open spaces and heat lightning

Here, a lot of numbers: Yesterday was the 35th anniversary of my father’s passing. He was only 27 when he was in an industrial accident at work and left my mom a 23-year-old widow with an almost-two-year-old motormouth daughter and a little boy on the way. This year, I become ten years older than he ever was. That is a strange, strange feeling.

I’ve heard stories about my father, but at this point they’re the same ones over and over again. There are only so many pictures, too. Sometimes I crave seeing new ones, and it’s hard to remember that I can’t, because there are no more. He was a volunteer fireman, and so he’s been roped into dunk tank duty in this picture. It was taken in July. At this point, he had weeks left. And he had no idea, and I’m glad for that.

I don’t understand the mechanics of missing someone that you don’t remember. I do miss him, though; I always have. I’ve seen the echoes of missing him in my mother all my life, and in my grandmother, too. Everyone loved him; no one ever had a bad thing to tell me about him. To say I missed out is a huge understatement.

His own mother and sisters were always kind to me, too, although they didn’t live close by. When I was in high school, I spent a week at their place, and one night they hung a sheet in the yard and projected home movies on it. It was the middle of summer, and there was heat lightning all around, and there he was, moving again. I don’t know his voice, but now I know his walk, the way his mouth moved, the way he ducked his head a bit when he knew someone was filming. I got some more stories out of them, too.

In the intervening years, I’ve managed to pull together what amounts to a minor character, when it comes to him—mannerisms and opinions and actions—but the holes in that knowledge are yawn-wide. A girl’s daddy ought to be a major character, though, and so the holes are as intrinsic to my concept of him as the details I do know. He wouldn’t have been mysterious to anyone who knew him or who ate at a table with him or stumbled home with him after a night out, but he’s mysterious to me… what I know is not enough, and I’m left always wanting more, no matter how accustomed I get to the open spaces.