I saw you last night. Our visits together have become fewer and further between – a second loss I hadn’t expected. I visit our old house at times, though. Probably more than most people do; something I should probably bring up in therapy. Each time it’s different, whether in appearance or circumstance. This time it was both.
I stood on our front porch and found the door cracked. No vehicles were in the driveway and all was silent so I knew I was alone. The weather was warm but not too warm and clouds dotted the parts of the sky that were visible through the pine tree limbs above me.
I walked in, knowing that this wasn’t my house anymore, knowing I could get caught any minute. I didn’t have a reason to be there; nothing in particular I was looking for or needed to see. Still, I couldn’t leave. There was a reason I was there. I slowly walked through the foyer and into the living room. The interior had been remodeled since we moved, further proof that this wasn’t my home anymore. The 1970s wood paneling was gone, and in its place there was a warm, grey-brown color like nutmeg or coffee beans. The trim was stark white and there was white shelving that displayed galvanized decor and black and white photos of a family that was not mine. The room seemed like it knew love, like it was well cared-for. I felt a strange sense of relief, gratitude, and sorrow.
Instead of going room by room to look at the rest of the house, I decided to walk straight into the backyard. I knew my time was almost up, even though I had just walked in, and I felt pulled out of the back storm door. The fence was still there – the one that our dog, Lady, lived in, and Princess lived in before that. Everything here looked the same as it always had, except there was no black lab running in circles. The grey plastic doghouse was there, though, and so was the bass boat. The magnolia tree was exactly the same and the patio still needed a good pressure washing. I could see our tiny old shed in the back of the yard, dingy from years of standing out in the elements. I was standing there, letting the warm breeze and nostalgia envelope me when your footsteps broke my reverie.
My heart began pounding as I realized I was about to get caught. I was at the back of the house, and the footsteps were coming from the driveway. I only had a few seconds before you rounded the corner and we saw one another. I thought you were the homeowner and knew I had no reason, no excuse to be there. I couldn’t run or hide. I just hoped he understood – understood that I needed to see it again, needed to remember the smells and the feelings and the memories that lived within the perimeter of the home and yard.
Finally, you rounded the corner, and you were… you. “Dad?” I whispered, tears filling my eyes and spilling over. You seemed pleasantly surprised to see me, too, but in a way that said it had only been a day or two since we had laid eyes on each other instead of 5 years. “Hey, darlin’,” you smiled, walking toward me to give me a hug. You looked different, but not in a sad way. You looked 65, the age you were when I last saw you, but you weren’t sick. You were 65, but you were healthy. Your skin was olive complected and your hair was graying, but still black in some areas. Your muscles weren’t atrophied and your posture was strong. You were wearing a white and navy striped Polo (except it wasn’t actually Polo because even in my dreams, you are sensible about your attire) tucked into navy shorts with tall white socks and white tennis shoes. You had 2 pens in your shirt pocket and you were wearing your golden wristwatch and your wedding band. You stood there for a few seconds, waiting for me to initiate the hug – almost as if you knew I needed to look at you longer, to take all of you in.
Suddenly, I had the sort of dissociative experience that we sometimes do in dreams, and I knew. I knew this wasn’t real and that this wouldn’t last. But instead of feeling devastated, I felt… present. I felt grateful. I knew this was a gift. This was God’s Christmas gift to me. I knew it was temporary and infinite and so, so precious. I had to memorize everything, from the way your strong arms felt around me to the shirt you were wearing. I had to remember your warmth and your voice and my head on your chest and the way you smiled. I dove in to hug you. I wanted to tell you and ask you so many things. Are you proud of me? Isn’t Law so amazing? Where have you been? I miss you so much. I wish you could have been there for my grad school graduation and Law’s birth and me moving back home and starting a new career. I wanted to say so much, but “I love you so much, Dad,” was all that came out.
We stayed like that for what could have been a minute or an hour, but eventually everything faded away and I opened my eyes. It’s never enough time, is it?
I don’t know when I’ll see you again, but you are always welcome to visit. Until next time, Dad. Merry Christmas.