By Nancy Rubuliak
A number and a name were written on the backside of a receipt for lumber bought over 30 years ago to build the deck at the rear of my house. Seeing the writing in his hand, I felt a stab and realized I had little in my possession written by him.
Words left as evidence that he once was, once had existed. Words given time. It was 12 years since I had returned from the last trip to Paris. Two weeks after my return my father would die in a hospital bed with my mother sleeping beside him on a cot.
I remember the phone ringing that morning early and going there before dawn. I had long since laid to rest the notion that the man from Paris would bring true love but at that time I had not yet come to that fact.
My father’s death created an empty space which now remained as the permanent artifact of loss. The sensation of vacancy in a place where once was felt warmth, security and unconditional acceptance. He had helped build the deck that still stood, although some parts were now in need of repair.
He had departed slowly, over time, incrementally like eroding rock outcrops. Weather and time slowly chiseling away at the weakest points. At first one does not notice such an invisible assault but over time forces play like in the great canyons of the Southwest to etch away massive stretches of land leaving open space.
I kept thinking about this landscape since my return. How the past was layered, dense and buried or pouring out, dissipated, transformed and dispersed. Some of it scattered to the four directions, some flowing away with torrential rains or running out like from a broken hourglass spilling from great standing stones and spires.
He eroded over time until he was uncertain of where he was and what had been his life. I was never forgotten but in the last months he lived in a dream state, an endless stream of scenarios rose to plague him, onerous tasks to be done with too few hands, calamities great and small besetting him alone, always the perpetual themes of trouble and responsibility.
His handwriting was unmistakable. Even now the memory of seeing it makes me sad. How much more I would have asked him, wanted to do with him. It had never been easy. My mother had claimed him and only when he was dying and she was exhausted was there space for me.
There had been times, too, I had also been mortified by him like in my teens seeing him in the shopping mall in his rubber boots looking like the farmer he was. His honesty had been an embarrassment to me. I had been ashamed of him. All this now under layers of living, sedimentary, compacted with time and passing years.
What becomes of us? Do we, too, scatter into the four directions? Flow away to join the great oceans?
The sun was low and I noticed the shadows falling through the day on the west and later the east walls of the living room. Shadows that only came at this time of the year, forgotten once the sun turned around and began to grow again. Turning, churning, time was always rearranging the world around us, and in the end we too would reenter those same sands.
I wondered if that was why the dawn and the setting sun so moved us? Perhaps at these times we see transmuted what is both incomprehensible and unrefutable. I am remembering the sun setting at Church Wells and the light the next morning at Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and the two of us.
[Note: Written after travel with Susan to the Colorado Plateau Sept 2018.]
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