Today, it’s Father’s Day. I’m in my dad’s house in my dad’s bedroom. Nobody’s in the room but me.
The rules changed in a moment. No one asked. It was just known.
My mom’s accident was right before they built their new house. My dad went ahead with it. He’d say, “We might not get as big of a bite, but we’ll get a bite.”
It was her dream. Somehow, she convinced my dad to build it after they fell in love with a big, wild plot of land three miles down the road from our old house. They spent every weekend together clearing away its brush and debris.
My dad said my mom could command a room without saying a word. When I was 6 years old, I broke my arm. The bone was sticking out of the skin on my elbow. I was about to freak out. I clearly remember that. I looked up at her. She was calm. No words. You just knew. I breathed instead.
Their bedroom is empty now. My dad doesn’t live there anymore. He’s moved on but kept the house for us. The furniture is the same. On my mom’s bureau is a huge picture of my dad, her perfume, and chores full of her gloves, silk scarves, belts, and Mother’s Day letters from all her girls. I know all the content of those chores by heart but still find a new mystery every time in their texture and settled scent.
I miss my mother today.
The red flashing lights circulated on their wallpapered walls the last two years of her life. The EMS team rushing up the stairs with their stretcher to take her to the hospital.
When we were little, before the new house, we weren’t allowed in my parent’s old bedroom. They didn’t say it; we just knew. I used to peer under the door frame on my belly, trying to look in to find out what was going on in there. Not being allowed in led me to the woods.
I discovered a watercress pond – a legit pond. It was surrounded with a small, circular stonewall and stepping stones across the middle. It looked like it had been deliberately built by someone, but I had no idea who. I’d hop across the stones, swipe a handful of watercress, shove pieces in my mouth and laugh because it burst in my mouth and tasted like pepper. Then I’d slip myself in the dark, cold, murky water. I never hit the bottom. The watercress roots held me up, and I’d bounce knee high on those roots until dinner time.
I was allowed in their room on two occasions. When my mom made me make a phone call on my behalf, giving me the privacy of her rotary nightstand phone. And, to visit my sister who was allowed in my parent’s bed only because her wisdom teeth were pulled.
Their bedroom was covered in wall paper. It must have been flowered. I think wallpaper is elegant. It dresses up a room, adds class and style and covers the mess, leaving the devotion only known to the lovers.
My mom used to have her poetry teacher, Sister Regina, over for dinner a lot. My dad joked it was so she would get an A in the class. Poems were made in that bedroom. Their life was poetic.
They never gossiped about people. Did they behind that door? Did my mom air her money stress of not being able to afford sneakers for my younger sister? Did they work out their tangles I didn’t know about? There had to be some mess going on in there.
In their new house where I am today, the bedroom still has bright flowered wallpaper with blooming blue berries all over it. What was the moment my mom picked that design? Was it for the promise of a better spring?
This bedroom ceiling is tall with skylights. There’s a reading nook between their room and the bathroom with a red cushion chair and two pictures on the wall. One looks like a version of my dad. A tennis player in midair with a huge smile on his face as he lurches for the just out of reach tennis ball. The caption is: If you act enthusiastic, you’ll be enthusiastic! And a winter landscape scene and a quote about the promise of spring returning to this gray, cold world. My dad TM’d and did his late-night reading in that chair while my mom slept. She went to bed very early after the accident but rose very early to be with God.
A faith that held like their dream.
For twenty-three years from the time of her accident until her death, it was a long winter. To the untrained human eye, you’d see the tragedy, but through the eyes of genuine love was an unnamable transcendence that could only be called an elegant pause.
On this Father’s Day, I get to be where I never was allowed to go. The forbidden room is just a room now. The wallpaper is clean. He left me clean walls.
Clean walls that I want to give to our girls.
My dad may not be that tennis player in midair anymore,
but he’s forever alive,
incredibly revered by me.