Whenever I drive through Provo Canyon, a vague memory surfaces of you and me, scootching through trees down an angle of dirt towards Deer Creek. You’re holding a fishing pole and a tackle box. There is no context for this memory—I don’t know if we were there with others, or what we did before making our way towards the water. Did we catch any fish? Did we get wet? Did my young impetuousness scare away all the fish and make you crazy?
I can’t remember.
It’s just that image: moving down a hill toward water. The smell of earth: dirt, and growing things; lake, and sun. And emotion: anticipation, and a sort of fearful plunging-ahead (the sunlight, for a moment, nearly absorbed by the density of leaves), and innocent, utter trust that you wouldn’t lose me and that if I fell you would catch me.
I wish I could remember more of that moment. I wish I could call you up and ask you, "Dad, do you remember the time you took me fishing?" and then you’d talk about it for at least an hour. I wish—still—that we could share memories together again.
Like, do you remember the summer trips to Lake Powell? The hours spent skimming along the water, or sitting in the cool and shady overhangs, eating lunch while country music reverbed against the red stone cathedrals and sun shimmered across the water; the rough beauty of sandstone, summer sky, desert water. How can those memories be gone for you?
Or the day you taught me to water ski? It was in the marsh-murky waters of Utah Lake; you showed me how to slide the skis onto my feet, how to hold them up in front of me, where to put the rope, how to lean back into the support of the life jacket. In case it wasn’t enough, you stayed behind me, holding me up while the boat slowly dragged me through the water until I caught the feel of it, caught my balance, caught my breath enough to shout "hit it." What you told me was right: my legs really were strong enough. Remember that you forgot to tell me to let go of the rope when I fell, so I held on, tugged along with my face in the water until my arms couldn’t stand it and my swimsuit top had dragged down to my elbows? Remember that exhilarated and embarrassed laughter? How did I forget to tell you that you were the only person I ever completely trusted to pull me on water skis? Everyone else went either too slow or too fast, but you knew the exact speed to take me.
Remember the late-night shouting match you had with that boyfriend of mine, and how you told him if he respected me he’d make sure I was home on time? I thought I would die of embarrassment and anger, but now that I have a teenaged daughter of my own, I see your point.
Remember Jeramy? Remember? He was the topic of the last real conversation you and I ever had. You asked if I thought I would ever see him again, and I didn’t have an answer, and I was surprised (and thrilled) you hadn’t forgotten him. If I ever do get to see him, I will tell him all about you.
Maybe it’s good that you’ve forgotten the turmoil of my teenage years—the yelling and the rebellion, the moody music and the black clothes. I think you must have been completely bewildered by me. Sometimes I almost wish I could forget my dark years, except for the fact that they forged the person I have become. I wish I could explain what I understand about the darkness now.
And although the hours of sitting on a metal folding chair might not be worth remembering, I wish you didn’t forget all the gymnastics meets. I wish you could remember the version of me who could fly, who was strong and fearless. I wish you could know that while I never told you, your presence at meets always made me feel a bit more courageous—and more admired. I knew that no matter how I performed, whether or not I stuck my layout on the beam or chickened out on my roundoff dismount, or even if my vault was always the simplest one I could get away with, you’d still smile at me with that beaming sort of pride.
There are memories only you could share with me—how, for example, did you feel on the day I was born? The day you married Mom, or adopted my sisters, or Becky was born? How did you feel on the day your dad died, or when your son-in-law was killed? What was your first football game like—were you nervous? What was the last baseball game you played, and what did you love about the sport?
I cannot ask the questions anymore, because you can no longer answer them. You look at me, your pupils sharp dark holes in the universe of your eyes, and then you hang your head and wring your hands. Your body seems to say all that is left in your confusion is a sense of shame. I hold your hand, prying it carefully away from the other one it’s twined with. I pat you and I tell you: it’s OK. You are OK. We all love you. I hold your hand, knowing that you don’t know who I am anymore other than a vague concept of person-who-means-something. I speak words to you and I wish they could land like stepping stones in the dark waters of your wordlessness. I wish I could know that you know: I love you. And I won’t forget. As long as I can remember my experiences with you, I will.
I will remember.