I’ve written of being 16 years old and not realizing I’d be losing my father in just 16 more. It’s now 16 years past that – this week, in fact – and he is all around me. I’d consider his timing magic or miraculous, but it’s not. He always knew when I needed him, and he knows now.
I’ve been stumbling a bit of late, and there is a trough beneath these words, beneath these times. I’m surrounded by unsettled, and for once my weariness is trumping my curiosity. I know I’m not alone. There are too many of us wandering around, masquerading as adults yet feeling the helpless emptiness and the hopeless weight of responsibility not borne and expectations not met; I want my Dad.
He’d no doubt tell me to smarten up. Part of a generation who cut their teeth on the Great Depression and the Second World War, he wouldn’t have much time for introspection or analysis. Funny now, though not in a very humorous way, the demons he tried to ignore are now the selfsame ones I am left deciding to run over, or from.
I went with my sister Gilly and her daughter Katya, 14, to close up the cottage last week. This place, more than any other, is where my father tried to purge the tendrils of his past that kept him firmly rooted in his pain. You didn’t talk about your feelings; you hacked away at the Canadian Shield and you took down trees, you sawed and piled and sweated and swore until you crashed into bed asleep before your head hit the pillow.
In the years since his death, my two sisters and I have frequently compared notes. My father, who used to hoot in derision when we spoke of ghosts and hauntings, is now the one who most often visits. His affinity in life for eating raw garlic and onions has apparently tagged along with him to some afterlife; if he’s around, the three of us are bolted upright with these distinctive odours. It doesn’t happen often, and it never happens when I beg for some sign. It happens the way my father happened when he was alive: on his own schedule, and usually at an inconvenient time.
As we closed up the cottage, I knew Gilly and I were thinking the same thing. Forget to lock something, and Dad will kick your butt. Double check the windows, secure the canoes, put away hoses. When we were small, he had giant wooden shutters he’d made to cover each window. Every fall we would pretend we were helping him, assembling a giant advent calendar that wouldn’t be opened until spring.
We don’t do this anymore. My father had a great fear of someone breaking into the cottage or the weather wrecking havoc, perched alone as it was in the forest for great stretches at a time. I’ve since come to understand you can’t prevent someone from stealing what they are determined to take, nor buttress what you love against elements you can’t control. All I can do is mitigate the damage done, and put less stock in anything I can’t carry in my memory or my heart.
As Gilly and I did our final rounds, shutting drapes and hitting breakers, closing doors and tugging on locks, we called for Kat who’d been off taking photos. As I rounded the truck to the driver’s side, following the same narrow path I’d taken when we arrived, I stopped and looked down.
“Gilly, get over here,” I said. “This wasn’t here an hour ago.”
At my feet lay an onion.