Lately I’ve been having these “hiccups,” or the feeling of the ground shifting beneath me. It could be worse, like a hole opening up and sucking me in, but it’s not quite that way (that to me is the feeling of “trauma” and it doesn’t come that often, twice or three times in a lifetime if you’re lucky?). It’s the feeling of missing a step or a beat, in between waking and sleeping, but more of a slight shift that corresponds with something very deeply internal and then manifests itself physiologically, barely.
The first time I can recall it happening was a few weeks ago when I ordered a Russian beer at a restaurant. I told the woman I was dining with that I needed to charge my phone, because I wanted to take a picture of the beer–and my first thought was “to send to my dad.” And I had to catch myself, which only took about a quarter of a second.
Since then, it’s happened a few times, but less deliberately. I’ll think of something that I want to tell my dad, and it seems somehow realistic, like I could actually call him, but then I remember. And the remembering maybe takes a little longer each time, like half a second or even a full, bulbous, water drop-shaped second.
I attribute it to more awareness on my part of “the loss,” and what the shape of it is, and the sense-making or meaning-making of it in my life, which I think is good, but also more distance from the trauma. Because the trauma is what makes you aware that you can’t call so-and-so, and that makes you both horrified and irredeemably sad. That is the hole opening up beneath you, and (praise Jesus) it only lasts for so long. At least that is my experience.
I haven’t had this awareness for a while, or ever, probably because I’ve been in transit and in transition for so long. Maybe it means I’m becoming myself again more or becoming more settled. I don’t know. Maybe it means I’m relating more to myself, and so there are more things I’d like to share with my dad. None of it is bad. But it is real and palpable, different and hard, and I’m only beginning to get a grip on it with feelings or words.
I’ve been thinking about how my dad used to say to me: “I feel what you feel.” I could see that in him, when I dropped him off at the Denver airport, and he seemed almost horrified to leave me, or when he would droop physically whenever I drove away from the house in Oxford to go to the airport. I almost felt like he felt more of what I felt some of the time, like he couldn’t see my resilience in terms of some things, only the suffering. Though, he saw the resilience sometimes.
I don’t know that I ever “felt what my dad felt” or that a child ever does in regard to a parent. There’s a different barrier there.
Yet, the other day at church, some little kids sang, and it was the sweetest thing. This one red-headed child was dancing a little while singing, with a giant smile on her face, and I started laughing/smiling too, very widely and brightly, and I felt like my dad for a second, like my smile was actually my dad’s smile. It was like being occupied by his “spirit” a little for a second, and it felt great.
So sometimes I think that–that I’m maybe carrying parts of him through the world, still, and that he is in the world, still, but I honestly have no idea. It’s all speculation.
It’s the slightly haunting, traveling feeling that you might see a face rush past on the train or on the street. Projected desire, which is truly strange, since you know you won’t see the person as they might actually be, but as their “essence”–which, for me, is frequently my dad in his twenties, in this corduroy blazer or perhaps blue button down shirt and prominent glasses, hopeful and delighted. Even better is the delusion on certain, frustrating, or context-less days that you will meet, in the middle of a stairwell, or that the person might suddenly stop by. These self-preserving delusions–or, maybe there is a better word–hopes?
Frequently, the way I relate to it all is through that song by The National, “I Need My Girl,” which Matt Berninger wrote about missing his wife and daughter. I need my girl. Something my dad would feel thoroughly, if not say. And that is something that speaks to me clearly.