flashbacks of the cell phone ringing in the car on the way to work, the counter at Dulles, the halls of a hospital long since closed, the small dim room where they bring you to tell you the worst…and then waking up on the hill looking out over the old family church and the sprawling graveyards next to the fields, under a luminous purple sky full of puffy white clouds.
I’d want to ask what it was like all those years ago, whether the world really felt like it was coming apart at the seams in 1962 or 1963 or 1968. If that played any part in the nine year wait between marriage and childbirth. (I’d have a lot of explaining to do about the last twenty-two years.)
I’d ask about those evenings of piddling around the storage room with leather-working tools ,or melting lead and tying feathers for fly-fishing lures, or a jigsaw and C-clamp, whether that isolation was meant to be meditative and whether it paralleled what I’ve attempted for years with books and pints and streaming audio from Ireland as I attempt to punch out of the world for a while.
I’d ask about the motivations behind staying in a rural exurb instead of going closer to the city like my mother wanted – a more human scale? Just comfort and familiarity? Something as simple as lower house prices in a world where the interstate wasn’t going to be finished until 1985 anyway?
I probably wouldn’t have the heart to ask what it was like looking out an office window at the marchers in Birmingham, or seeing the world change completely in the South, or whether they were making a deliberate choice to try to bring me up in a way that would be a break from what I once heard him snap on in anger as “the redneck mentality” on election night in 1990. I would like to think he would be appropriately horrified by seeing the jump from 1998 to 2020 in one fell swoop, instead of being frog-boiled like his wife and taking the Host of the Beast (in Heinrich Böll’s famous formulation), but there is relief (if no comfort at all) in the thought “at least I’ll never have to know.”
And I guess at some point I’d just want to know about getting old. If you ever stop regretting the decisions you got wrong. How you plot a path forward as the doors slowly close one after another. How it’s possible as the years go by to keep doing the best you can and don’t be a horse’s ass…as each of those becomes ever more difficult with the passing of time.
It’s mind-bending enough to know that I’ve been in California for a third of my life, but it’s more unsettling to know that in four years, I’ll have lived half my life without him in it.