When Dad died, I forgot how old I was because nothing else seemed to matter. It was a week before my birthday. It was February seventeenth when I lost him, and I was at work at the library when I got the news. Who cares about birthdays? Not when I just lost the most important person in my life.
I kept thinking, it would have been so much better if I’d at least known him my whole life. But instead, I spent fifteen years having nightmares about a stranger dressed in a black leather jacket, climbing off a Harley and chasing me. Trying to hurt me. When I was little, I thought he was a bad man, maybe because I lost him and I was scared. As I grew, the confusion only increased, and I wondered.
One day I stood in front of the bathroom mirror when I was seventeen or eighteen, and I stared into my own eyes, wondering if they were his, and I asked myself, what if I never get to see him again? What if he dies before I ever see him?
I asked myself if it would matter. I wondered if he loved me, if he’d ever loved me. I knew it mattered. I knew I wanted to see my father before he died. How strange, how prophetic that moment was, when I stood before the mirror and wondered if he would die young. If I would attend his funeral.
I actually saw myself there, standing in the wake of his death, when he was still alive. I terrified myself with that loss, and I wondered how it would feel, because I’d already lost him once.
When I was six years old, I lost my father. And just before my twenty-fifth birthday, I lost him again.
I remember writing to my grandparents, thanking them for years of gifts– Christmases and birthdays –sent to us over the years despite the fact my brother and I never talked to the family. I had spent fifteen years pretending I wasn’t a Godshall, denying that side of myself because I didn’t know anything else. So much anger. So much anger borne from confusion. Total bafflement over why things were the way they were. I still have no idea what actually happened. I only know that I didn’t see my father for fifteen years.
And one day he got in touch with me. One day, we were sending emails. He wrote about how much he missed me, how he remembered my brother and I when we were little. I could tell he loved me. Finally, I knew my father loved me.
I remember driving to his house for the first time. I had to get directions, I wondered if I would remember anything. The landscape sped by as I drove. What month was it? I don’t even really remember. I think I had the windows down. Must have been warm out. Jimmy Cliff was playing on the stereo, and I kept replaying Vietnam over and over. Vietnam, Vietnam.
There was a war going on inside me, a war of memories. I remember how my little Hyundai bounced over the bumps in the road, and my stereo cut out from time to time. But it always returned to Jimmy Cliff. To those songs I will forever associate with that first drive to my father’s house. The house he built, the house my mother designed.
I remembered things about the drive, little things. A park. A turn. That time my brother went down the slide at the park, and split his head open on a cement block. I remembered things.
I saw the mountain, and I drove toward Queen’s Lane, where my brother was born in the trailer where we lived. Queen’s Lane, where I spent six years of my life. The incline was steep, the road narrow. I remembered this.
I pulled into Dad’s driveway, and it seemed so much smaller. The entire way, I wondered if he would be anything like what I remembered. And when I pulled into the driveway, he was waiting at the end of the walkway, his hands in his tan Carhartt coat, wearing jeans and work boots.
I swear when I stood in front of him he had tears in his eyes.
In the house, there were framed photos of my brother and I when we were little. He didn’t forget. He loved us.
Fifteen years. Yes, I got to see him before he died. But not for long enough.
We didn’t talk much, both of us more prone to being quiet. I went over there every Monday and Friday, and we would drink shots of Captain Morgan’s Private Stock and stare at each other. Stare. Maybe wondering who we were looking at. And why it had taken so long.
Three years isn’t enough time to make up for fifteen years of loss. It will never be enough. But it was something, and I take comfort in the memory, however brief.
We had three years to get to know each other. And now it’s been three years since he died. I see him sometimes, and I feel him around me. I can see the dead, so this is no surprise to me. But I wish I could hold him, hug him one more time. Smell the wood chips and engine grease on that Carhartt coat he wore. Hear his laughter.
I have something special. I found it some years back. When I was a kid, Dad would send my brother and I cards and presents. Some I kept, some I threw away. One day I found a birthday card. I have no idea how old it is, or what year he sent it to me. But I know shortly after that, I felt as if he’d given up on me. I stopped getting mail from him. I thought he might be angry I hadn’t responded. And even though I never wrote back, I was upset he’d stopped.
I keep this card by my desk, and each year, around my birthday, I will look at it. Next week, I’ll turn twenty-nine. And I will pretend Dad just sent this card to me. This his birthday wish for me, this year. No other. This card just came in the mail.
Happy Birthday, Rosa