Across the table from me at Chai Shai, my friend says of her father that when he was not drinking, he was a lovely man. Her eyes are clear, her face composed, and I know she means it. She tells me this without rancor, or bitterness, or anger. I have a sense that her father must have meant a great deal to her. He bowed under the weight of his problem but it was what he did, not what he was.
It’s nearly nine o’clock on the evening of my ninth straight day of work. My body has grown beyond weary. I’m still at the computer, partly for my own purposes with a little work thrown into the mix. I know I must soon sleep or I will pass the point of no return beyond which sleep remains cussedly elusive. But for the moment, I sit, at my secretary in my dining room, thinking of all the lovely men who have trudged to work day after day, heavy with the problems that pushed them to the bar at the brink of each evening. The husbands, the fathers. The mothers, the wives — in my parents’ time, usually in a dress with a cocktail while her husband, in a suit jacket or shirt sleeves, stands beside her with his own rocks glass clutched in front of him.
I could not reply to my friend that my father, too, was a lovely man when he wasn’t drinking, mostly because I cannot recall a time when he did not. But occasional flashes of something close to loveliness flickers in the depths of those awful memories. The metal puzzles that my father created out of wire hangers. His clever turns of phrases, posted on his workshop wall. The times he sat me on his lap and taught me to read, when I could not walk or run and play with my siblings because of the inflammation in my legs. The lemon cakes flavored with anise which he made us. The endless love which he bestowed on his grandchildren.
I’ve worn our terrible past as a shield, hid behind its contours, and, more recently and in disgust, pushed its cobwebs away from my face. I know that my friend’s father did not do what my father did, though the grief he caused her family had contours no less harsh. But I also know that whatever my father did, or did not do, caused him to suffer his own kind of hell. And so, on this, the 01st day of September, 2015, four days from my sixtieth birthday, I think about my father and decide that perhaps he too was a lovely man when he was not drinking.
And that is how I choose to think of him — that is how I choose to think of the man who gave me my name and sweet-talked my mother into conceiving me because he wanted another daughter. Somewhere inside of him, that loveliness must have existed. To heal myself, I’ll let it shine from me.