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To my father, on the anniversary of his death


June 02, 2017

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Overthinking It

To my father, on the anniversary of his death

 

By Katherine Fallon

 

Dad, two years ago, after I watched the coroners wrap your face up in white linen like a napkin hiding unwanted food beneath the table, I got to work deciding. In the throes of my conflicted grief, wishing that you were alive and that you’d died sooner, I chose oddly.

 

I kept a bathrobe you never once wore, and flat swatches of leather that followed you from young adulthood for no clear reason. I kept the night sky I’d made for you out of a black twin sheet and Styrofoam balls, installed above the chair in which you began dying, before they moved you to a bed with a rail, where you closed your eyes and did not open them again.

 

Recently, though, I have begun to understand that you do not need to be everywhere now that you are nowhere. I sold your doll collection on eBay for a pittance of what it was worth, and I have visited Goodwill on multiple occasions, letting go in stages, as everyone said I would.

 

I am like you, in many ways. I am like you in that I have always held onto things I probably shouldn’t: anonymous hate mail written left-handed and delivered to my college mailbox; love letters from people I did not love and love letters from people who did not love me; stones and seashells from locations forgotten, pointless weight I’ve carried with me for years, through five states, filing taxes sometimes in more than one.

 

I am like you in that I have kept what injures me most. Your blue “You Are Here” Milky Way T-shirt lives in a Ziploc bag in my closet. I have smelled it only once, and won’t allow myself more. Opening it brings you back momentarily, but it also removes you further from the living world. I breathe you in because you no longer breathe. I sniff a vestment, a shell.

 

Dad, you are not even a ghost. You could say that I miss you. You could say that I have regrets.

 

I have kept your briefcase, which you hadn’t used in decades, and inside, I will always keep the slick receipt paper on which you tried to write your name over and over in your dying confusion. It was my fault. I asked for your practiced, gorgeous mess of a signature, something I have shown my friends in every stage of life, wishing it were my own. It was a feat of calligraphy, which used to appear so rapidly as you signed checks and permission forms. That impossible-to-forge John Hancock saying “Yes, I approve, I am conscious and I make decisions.”

 

No more.

 

Even the pen I gave you looked unnatural in your hand, your fingers exploring it like a foreign object before, on that measly slip of paper, you tried and tried to give me what I asked for. That was when I truly began to mourn for you. You made a dozen attempts in which you forgot capitalization, entire letters, kerning and, eventually, your own name. 


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