Gather ye rosebuds, while ye may…

GatherYeRosebuds1909Waterhouse.jpg I can hear your voice, your brash, loud, excitable voice.

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.

Too late.

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.

Ten years.

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.

32 thoughts on “Gather ye rosebuds, while ye may…

  1. Thank you for posting this. You are right in that those of us that are lucky enough to have our dads here take them for granted. You just made me remember mine even more and I will call him first thing in the morning. May you always be comforted by the wonderful memories of your father.

  2. Anna, your beautiful words about your father have made tears spring from my eyes yet again. I am one of those who is fiercly loved by my father, yet stupid enough to take it for granted. No more. Thank you.

  3. Dear Anna,

    This is beautiful. Thanks for such a wonderful post. I can so relate to you, at times I feel wow! I lost my father in a car accident four years ago here in California.. did not get to say him goodbye.. I was always his sweetheart.. and your words

    “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.”

    are so true for me also, it hurts! I saw him in my dream this morning (which is quite rare) just before i woke up and just like you described, I did not want to open my eyes. did not want to let him go.

    You are blessed to give your words life by your wonderful writing talent. You don’t know how much this post is appreciated. I have also read your earlier post about your dad.

    You take care.

  4. Been a reader of sepiamutiny for a long time, but commenting is not my thing and most of the things are beyond my grasp :) But, this piece of Anna … made my fingers hit the keyboard….

    Thank You Anna for sharing!!!

  5. Being the spiritual person that I am, I believe that your ancestors never really leave you. They are there, right next to you. Its a truth!

    Thats a touching piece Anna. Thanks for sharing with us.

  6. Just this morning i told my dad why i thought father’s day was a gimmick. Now i wish every day was father’s day

  7. Anna: No one, I mean no one I know writes as sweet as you can. The way you put together those 26 letters in English language makes people laugh, cry, contemplate, meditate, happy, sad, etc., Hope you get well soon and post your thoughts, and share with us more frequently. You are the daughter I always wish I had, besides two boys we have. You have made my Fathers Day. Thanks

  8. J.W. Waterhouse?

    Also, beautiful post. I’m not overly emotional but that tugged the ol’ heartstrings :)

  9. Anna- How beautiful and touching (and tear-jerking). Thank you. I know your father must be looking down with pride.

  10. Anna, good to see you posting again, and what a nice piece of writing. I saw it last night just after I had got off the phone with my father in India – perhaps that was an earlier version – and was really too overwhelmed to comment cogently. So I waited to write this.

    Thank you for sharing your memories of your father, making us think about our own fathers, and especially trying to make sure we don’t take them for granted.

  11. Beautiful writing. Thanks.

    I lost my father when I was ten. I remember him by living my life to the fullest.

  12. It’s been twelve years now for me since I lost my dad… now I still wonder when those good things that have graced my life now will be taken away without any warning. And yet I still fall into the trap of taking those I love for granted… but then I wake up and realize it now. I didn’t then.

    To all of the fathers out there … happy Father’s Day. You are loved more than you know.

  13. The cough medicine I reluctantly swallowed makes my extremities tingle…I am thirty-three, and this is Washington, D.C

    Get well soon and start smart biking around the town :)

  14. Okay, yes, I am sitting here in front of my laptop weeping while my brother glances at me, confused. Now I am embarrassed. Anyway, thank you for posting this.

  15. Anna – Thank you for a lovely tear jerker. You are a lucky woman to have had a parent who has loved you fiercely. If Law school was so important to your dad, would it not be a good way to honour his memory by becoming one – a lawyer that is.

  16. What a sad and lovely essay. Thanks for sharing this part of your life with your readers. I have many problems with my father and generally don’t speak to him, and your beautiful written words isn’t going to change that. It just reminds me, that I hope if I ever become a parent, I want my child to have as loving memories of their mom, as you have of your dad.

  17. A – Thanks for this poignant tribute to your dad. It has been 7 years since I lost my own father. I’ve often thought about how the passage of time carries so much of both what was and what could have been. This really resonated with me:

    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.

    Doesn’t writing about it make you remember so much more? It does for me.

  18. anna-

    you’ve touched my heart…and painted a wonderful picture of your dad. my thoughts are with you. as we’ve discussed before, a measure of time is meaningless when one has lost someone – we live with the memories and loss every day.

  19. Anna, that was too beautiful. I bought a video camera yesterday: I would like to capture some moments, voices, laughter, gentle admonitions from my parents when I go to India next time. But I don’t know whether I’ll be ever able to look at those pictures/videos. It is strange, but I can’t bring myself to look at pictures of my near and dear ones ever since I left India; it gives me heartaches. I would rather talk to them on the phone and see them in my mind’s eye rather than put up pictures as is common in US. Maybe I am a little weird, or does anyone else have the same problem ?

  20. ANNA, I am constantly amazed that despite the heartache that followed your father’s death, you still find the strength to share your love for him, and so poignantly, no less. It takes a special type of person to do that – to not only find sorrow and joy when thinking about someone so close who has passed away, but to be able to convey and share those sentiments in such a public setting. Thank you.

  21. Anna,

    Very touching post. I have a question if you do not mind. What was the approach your father used when he had to discipline you as a child ? I would like to know this from you who has such great love for him. I have a 3 year old and sometimes I feel like giving her a bit of spank …half the times because I just feel like doing it…and half the time because I think I need to do that for her to know right from wrong when she comes across stubborn. While I am resisting the former 90% of the time, I wonder about the latter. I guess there is this stereotype of desis wanting to discipline vs what others do…but want to look at this from a big picture perspective.


  22. Great post Anna, its so great to hear the articulation of your feelings towards your father…I only hope and pray that my now 13 month old daughter will have the level of adoration for me as you do for your father.

  23. 30 · Meena said

    Wait…why did my comment about the creepy post #28 get deleted?

    We generally delete things which ask us to moderate/direct us to comments which need to be removed, especially since deleting the offending comment tends to change the numbering of everything. Nothing personal.

  24. Nice post, but now a dissipated memory. Italo Calvino says somewhere that memories, when written down, are irrecoverably lost. Maybe that’s what you wanted, not sure.

    I suggest you stop scattering away your talent on blogs and go live for seven years in Kumili (the closest Mallu equivalent of Kalimpong) and pour everything into a book.

    I also suggest you try reading some of the Malayalam authors, starting with Uroob. There is a lot there that reflects your kind of writing, and what you want to say. Would deepen your writing a lot more, kinda like what Pushkin did for Nabokov. I also recommend Ada or Ardour.