My father is forever young
and I am forever abandoned.
I remember his face framed in gold
on my mother’s bedside table.
So handsome was he in our pretty company,
a beautiful male ghost
in the feminine apartment of “Carol and the girls”.
I was the oldest of the girls and I knew that he was dead.
Knew about the car accident,
was bold enough to ask my mother how he’d gotten
from the highway pavement to heaven.
She said the angels flew down and got him.
My father is my phantom heart
I feel sometimes as though I still have one
and then I remember
My father is forever 17
immortalized in black and white
framed in gold
and his eyes are sad
as though he knew his tragedy.
As though he knew he’d leave me forever and
all I’d know of him was his old broken-stringed guitar that
I pulled out of my bedroom closet to play on
days when my mom hit me with the wooden spoon.
My father loved cars
was fixing one up for me, his first born,
so he must have loved me.
When I was three years old and
he drove his car into the
back of a transport truck
neat Clapisson Corner on his way
home from Hamilton,
he must have loved me.
Even though I’m told
perhaps he drove into that truck on purpose,
perhaps he killed himself on purpose, he still
could have loved me.
He would not have known that when
I was five years old, I’d race to a knock
at the door to see a woman standing there, wearing a smart little suit and carrying a smart little suitcase and
that she’d ask, “Is the man of the house home?” and my mother
would move in behind me and say, “I’m a widow” and the woman’s smile would drop and her voice lower in pity and I’d shut the door in shame as she said, “I’m sorry”.
I would forget all about him for days at a time — until I’d run with my little sister to the lobby on the first floor, to all those neat little silver boxes and before I inserted the key
to collect my mother’s mail, I’d read the label
“Mrs. Robert Vance”
and I’d remember.
And more days would go by, hot summer days when
I’d explore new neighborhoods on my blue bike and pick
wild cucumbers from the empty lot across the street, and
wait for the train out back so I could run in front of it without
getting hit and I’d never think of him until Tracy and Joanne Ireland started bragging about how when their dad got home from working at the fire station, because “our dad is a fireman” he was going to take them to the Dairy Queen for ice cream cones. And I’d say something about my mom or my uncle or somebody and they’d think I missed the point so they’d say, “You don’t even have a Dad.” I remembered him then. When I knew I was too dirty and bad to deserve a father.
And then a man came and slept in my mother’s bed and my father’s photograph disappeared.
[First published in Letting Go: An Anthology of Loss and Survival, Black Moss Press.]