In Blog by Scotty Utz

Her hands waved widely above her head as she bobbed up and down on the balls of her feet. That quick grin of hers shot across the air that separated us.  School was just letting out, Christmas lights draped in windows.  Her braids lifted and hung in the air suspended for a split second before they fell gently hugging her shoulders.  She shreked good-by to my twin girls as they giggled and wiggled and tugged at their gear as they piled into our chalky white Toyota truckster.  The shrill noise of joy that only tween besties can make, or bear, split through my head from both sides.  Looking over, I reached through the window so I could wave good-by too.  I worked up the best smile I could muster; she had no way of knowing what I knew.  I certainly couldn’t tell her, not here, not now, not me.  Watching her in this moment it was clear, she had no idea her father was dead.

In this moment, for her, she had a father.  She had a father who was wrapped around her finger.  Just this morning when her mom got that phone call from her aunt, she was sure her dad must be sending her another astronomical gift that required arrangements on their side.  She didn’t see her dad that much but he was known for sending eye popping gifts like that hoverboard with LED lights that flashed and changed colors to the music that came booming out of the built in bluetooth speakers.  I stare, numb, into this void between the reality I’m living and the one she’s living.  She will find out in a couple of hours, and the explanatory gap making me so uncomfortable will shrink but not by much.

Her knowing will be nascent.  Her knowing will be mostly in her head, not rooted in her body.  Maybe that’s best, maybe that’s all we can take. A loss of this magnitude would just swallow us whole, truths tentacles steadily squeezing our breath out as they silently pull us down deeper and deeper into her abyss.  At first, it won’t feel real, she won’t know the reality of being a fatherless child.  It may be years before she looks back and notices that there is no longer any land on the horizon behind her.  She will be forced to navigate by stars at night.  It’s not like there will be an empty chair at the supper table where he should be sitting this evening.  She can’t remember them all living together.  The time will come though, when she picks up the phone to call him to celebrate something or to ask for something or to complain about something and then it will slam into her.  She’ll remember she can’t hear his voice like that again.  Well, not live, she has some mundane voice mails from him that she never got around to deleting.  She can access those on that glittering iPhone he sent her recently.  She will treasure those simple voice recordings long after that device is buried in rubble.  She will go back to those voice recordings and try to remember what he looked like.  They may go part of the distance in slaking the salty desire for proximity but it’s hard to say.  There is no way for her to feel, tonight, what it will be like when she is alone on the open seas and has to step out on the slippery deck with the wind pitching her little ship, wiping her braids across her face.  She will glance out at the white caps only to have her breath come up short realizing her dad isn’t there to help pull in the sails or keep the rutter straight like he did when he was alive.  There’s no coast guard for a fatherless child.  You got to step out there and expose yourself knowing nobody is coming for you.  You never realized how much of a difference it made having him as a safe, if distant, harbor when he was alive.  And yet, she also can’t know now, or even over the next few years, how much her dad will sail in the mist with her throughout her life.  That he will whisper to her thoughts at strange times because of a smell she wasn’t expecting.  How he will visit in dreams.  How he will be a comforting breeze that moves within her even as she traverses dark nights that once were inhabited with something that seemed more real.

But right now, in this moment, it’s this gap in our realities that pecks its sharp beak at my temple.  My throat constricts as I withdraw my waving arm back into our automobile, like a pygmy octopus retreating to its rocky cave.  I let my face sag back down, as I try to draw my gaze through the windshield. I struggle to be a mindful driver in this school zone.  My attention keeps being pulled back to a dried seed husk clinging to the slushy rim of the windshield where the wipers don’t reach. That interminable conveyor belt of thoughts keeps jamming me up with unwanted and unpackaged ideas, impulses, and feelings.  It’s too much for me to handle.  My knuckles are white.  I know my fingers are gripping the cold steering wheel much too tightly but I can’t relax them.  My eyes dart into the rear view mirror, a threatening serpent of chic vehicles filled with restless parents coils up behind us.  Uneasily, my gaze shifts ahead through the streaked windshield as my foot reluctantly moves against the accelerator.  Pulling slowly away, the soft crunching of gravel under my tires is deafening, bone fragments of once great mountains.