Tuesday, 27 November 2012

True Story.

ID Cards, Photo Albums, and Games


Just after my father's funeral, a small group of us went out to dinner.  When we got to the restaurant, my mom and my sister walked in first, a close friend and I next, and the rest of the group came in behind us.

There was a sign posted indicating that seniors are entitled to a discount, so Marlene pointed it out to mom. "Mom, get your senior's card out."

Flustered while hurriedly sifting through her purse, she responded, "I don't have it!  You have it.  You took it last time..."

"No, I didn't!" Marlene interrupted, but you could tell she wasn't certain by how she reached for her purse.

"Oh..." my mom smiled. She had found it. She pulled it out, and handed it to Marlene who offered it to the host who politely declined to view it.  "You will just need to show it to your server.  Come with me.  I will show you to your table."

Marlene nodded in acknowledgement, slid the card into her back pocket, and followed the host.  My friend and I trailed just behind.  I looked at my friend, pointed to Marlene's pocket, and said, "Remember that. That will be important."

Marlene and my mom were seated opposite each other at one end of table, and my friend and I were seated at the other.  Fast-forward to the middle of dinner..  

"You have it!"  "No, you have it!"  They pointed and yelled at each other so loudly that we could hear them from our side of the table ... over all of the people between us ... over all of the noise in the crowded restaurant.  They were each completely convinced that the other was wrong, yet both were searching their purses.

My friend whispered to me, "Are you going to.."  I waived him off.  "No, no.  Not just yet.  Five more minutes. Let's see if they can sort this out."

***

As far back as I could remember, my dad kept all of his private documents in his favourite leather briefcase. It had a combination lock on it.  We all knew the code, but it was his personal briefcase, so we never touched it.  He would smile when he would say, "These are my very important documents."

***

I moved out way back when.  I couldn't be there.  It was hard for me.  When I left, I told my dad I had to do it.  I told him that I wished I could help him, that I knew he was getting older, that I knew he needed me, but that I had to do it from a distance.  I had to take care of myself first. I knew that then. And .. I did what I had to do.  I needed space; a place for myself that could remain untouched by everyone around me.  I just felt like I was constantly following up on everyone else, making sure everything was in order, and I wanted to stop.  So I left.  I visited occasionally, but I admittedly disappeared for months at a time.  

It was shortly after I left that my mom and dad's wedding album disappeared.  I would come over, and Marlene would blame my mom, my mom would blame my Marlene, and my dad just sat back, only to occasionally intervene to quiet them.  It was never a particularly pressing issue.  Neither of them could wholeheartedly confirm that they were not the culprit, but they each still blamed the other.  All they knew for certain was that the album was not to be found, and each considered the other responsible. 

***

As the executor, after my father passed away, I had to go through all of his final expenses, and close up his accounts, etc...  To do this, I needed his personal documents, so, naturally, I looked to his briefcase.

I set it down in front of me, and paused.  I looked at it.  I teared up just touching it.  My dad wasn't secretive about its contents.  He was just protective of it.  It was one spot that remained untouched by the chaos that surrounded it all of these years.  "He needed that," I thought, "if I were anything like him."  I thought about all of the times I had popped it open in the past.  It was as a young child.  I found his old university report cards.  I found some letters from family.  He had certificates and awards.  He had cards.  It was all entertaining stuff to read.

I loved my dad, and I loved to learn about who he was.  After age six or seven, I was past the briefcase. I was on to listening to stories he told me about his life.  I got older, and I moved on to interrogating him about it.  I got even older, and he began sharing the inspiration to the wise words he'd spoken to me all me life.  We talked about his youth, his family, his education, his romances, his social life, his travels, and what he wanted me to take from all of it.

I rested my hands over the lock, and turned each piece to fit the correct sequence, and popped open his briefcase for the first time in about twenty years.  What I found, to my surprise, sitting well-kept, and safely preserved inside was the missing wedding photo album.  

I was taken aback.  All these years, he watched them bicker when he knew.  "Oh, dad."  I found the documents that I needed.  "When I thought it was over, and you were gone, I was wrong.  You saved me this."

***

(...back to the dinner)   I continued to eat my dinner while I listened to the sound of their voices escalate, and when I decided it was time, I walked over.

Standing by the end of their table, I asked calmly, "When do you each last remember seeing it?"

I realized that I didn't know why I was asking.  They never appreciated it when I lectured them.  I pulled it out of Marlene's pocket (it was sticking out), put it on the table, and smiled.  I walked back to my seat, and they went on as if nothing had happened.

It's who they are.  It's who people are: they vary. They are not all like me.  I can't expect them to be.  I was never good at that.  My dad knew it, and lived with it, carving out a space that no one touched, not because they couldn't, but because they all loved him enough to know what it meant to him.  I think it's my time to do the same.
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