There was something remarkable about his things,
how they stood like soldiers at attention,
like lines in an abstract painting, placed by a master of scale.
The father of my childhood would adjust and arrange
the things in our world,
furiously bringing order to the pantry, the closets, the wrapping paper supplies.
His garage was and is a thing of beauty, neat and labeled and organized in detail.
There would come a calm to his determined brown eyes once the things were neatly
placed and packed away.
God, I watched those eyes, waiting hungry for the finally
when things would let them rest easy for awhile.
But our house needed fixing always
and evenings and weekends were for making things better,
except for Summer stretches when we played badminton in the yard
and then piled into the family car to drive a few blocks for an Icy.
Those warm nights were magic, the four of us together as fireflies lit the night
slurping sweet cold cherry or cola slush with wide red straws.
Games in the yard made me feel fearless.
I could breathe out there and the earth felt friendly beneath my bare feet
and I could run and move and stretch and reach and win.
Winning was important, but a valiant move could win you the night,
or being funny while you tried.
Games were how we did together, and our parent’s played with us
more than any of my friends folks ever did with theirs
and I celebrate them this. We were a team,
and a thread of connection grew strong in play that lingers to this day.
Indoor games were less exciting and I was mostly in for the camaraderie.
And the snacks,
my mother lady bountiful with the eats.
Death by monopoly seemed a potential thing to me, but always
I showed up to the table.
Like animals at a watering hole, it was where we came for love.
We were lucky to be us and I felt this.
I felt also a growing shiver, like the water could could go suddenly cold
the farther in I swam, and the older I became it could go quick uneasy,
like you were swimming alone while the flick of something touched your foot,
like something was down there, and I don’t really feel like swimming anyway.
Because winning was important; it made you feel okay.
Losing felt a little like coming un-fixed.
And who would I be without the win.
My father left the house each morning at the same time,
wearing a sensible suit and one of the ties that my mother purchased in the men’s department
where rows of silky ties begged to be touched in wheels of color.
My breakfast Dad was tense at the gate, chewing fast and breathing at a clip
because work was a place where things didn’t always line up straight
and people could be unreasonable.
Engineering made sense; humans not so much.
I never really knew what he did at work but I knew that it was hard and important.
He walked down the hill toward our house every evening, leaving town at 5 sharp
to take the bus home or, once we got a second car,
to drive our big white plymouth down the street to the cookie jar
in our kitchen where he’d spill about his day to mom while she finished putting supper on the table.
One, two, sometime three cookies disappeared in a flurry of crumbs and serious chewing
while he talked a fury until soothed enough to change into his afterwork things.
And then dinner was served.
We ate love and good food while Dad told more things.
Mom told things, too, but mostly dinners were for my father and his after-work telling.
Then the spotlight would scan the rest of us for reports of something good
and the one who could mount a story of accomplishment
or offer something funny for the laughing
would get what felt like the lion’s share of his affection for the evening.
Because there was one thing that would make my father’s eyes flash on,
like plugging in the Christmas tree lights: say or do something impressive.
“I’m impressed,” he’d say with a nod, and this too was winning.
It was like dessert when his eyes would shine at me.
And I worked hard for dessert.
“Sit down, take a look at yourself.
Don’t you want to be somebody?
Someday somebody’s gonna see inside
You have to face up, you can’t run and hide.
Have you heard about the lonesome loser?”
– David John Briggs
“It’s always helpful to remember that when perfectionism is driving,
shame is riding shotgun.”
– Brene’ Brown
(this is second in a series i’m writing down this Fall,
a memoir, of sorts.
I welcome you along for the ride)