The last thing my father said to me was, "I love you, Girl." He said it as I left my home in Wisconsin. Through the medication that by then had left him slumping in his chair, barely able to lift his head, he looked at me from the living room, clear and sharp and strong for one last second, and told me that he loved me.
I wish I had my father's eyes.
That night they were like razors.
Soon after that, he stopped talking altogether. I would call anyway, and we would sit on either end of a phone line and listen to each other breath. Sometimes I would tell him that I loved him or tell him about my day, but mostly I would just clutch the phone and know that it was the last thing that would anchor me to him in this lifetime.
I have not yet reached the stage where I feel he is with me after death.
I seek him out whenever I look at the ceiling or the sky. I do catch him in moments of clarity: a goose gliding across the water. A sparrow that hops across my path unexpectedly. Birds give me hints of him, but nothing makes me feel like he is always here.
I am hoping that changes, but I'm afraid it will not. I am not religious: I have no sense of where he is now. I guess I feel he is part of everything, but then I become selfish. I don't want him as a blade of grass in an Alaskan meadow or a speck of dust on the foot of a cow in India. I want him here. I want him only in the things that I touch, that I see. I don't want to share him with the universe.
So then I'm back to square one.
I tried to fall in love this summer, and I failed miserably. I saw the whole episode from a distance. When we had sex, I floated above or stared past or emptied out or became as still as a blade of grass, as far away as dust in a foreign land. I told him about my father and he tried to take my mind off of it, to make me laugh. It doesn't work like that I wanted to tell him. I did tell him.
My summer boyfriend was a doctor and he told me about a new experiment. Some study they did on patients who were dying to test the life-after-death hypothesis. If you do truly start to rise above your body, he explained, then you should be able to see things in the ceiling. So the scientists hid shapes in the ceiling above the almost-dying patient's beds. Whenever they began to die, and the physicians brought them back, they would quiz the patients. Did you see anything, they would ask. Was there anything unusual about the ceiling?
He told me this, and I began to sob. He told me because he thought, as a scientist, it was interesting. All I could think about was those people, being tricked in their last moments. Feeling peaceful as they saw themselves begin to rise. Suddenly shocked back into the present world. Did you see anything? The doctors scrambling around them with notepads. Any shapes in the ceiling? Later, the patients would understand that they had failed the test. That there had been no peace. They had not seen the purple triangle, the red square, the yellow diamond. There was nothing to rise toward or to.
Then I thought of my father. Of how I had wanted to believe that he had felt himself rise upward. Had felt himself expand toward peace, becoming larger and greater and everywhere, including within me. Beneath my skin and curled inside my ear. In my eyes, my heart. That he had seen and known. Had risen and flew.
I sobbed and sobbed. My doctor boyfriend said things: Let it out. You've never let me see this before. I wanted to hit him. I can't let it out. Still, now. If I start, I will never stop. It can only come out drop by drop by slow drop. Time will not heal it, but it will give me the lifetime I need to drain the resevoir. If I let it out in gushes, I will drown.