"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Friday, June 05, 2009

like a father to me

"you know Uncle Tony loved you, right stef? he loved you so much, and he was so proud of you."

i knew. i started sobbing. i knew, no one had to remind me. i never doubted for a minute that he loved me. i doubted if he knew just how much i loved him.

i loved the way he reminded me so much of my father, how the first time i met him, i knew they had to be brothers, they had the same face almost, but my uncle Tony had a friendlier smile. my dad doesn't smile much, he looks stern until he laughs, and then you know he's happy. my uncle Tony had a warm, honest smile. he didn't have to laugh before i knew i liked him. his smile was enough. quiet and calm happiness exuded from him, and i loved to be around that kind of presence. going to san francisco never meant going to Fisherman's Wharf, or the golden gate bridge. to me, it was always having one dinner with my uncle Tony, sitting near him, studying his every move with almost an obsessive curiosity, fascinated by this little man, a smaller version of my father. i wanted to sit next to him and pour him tea, watch him eat meat off bones, watch him talk to my dad and see them mirror each other's actions, both taking off their glasses to dab at the tears in the corners of their eyes from laughing too hard at the other's joke.

it was always such a pleasure to sit between the two of them and understand, through chemistry and some kind of beautiful, tangible magic, the meaning of family. between the two of them, i could fill in the gaps between the present and the past, imagine a childhood they shared, boyhood fraternity that spanned decades, continents, and many obstacles in between, and understand what my parents meant when they told me and my brother growing up that siblings are the most important people in your life.

when we say our goodbyes at the end of a trip to San Francsico, everyone goes around and gives thanks, love, good health wishes, and hugs to everyone else in the circle. the SF branch of our family lines up and me and my brother would go around the circle and embrace everyone. i always wanted to hug Uncle Tony first. it was important to me to show him in some way how grateful i was for him in my life, but lacking the adequate Mandarin to express my feelings, i had to opt for symbolism instead. even English words are hard to find for the wealth of sentiments and gratitude i have for him and what he meant to me and my father and what i could see as his wealth of presence in our entire family.

and now, especially, i am at a loss for words.

it's difficult learning grief for the first time. it is a complex emotion that you experience in layers. shock at first, almost a stupid ignorance of impending tragedy. when i first heard the news i didn't give it a second thought. it was like someone had just told me the time. i immediately thought "things are going to be fine. he's going to get better and we'll all be back to normal." and then details become apparent, gradually. one phrase leads to others, verb tenses change, suddenly i'm forced into speaking the language of death, phrases such as "the body", "the funeral," "brain dead." "was."

i can't comprehend how such a unique person can just suddenly disappear. will i never see that smile again, except in pictures and memories? will i never get to hug him goodbye again, squeezing his sweater vest with my forearm, watch him laughing with my dad (and will my dad ever laugh like that again?) feeling so selfish and stupid, all these days living so close by but without a visit, without a phone call? suddenly the phrase "visiting family in SF" makes me feel despondent, rather than hopeful and excited. i imagine a house empty of his presence and suddenly it's not a home with family (i can't see my dad there). i think about times when i was so close to where he was, and the last phone call, and how i didn't get to say everything i wanted to say, and how i'd always held it in my heart to tell him that i was thankful for him, that i wanted to make sure i eventually got the words right, but never knew a better way to say it than the first hug goodbye.

and now, just powerlessness. again, words don't feel right for such emotions. it just doesn't seem fair that life should go on as usual, when i feel my world is falling apart.

No comments: