Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ten years ago today...


As we circle the sun
on the same course,
we return to
the same point.
We’re moving but
the meteors aren’t.
We pass through them, the
remains of Tempel-Tuttle.

It’s night in November.

I’m on a beach,
my father in a shed.
I look up.
He looks down.
I raise binoculars.
He raises a gun.
The stars, a streak.
The gun, a flash.

These fragments of comets.

He is leaving us
to become a fragment
streaking across the sky,
joining a different orbit,
joining the Leonids,
his new family, his new home
as I spin around the sun,
as the stars spin around us,
as we all spin in a circle.

©JEF 2011

Ten weeks after the World Trade Center towers were attacked and destroyed, my father put a rifle to his left temple and took his life. He shot himself for reasons not associated with the towers, but because these two enormous losses came so close together, they intertwined in my mind at the time.

News stories followed the bigger public tragedy while I tried to assemble information and make sense of my personal tragedy.

In the weeks and months after the towers were brought down, those who had been in them, and who were now missing, were presumed dead. But I recall a news story then about one such man, presumed dead in the destruction, who turned up at his home in New Jersey after wandering for several weeks with trauma-induced amnesia. Imagine the shock, the relief his family felt. It must have seemed like a literal miracle: someone’s son, husband, father, turned up from the grave. Deep inside me, I felt that if it happened there, maybe it could happen here.

Much like the relatives of those destroyed in the towers, I did not see my father’s death or his body. He killed himself in Florida; I live on the opposite edge of the continent. I was told of his suicide but could not experience or absorb it firsthand, couldn’t see it for myself. So I began dreaming that my father was still alive and there had just been some kind of odd error. In one of these dreams, my father interrupted a burglar. A fight ensued, someone was shot, and a body was found… but it turned out to be the thief. My father remained missing. Perhaps he fled in fear of being found guilty of killing someone. On the television news, I watched a reporter speak from my parents’ backyard about the break-in, the struggle, the death, and my father who disappeared into the forest of Florida pines behind their property.

In another dream, I encountered my still-living father wandering through a desert, suffering from amnesia. He had no memory of his suicide attempt, no recollection of how he got so far from home, and no knowledge of how to get back. Around this time, there was another heart-breaking news story about a fourteen year old boy somewhere in the northeast who ran away from his mother and abusive step-father after years of being severely beaten and starved. He knew his biological father lived in central Florida, but not the exact city. Somehow this young man got to Florida and went door to door in search of his father or anyone who might know his father. He showed up, emaciated, dehydrated, suffering from exposure and his beatings, on the doorstep of someone who took him in. The boy’s father was found and contacted but by then it was too late. The boy died of his condition before the father could reach him.

In my imagination, in my dreams, in my psyche, I wondered if my poor father was suffering from amnesia, dehydration and exposure, had left central Florida and reached California…going door to door, trying to find his son. My father needed me. I had to find him, rescue him. But where was he?


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