Never-Ending Silence

Last month, I wrote about this same event. If you don’t recall, you can read that story here.

Some ideas need to be written several times until they feel exactly right. I’m still not sure I’ve got the right tone.

The story “Never-Ending Silence” follows:

At least my father had a viable reason for not talking to me today.

I stared at the collection of photographs arranged in chronological order. Some of them I’d never seen before. My sister had put the boards together but I didn’t know where she got the photos. Maybe from Aunt Bea. Maybe from some of our local cousins.

The door at the back of the room opened. A swell of murmuring voices drifted in. A long cackling laugh sounded. My cousin Dani. I would recognize it anywhere.
My lips quirked. Then flattened again.

I shouldn’t care if people found my smile inappropriate. In fact, what most of the people who’d filled this room thought of me hadn’t mattered for decades. And it didn’t matter today.

But decorum had rules. I’d always been a rule follower. Once upon a time, I’d even thought it was the right thing.

I took the pictorial journey through the life of the man who had sired me. I couldn’t say he was a father to me because I’d learned he didn’t qualify in the important ways.

A father cared about his children. A father talked to his children and asked about their lives. He knew where they lived and what they did for a living. On their birthdays, he sent a card, picked up a phone or maybe just sent a text message, although most people old enough to be my sire didn’t do much texting.

If his daughter sat beside him at a family reunion, he spoke with her. He looked her in the eye. He answered her inquiries.

Or maybe he let his wife answer for him while he stared at his plate as if he’d never seen ribs and potato salad before.

I shook away the irritating memories and rubbed my breast bone.

I hadn’t needed a father for many years. Not since I found a husband. And I chose one who would know about fathering children. Know it happened outside the bedroom, every day. It involved attending sporting events, teaching life skills and conversing about the mundane over hamburgers and fries.

Because life happened on a daily basis. To know a person, you had to be present for those moments. Or if you weren’t, you asked for a highlight reel.

Conversation made children feel known and loved. Even on the days they tried to avoid it. And especially during those teenage years when they huffed and tried to give one-word answers to every inquiry while expecting the car keys and unrestricted permission to do whatever they wanted.

I recognized Aunt Bea in a black-and-white photo of the five siblings. She was born a year ahead of my father. None of the others in the photograph still lived. It would be hard to be the last one.

Aunt Bea told me stories of their transient childhood chasing crops across the south since their parents were harvesters. Living out of their old truck for months out of the year.

It seemed as foreign to me as living in a tent in the desert. But it was meant to explain my father’s wanderlust. His penchant for gambling away every good thing he’d ever owned.

The photos progressed to colored shots of him with an elk beside his two brothers. I’d tried to learn to hunt so I could find common ground with him. Once upon a time, I would have done anything to be noticed by him.

But I couldn’t become the son he’d wanted.

And why should I have to? Shouldn’t a parent love the children God gave them?

He thought putting food on the table and a roof over our heads showed love. After all, he had spent the first seven years of his life without those things.

Responsibility isn’t love. Love is more than duty.

The door opened again. A silent shadow moved to my side. An arm dropped over my shoulder.

“Everyone’s loading up to go to the grange.” My husband spoke in a hushed, reverent tone.

“Does Ann want me to bring the photographs?”

I felt his head shake beside mine.

“She’ll pick everything up on Monday.”

I glanced toward the wooden box burned with a woodland scene and a mountain backdrop, a five-point buck prominent on the side facing the room.
My father’s final destination.

I turned my back on him for the last time, the silence echoing as it always had.

But it never would again.

If you read both stories, I’d love to hear what you think. They definitely have different tones. This one makes me a bit sad.

What do you think? Add to the discussion here.