Is Father a Ghost
The dim lamplight barely lightens the bedroom. The furniture looks either slightly bigger or smaller than what they really are during the day. With the exception of myself all is quiet and at peace. I pace over to the small library of books in the cubby littered with my sister’s old school papers. I take out the large encyclopedic dictionary. Another spur of curiosity has taken hold of me and like the other times before. I excavate my way through hundreds of pages until I hit what seems like the answer. It is unclear to me what I’m looking for. It’s not a long z-word or some chemical term like ‘dimethyl ketone’ and I just flip through pages until something grabs my attention. The word ‘father’ stares out from the page at me. An odd feeling ripples over me as if I’ve just plunged into frigid waters. “Father—the paternal parent of an offspring. Synonym. Daddy.”
Father was a collection of ghost stories for the majority of my life. At one point, during a return visit to my birth country, the tales solidified themselves into an average height man with dark skin and pearly white teeth that sat inside a face with sharp features and a square jaw that echoed out a voice clear and strong with the backing of God. It was either his voice or dialect that differed so from those of my uncles. I didn’t like him. I couldn’t like him.
I learned how to not like him when I was four. Mommy was sleeping that morning when I picked up the phone, a phone card call from a distant land.
The man on the phone knows who I am. He says he’s my uncle, revealing to me just how much a four year old, who will later declare in years to come that her first plane ride gave her amnesia, remembers.
“…Hello. Um, morning.”
“Hmm. Well I don’t want to badda har if she asleep. Anna?”
“You know who’s speakin’ to you?”
With the innocence of a four year old who is just learning to filter the truth I half cautiously say, “No.”
“Alie. You must rememba me. You don’t remeba ya uncle….”
This uncle of mine then makes it his responsibility to remind me of my three years of living.
“You know who ya fadda is? What’s ya’s dad’s name?
Feeling awkward, rocking on the balls of my small feet standing in front of the red tool chest serving as a stand for the telephone (Daddy’s a mechanic), I reply, “Tim.”
“No. Your fadder’s name is Micheal Simmons”
I was so young that the meaning of last names and having a different one from everyone else in the family never appeared to be significant. I had stopped rocking by then. Uncle would call back with the remaining minutes on his phone card and ask my mother why I don’t know Father.
At that point, I had always thought Daddy was father. I did not know of anyone else or at the very least remember any other man being father. Since the call I have never referred to Daddy as father. Coincidentally, that’s when the ghost stories of father started. Sometimes they were good stories, like how on his bicycle Father would takeme for treats after school. There were bad stories, unfortunate stories were hot tempers and wills swung with lefts and rights, clashing and bashing until finally spilling out into the streets. The stories always depended on how bitter the storyteller was or who was being compared to whom. Father died sometime after a van filled with him and his airport coworkers was crashed into by drunk driver’s car. In hearing the news I felt nothing but the feeling of being bothered. I felt even more irritated in the idea of going to some-man-I-have-barely-known’s funeral. There was a great episode of Trya Banks’ talk show that I would be dreadfully missing. Mommy said it would look bad and people would talk about her if we did not attend.
I couldn’t like Father because nothing about him was concrete. He was always whatever some else had told me. I did not know him for myself. It’s never the actual ghost stories that haunts you it’s the “what ifs.” What if I remembered Father and answered the Uncle’s question correctly? What if he didn’t die and there was a reconciliation?
subject to edit.