Sitting on wooden bleachers in a sweater too cute to take off, I perspired while resting my head on my knees.
“Please Jesus, let this basket go in. Please, Oh Please.”
My mom made a little noise that my grandmother Mimi used to make. Sometimes when making this noise, Mimi would say “prut.” Or “Awhh Prut.” The closest definition I can come up with is -not worthy of being said, wrong, stupid, dumb, beneath them. The noise is made in the back of your nose, right above your throat. I have learned to make this noise but I try not to do it often. Dismissive.
I was watching my little sister Amanda shoot a free throw shot. In my teenage mind, this was a big moment and I cringed, shoulders clinched hiding from the court.
My mom made the noise and said “I don’t think God cares about this free throw shot. He has much bigger things to worry about.”
I replied “Please Jesus, Please.”
I don’t remember if Amanda made the shot. But I never forgot my mom’s remark.
The light in the breakfast room at my mom’s house flickers. It is unpredictable. It cuts off and on. My dad makes it blink or turn off. My dad died almost two years ago. He has been talking to us through the light since shortly after his death. Mum has had three electricians out to the house to fix it. My dad was a retired banker who was unable to truly relax- he became a handy man. Gonzalo is our electrician. He is a family friend and my dad worked with him often. Gonzalo is married to my friend Beth. We taught special ed together years ago.
Beth invited me over to catch up. She and Gonzalo had built a house near the May River. I drove up to her house and couldn’t believe that she was living on property Walt and I had purchased years earlier but never built our dream house on because my dad was uncomfortable with the dubious title on the property. My dad interfered in financial issues because it was his area of expertise. Walt and I did not appreciate his interference even if we knew he was right. We didn’t intend to buy a lot on a creek off the May River to be practical and make sound decisions. We just wanted to build a lowcountry cottage. We wanted a home on the water. My dad’s wisdom was irrelevant to our desires. It would be years before I fully understood how much Walt hated my dad’s interfering/ advice/ help. My dad had talked us out of other houses- like the one in Half Moon Bay, California that was built on a concrete slab instead of with a crawl space. And the tiny house in Santa Cruz that had a creek run right under the middle of the house. The advise my daddy gave in knowing proclamations dashed our hopes over and over and probably saved us from a few financial disasters. But I couldn’t prove the avoidance of future money loss but Walt could prove our cancelled dreams.
Beth and Gonzalo’s front porch faced the elementary school playground just like ours would have. I would have built a cottage and Beth built a cottage. I live in a condo. She lives in a page of Southern Living. Her back yard spills into an inlet to the May river which spills into the Atlantic Ocean. Oak trees drip Spanish moss. Driveways are paved with broken oyster shells. I see a parking lot out my picture window. She piddles around her neighborhood on a golf cart catching sunsets turn the marsh grass purple. The traffic light on my corner is the longest in the history of the city of Atlanta.
Beth asked all about the kids- especially Addy who had been starving last time she saw her. I told her about keeping the anorexia at bay and the years that passed since we visited last. She couldn’t believe my story of his affairs and the divorce. Last she had seen Walt, he was rounded and happy and making wakes on the intercoastal waterway with a boat full of lifejacketed children.
Beth and Gonzalo did things the right way. Worked hard and lived below their means in a townhouse until they had saved all they needed. Gonzalo started out on his own and grew his business. He had people under him and vans with his company’s logo and when they were ready and stable, they had a little boy.
Walt and I had gone backwards. Adorable bungalows full of babies. Moves across the country. Jobs in public school and non profits. Savings depleted. More bambinos. Love all around us. We had imagined an old Suburban with a dog hanging out a window and kids dripping chocolate ice cream cones down their chins and onto their smocked dresses. We got so close. Actually- we made my dreams come true. A house full of children. Adopting. Meaningful jobs. Living near the water. Dogs with lolling tongues chasing cars down gravel roads. A tin roof with a peace sign made out of Christmas lights on the roof. Bills piling up next to supper dishes. We depleted our savings instead of accruing. Decisions were never based on finances. We started out with a bang. Santa Barbara, a baby, a garden wedding, a Victorian cottage. Walt saw South Carolina as a downward trend. He had hoped California or New York City would rescue home from mediocrity. But all our changes did not transform his wanting or feelings of lacking. I went along with the big dreams and many times adopted his visions. I wanted to make Walt happy. I couldn’t. I could brighten the outlook of any day. I could plan family field trips, picnics on the beach, bake mudpies with the kids, raise unexpected baby guinea pigs, and teach children who no one else wanted to teach. But I couldn’t make my husband happy, even though he expected me to. I failed us. Talking to an old friend who knew us both, made me relive so many hurts. Beth saw me for my love and efforts and she was surprised by it all. We both sat dumbfounded on her porch swatting the occasional noseeums, wondering what happened. How could so much change? How did it look so good? Was it so good? I had been happy. How did I not know?
When we had lived in South Carolina and would lie on the beach- Anorexia had not darkened our door, our marriage had not been betrayed. I wonder if I was as happy as I remember being. I try to recall the mundane moments and I remember driving over the bridge to work with the kids in the van- quizzing multiplication tables and spotting dolphin down in the water while finding Dolly’s sippy cup in the Vera Bradley diaper bag. The memories are good and beautiful. Full of warmth and love.
I was sitting on the lid of the potty in my mom’s bathroom thinking while Mim bathed. Daydreaming and studying the dust on the octagonal light fixture made of brass and clear glass- the see through light bulbs with the tips like a curled flame- I’m sitting there on the potty reworking the old days into what I know to be the new days and one of the four bulbs goes out right there before my eyes. I knew it was Aubee- my dad. He knew I was wondering what ifs. He wanted me to know “No need to wonder what ifs. It won’t change anything.” When my dad was alive, he saw my beauty. My dad praised my parenting. My dad said aloud how grateful he was that I was his daughter and how grateful he was to watch my parenting.
I learned years ago that the dead can talk to us through electricity. Twenty years ago, Sarah’s husband died too young of stomach cancer. He contacted her through the radio or turning off the tv, so it was completely believable that my dad would turn off lights. He had spent so much time turning off the lights when he was alive. When he was particularly aggravated he would grab his pocket change out of his gray suit pants with the silk lining- he would show my sisters and I his cupped hand full of nickels and dimes and threaten to throw all the money away. We would look up from our tv program dazed and realize he was in a tirade about wasting electricity. His black wing tips stomped down the eternally long ranch hallway turning off lights as he fussed and scolded. Of course, he would turn off the lights from the afterlife.
Even Beth agreed with me that Aubee was blowing out the kitchen light. If the electricians wife agrees that supernatural forces are causing electrical short circuits- I mean who would know better. I liked my dad showing up. A physical manifestation of his presence. He was there. No doubt about it -unless you were my mom. “Why would dad make the bulbs blow out? There is a short. Your father has better things to do than fool with our kitchen lights from heaven.”
My dad makes the lights go out in my house, too. Sometimes he makes the smoke alarm go off a couple of times- not enough to convince us there is a fire but enough to make you get out of bed and walk into the kitchen to check the stove. It is him. He is proud of me for having working smoke alarms. He is telling me I do a good job of taking care of his grandbabies. I need this kind of reassurance and praise. The night George came home form his first semester of college in Maine, Dad blinked the hall light and beeped the smoke alarm. George and I grinned because he missed seeing us together. George has always been my baby- even though he is the fourth child. He likes relaxing like I do. He likes noticing the world. He doesn’t mind being my lovey baby. It is rare that George disagrees or thinks ill of me. His love is palpable and my dad appreciates George being the man of the house even though George and I don’t believe in such old fashioned ideas.
I wonder about my mom’s disbelief of Dad’s presence. I think it could be a source of comfort and relief for her, too, if she could only let it. I love having my Aunt Kay fly in and visit me in the form of an owl. I have wondered if the hawk nesting in the pine trees of the Kudzu forest behind my condos is Aubee soaring and circling and not just a hungry bird of prey. My dad would love to be a hawk. My mom’s words reverberate- “your dad has better things to do.” I could debate— “like what?” Where would Dad rather be than with his family? My dad was devoted. Faithful. Predictable in his love. I think Dad would be right here whenever he could. Maybe Mom is right- she knew him better than any of us.
Dad loved the National Parks- especially Yellowstone. He and my kids spent hours watching nature programming with David Attenborough narrating- just like my sisters and I had decades earlier with National Geographic specials. My dad loved watching animals even if we were squealing and hiding behind his back. We would spring out of our humongous orange pleather bean bag when the lion started stalking the antelope. And crash behind my 6 foot 2 father. The safety of a daddy. He protected us from lions and grizzly bears. He and mom took our family to Yellowstone twice.
He marveled at Old Faithful and the potent smell of rotten eggs at the sulphur hot springs. Watching a sunset would make him cry “This is a good day to be alive.” Mom is partly right. Dad would visit every country and every continent and watch nature and sunsets and the circle of life whether it was babies being born on a farm or fox hunting moles. Dad would put his camping chair on a nice fluffy cloud and watch the world of National Geographic or Planet Earth play out right there in real time better than any tv camera ever captured. Black panthers slinking through the jungle. Jaguars tucked into crevasses. Or maybe he is riding his favorite strawberry roan horse, Nancy. No- he rides the wild stallions like in the movie Black Stallion that we rewatched most weekends when VCRs were invented. All of that adventure would be followed by my dad dozing in a large leather recliner with a newspaper of a slightly liberal bent open in his lap. “I’m just resting my eyes.” And after eating his nightly vanilla ice cream in a coffee cup, he comes by my place and blinks a couple of lights.
I don’t know if any of this is possible. God and I have not visited in a while. I haven’t been to a basketball game in years. The Holy Spirit lingers in the corners of my mind and the Virgin Mary catches some of my tears. But, if God isn’t making foul shots go in the net and he isn’t healing us from Covid or protecting us from Trump’s shit, then I’m just not sure what he is doing. But I feel fairly certain, Aubee is enjoying nature and he is up close to the beauty. He feels the rush of the wind when the cheetah runs past or the vibrations when the grandmother elephant trumpets for her children. He swims with sharks astonished by their swiftness, and he still has time to beep my smoke alarm. He has nothing better to do.
If he was alive, he would read my words and tell my mom “did you see what Martee wrote today?” And then he would walk around the room and give each person two Hershey Kisses. No more than two. And mom and I would roll our eyes – who eats two Hershey Kisses?