Resonant Frequency:for my mother on Father’s Day
Emptiness is never only emptiness. There is more to say even about nothing. Especially nothing. My mind returns to my father the way the tongue returns to an empty socket when a tooth is missing even if the poking and prodding causes pain, even if the gums are still bloody and tender from a fresh loss, even after years of knowing with the brain that there will be no smash of contact with enamel or another bud of a tooth growing up and into the mouth to fill the space.
My father is more the roaming of my tongue than any actual tooth I saw fall out. What I know of him is less who he is and more the space in me where I have held all of my questions. He is the presence of absence I think whenever I think of him.
I dreamt of him a few months ago. Not of his hands or his eyes or anything concrete but a dream in which he was the topic of conversation. I was standing on a hill in a big empty field with green grass. My close friend Beth appeared.
“Do you think he’s dead?” she asked.
“Probably,” I said, “But even still, I have the idea that he’s out there and I can always go looking for him.”
“You should write about him,” she said.
“There’s not much more than that to say,” I said.
“Yeah, well your face is making a funny expression even as you say that so I’m not so sure that is true.”
That was the whole dream. All of it. When I woke I wondered if it is Beth in the dream because Beth is my adoption friend. I have the same aches, questions and longings that some who are adopted have. Do I look like him? Does he think of me? Do I have a medical condition I inherited from him? Is addiction or mental illness in my DNA?
That is how it goes, dreams and half thoughts, musings and wondering every few months or so. Like last Saturday. I got up, dressed and ready to go for a run. But I had a feeling I couldn’t shake off, like a bad dream hangover where the night’s activities linger through my psyche even though I can’t recall them. But I wasn’t drinking and I didn’t want to be thinking of my father the day before Mother’s Day.
My father roams my brain like a virus in the belly that won’t produce vomit and go away but stays sour and keeps me queasy, distracted and uneasy.
“I think he’s dead,” I told my boyfriend. I was dressed in black spandex running pants, a hot pink shirt and had my hair in braids like I wore it when I was young. I couldn’t get myself out the door, on the pavement or even to the track though my shoes were laced up.
“You don’t want to run,” Charlie said as I crawled on top of the already made bed where he was sitting strumming his guitar.
I was face down on the bed, nudging his thigh with my face, feeling more like his cats than a grown woman. I was avoiding eye contact because I didn’t want to be sad or pretend I wasn’t. Instead, I watched his fingers on the strings marveling at the way a gentle choke hold on the neck of a guitar and a few simple movements of knuckles and finger tips can end silence. Within seconds sound appears out of the air and fills the room and I can feel something new being born in my chest.
As he grazes over the nylon with calloused finger tips I lose focus of him and his hands and notice only the F-hole which forms an opening into the guitar. I imagine shrinking myself down and crawling into the instrument where I can rest alone.
“What is the circle part called?” I ask.
“A sound hole,” he said, “or an F-hole. It depends on the instrument.
“Can I have a hug?” I ask, embarassed to be so eager for embrace. I didn’t want to interrupt his strumming but I couldn’t keep the tears down.
“It’s so stupid,” I say up on my knees now on the bed, like a puppy on the back legs doing a trick for the treat of love. “If I find out he’s really dead I lose the hope that he could ever come back: The mature me knows there is no father returning to me, that if I want him in my life or closure in my mind I will have to seek it and provide it for myself. But I am as ambivalent as forty-five as I was at fourteen and twenty-nine.
In Charlie’s bed, I say, “I am so sick of this” and by this I mean caring at all about a man who done absolutely nothing for me, who has paid not a dime of child support to my mother ever and who has not sent one card to me or my sister. He has provided no love, no shelter or any type of affection, support or protection. Worse, there was violence. It was not only his blatant abandonment his role. He was an angry drunk, the type to punch his wife and chase his crying babies around an apartment with a knife. He beat his wife while she had a baby in her belly and a not yet one-year old with her. That wife was my mother. That one-year old was my sister. That baby was me.
How can I think about a man capable of such cruelty and violence? And yet I cannot deny my own curiosity even as it makes me feel disloyal and ungrateful. If it weren’t for him I would not be alive, would not be this version of the me here today with this large forehead, these high cheekbones and this particular beating of heart.
There are times I chew on the idea of my father, over and over, long after it has lost flavor just because my tongue and teeth don’t know what else to do. I am chomping on air and I do not understand why.
I did my fourth-grade science fair project on dreams. I got a book by Sigmund Freud out of the library. The only part of the book I remember is Freud saying that dreams are subconscious fears or wishes. I wasn’t sure I agreed with that even in fourth grade. Now, in my forty-fifth year I am less clear.
I feel the questions bounce inside. What do I fear? What do I want? He is the story I can’t stop telling even though there is no narrative arc. Can something with such a tragic start end well?
I have been researching sound holes. They are on string instruments and come in various shapes. Some are oval. Some are round. Sometimes there is one. Other times two. Sometimes they are called D-holes. The instrument makes the sound. The holes free the vibrations within the instrument by letting the sound travel outside.
What sounds are within me? What chords did my father pluck? I am trying to hold a note for silence. I can’t seem to get his song out of my head. How can I let go of a tired melody and turn to my own lyrics?
In writing, he cannot hurt or neglect or abandon. On the page, I am not bringing stress to my mother. On paper, his hands have no hit, his voice has no venom and his feet can’t flee. In my imagination he can’t get drunk or act mean and I don’t have to witness the actual brutality my mother experienced or see him or us at his mercy.
But I am afraid if I stop writing and wondering about him I will lose the only real relationship I have had with my father.
His F-hole was covered up and the notes got trapped inside. He was never able to get free. My mother is the solid wood upon which I was raised. Though my father tries to play and silence her and us she never stopped following her own tune and time. She allowed space for my sister and I to emerge.
It is from her where my melody comes. It is from my mother that I have learned to project my essential self out and into the larger world moving beyond her base. My father couldn’t keep me from being who I am, a daughter who can love unconditionally and without apology. It was my mother who was the instrument birthing my song. I am free to play.
Christine “Cissy” White, Drafted the day before Mother’s Day and finished by Father’s Day