the contours. Other memories are mashables: one house’s memory mixed with another childhood adventure.
Only one memory stands out with precision. The day Daddy died.
Each detail – the hill, the car, the legs stretched out underneath the car, bending down, my sister on the porch, her voice, the 70′s yellow colored phone, the back room, the ambulance, the tree we climbed in the front yard, the pasture and trees behind it, the white sheet covering Daddy on the stretcher, the green truck, ice cream – is all part of a beautiful mosaic painting. Meticulous. Thought out.
A true memory: a photo captured in time forever in the mind.
There were a few more years of angst when he came at first. I don’t really remember what my feelings were about him. Not sure a 9 year old thinks that hard. I was just excited to have a big brother.
He was a good man. Treated us well. No, treated us good, like one of his own.
But he wasn’t really dad.
I felt awkward giving him a Father’s Day card. I felt guilty not giving him one because I really did like am. He made life better.
Over time I felt guilty acknowledging him, not for who he was to me, but for how I felt for him. He was Dad. He carried me up and down steps when I broke my ankle doing a cart-wheel in the neighbor’s front yard. He picked me up from school when I got my period and went to the store and bought me my first pads. He put flowers on my Daddy’s grave. He gave me a pep talk at my piano recital when I screwed up my last song and, full of pre-teen emotion, stormed off. I went back to the piano and got a standing ovation for having the kahunas to get back up there and keep going. He adopted me and gave me his name and when I felt torn between two fathers and two names he suggested what he had always strove for in raising two girls who already had a father: not elimination but addition. So for almost 13 years I had four names. First. Middle. Daddy’s name. His name.
The awkwardness was now in being happy with the father I had all the while knowing there was another man. It felt like cheating. It felt unfair to Daddy. It was like living with a ghost who refused to go away.
A memory that would not die; a memory I could not let die.
Peace eventually came, through anger and refusing to apologize for a situation not of my making or choosing. Just life with no guarantees of happiness. It came through a mother’s stories, told over and over, of who my father was, the kind of man he would have been.
He freed me to forget him and I did for months and even a year at a time. And he gave me permission to mourn his passing when it hit and find comfort in my father’s arms.
He continued to be my father.
Loving me when I came to him. Loving me when I did my own thing.
Now she’s here. His granddaughter.
And more often than I know what to do with, I am a 6 1/2 year-old girl again.
I mourn Daddy in ways I never did before. In ways I could not before.
I miss Daddy now more than ever.
The wishing to know him is stronger than all the questions I endlessly asked my mother and sister.
The desire to have him here overtakes me just like it did when I sat in Mrs. Harkey’s class in third grade.
And beside it, is the fear that Zoe will not know the only father I have ever really known. The thought paralyzes me. I don’t want another generation of shortened memories.
I mourn for what I lost the day Daddy died.
I mourn for what Zoe will lose the day my father dies.