My dad stood up and stretched and yawned. I looked up from my work:
“Well? Is it OK?”
He arched an eyebrow at me. He nodded.
“It’s more than OK. It’s perfect. Very logical.”
He shook his head.
To my dad, “perfect” and “logical” weren’t necessarily compliments. I sighed, because I knew what he was going to say next.
He had a lot of ways of saying the next step. He would say: “Now you need to peel away one layer of logic. You need to back away a little from your reason. You need to make it more visceral, trust your instincts.”
“You need to mess it up…on purpose. Just a little.”
He always said I was going to be a great writer so he’d say: “You’ve got to give your critics something to argue about. If it’s reasoned and logical all the way through, then you’re never going to be great, because people remember the mistakes. People love the mistakes.”
And what he meant by all this was . . . you’ve got to be a little vulnerable, be a little human.
And that’s really hard. It’s hard for me to be even the smallest bit human. Especially here. Especially in front of all of you.
It’s hard for me to admit that, as a grown woman, I’ve been creating circles for my dad because I knew he liked them. That part of the reason I went to Miami University was because I knew it would make him happy. It would make him feel like our story had structure. That part of the reason I moved up to Boston was to find him. That part of the reason I moved back home was that I realized he wasn’t there.
That’s all very, very hard to admit. It makes me feel foolish. It makes me feel duped and cheated. But it’s also the truth. The truth is I’ve been collecting my dad ever since I discovered he was missing.
The way I feel, when I’m being honest, vulnerable, and human isn’t logical or faithful. Logically, I know that everybody dies and that this day was inevitable. By faith, I believe, I know, that he has victory in death.
But I wanted him to have victory here, in life – really badly. I wanted that victory more than I wanted anything else in my entire life. I wanted the spectacular recovery narrative – and, more than that, I wanted other people to know that my dad had victory. That we had victory. And it didn’t happen.
The only consolation I have – the only thing that makes this conspicuous defeat even slightly bearable – is the knowledge that my mom and my brothers and sisters wanted and worked for the victory, too. And all I can say to all of you is: “I know.”
We never talked about it, but I know that’s why whenever I went home, whenever I was drawn home, chances were that one of you had arrived moments before me, or would be following moments after. I know what it felt like to put your hand on the doorknob and feel the question burn into your palm: Will he be here today? I know what it felt like when we could talk to him, and I know what it felt like when we couldn’t. I know why we jokingly said that each day, sometimes each moment, was a Russell Roulette. I know why that joke was funny, and I know why it wasn’t.
Mom, I know that lots of people said that you should leave, and I know why you didn’t. Phil, I know why you called home to ask dad building and car questions – even when you already knew the answer. Dan, I know why you started going with dad on his business meetings – why you started working for his law firm, even though it wasn’t always easy. Becky, I know why you often came home with “leftovers” of dad’s favorite foods – I know why you ordered too much. Sarah, I know why you got off work to go on this vacation. And I want you to know that he told me at least five times that you’d gotten off work to take a trip with him. I want you to know how much that meant to him. And Abbey, Doodlebug. I know why you wanted this trip in the first place. I know what it was supposed to mean, I understand the symbolism of it, and I’m very, very sorry.
I know. I know all of it. I know what kept us all circling, hovering around our house like anti-vultures, prodding for signs of life, waiting for the good words to come back.
I know what we all wanted, and I know it wasn’t this.