You are on the phone, making a precious, international phone call, damning someone or something in your inimitable Malayalam; the velocity with which you deliver words another generation will forget would make an auctioneer or a debater envious. As the conversation progresses, you grow louder, gleeful, more boisterous. I can discern happiness where others hear anger. Indeed, “Americans” fear your voice or find it disturbing; you are forever forced to clarify that you are not at all upset, that this is just. how. you. speak.
You just shouted your punchline and you have punctuated it with raucous laughter. As far as I’m concerned, someone might as well have cranked a Fisher-Price mobile to commence a saccharine rendition of Brahms’ lullaby; there are no audible sounds which I could ever find more soothing, which is why I wake only momentarily before nestling back in to the crook of the couch, where I am lying down.
It is a hot summer day and the fan is purring while whirring cool air around the room. I am sick, and that is why I am passed out instead of reading, my Saturday-afternoon activity of choice. The cough medicine I reluctantly swallowed makes my extremities tingle, I feel such velvet electricity when I stretch…and even with my arms extended and my longish legs splayed out, there is couch to spare, I don’t feel the armrests and that is a reminder that I am small. Safe. Monsters cannot eat you if all your body parts stay on the couch or bed, this is a rule which all children know innately.It is a languid day, with triple-digit temperatures making anything but indoor activities impossible, which is why you are on the phone in the kitchen and I am on the couch in the family room. I am not sure where Veena and Mummy are, but that is a normal state of affairs; this is a big house…there, it agreed with me, I just heard it creak and settle its concurrence with my opinion on its size.
There is a lull, perhaps you are listening to whichever relative you have called tell you something…but then I feel the pressure of your hand on my face, smoothing away my long hair which inevitably tangled while I tossed and turned like a little rotisserie-Anna, cooking over the flames of fever and summer. I can vaguely smell old spice, which is a familiar scent to me; when you, thirty-eight year old you, first gave infant-me a bath after Mom went back to work, nonplussed at the cloying scents emanating from pink and yellow plastic bottles, you lost your temper, scooped me up, took me to the bathroom where you used to get ready and then splashed Old Spice on me, your gurgling, adoring baby girl. Later on that day, when the usual assortment of friends came over to play with the only baby around, they would pick me up as they always did, kiss my cheeks, blow raspberries on my round tummy…and then turn away in confusion at my masculine fragrance.
That is what I smell, on your hands, which push my hair behind my ear and adjust the sheet which covers me. Everything seems slightly blurred, like I’m high. It’s a pleasant feeling, almost blissful, really, so I choose to sink back in to it…but the mere attempt to do so alerts me to what is really happening– I am being yanked away from that beautiful world, from the hallucination I was so lucky to have…and despite my strenuous attempts to rush back to, and through, the looking glass…I have failed. The window has closed, and it has taken you with it to whichever magical realm where you dwell. This sparks tears from my eyes, which I have sewed shut with my eyelashes, because if I open them, I will lose any chance I had to see you.
I am not eight, I am thirty-three, and this is Washington, D.C., not California. The Tamil radio station I discovered on iTunes, which had put me to sleep easily a few hours ago with Sudha Raghunathan’s gorgeous voice is now playing some sort of monologue, performed by an older actor whose voice reminds me of you. The smell of Old Spice is coming from me, once again, but this time, instead of it being intentionally applied to my baby skin, it merely happens to be on the t-shirt I have borrowed from the one who hovers over me, concerned. He picked out this couch from West Elm, a couch so long it made me feel small again, and if I am small, then you are still alive, and that is how I conjured you here, to be with me, in D.C., ten years after you left a gaping, Daddy-shaped hole in my heart.
I grow dizzy from the truth of it. Ten years is such a very long time. Junior high, high school and college all fit within ten years. I could have left elementary school and emerged with a bachelor’s degree, in the time that you have been gone. For the first time in my life, I can measure your absence with a decade, instead of a year. So much has changed, and yet, so little has, too. I still haven’t gone to law school (sorry). I still have long hair (you’re welcome), and it still has stubborn highlights which refuse to obediently stay black (sorry, again). I still stay up too late, think too much and feel too fiercely (I hold you responsible for all of this). I am still single, in part I sometimes think, because I don’t know how I can get married without you there to give me away. At Susan’s wedding, in New York, I wept uncontrollably when she danced with her father, your nephew, because I knew that could never be me. But I knew that in that ugly hospital room, way back in 1998, when they told me that there was no hope for you; that’s why I murmured, “then there is no hope for me.” There hasn’t been, really.
There are some who say I should be over your loss, who question the level of my devotion to you, who characterize it as verging on illness. At first, this deeply hurt me, then it outraged me; now, I am indifferent. So many years have passed, I have grown immune to such stupidity. I now realize that those people were never loved like I was, and if they were, then they still have their parents to take for granted. They don’t understand how blessed they are. None of us do, until it is too late. I surely didn’t, and I live with that truth, morosely.
What I would give, to hear your voice again.
To feel your adamantine faith in me, to see your chestnut-colored eyes which match my own, to hear that exuberant laugh. Such things are not possible, except in moments stolen from rare dreams or sickness-derived hallucinations. Daddy, I never got to say good-bye to you, or tell you how much I love you. I never thanked you, for the thousands of things which you did and dreamed for me. I never understood why there ought to be a special day to honor our Fathers. Then I lost you, and now, bitterly, appositely, every day without you is Father’s Day, and I honor you by missing you, accordingly.