I used to think nothing could top my fear of dying. On most nights after I've tucked myself in, I lie awake staring at the shapes on my ceiling, or sometimes I stare into darkness, not being able to differentiate open eyes from closed. Either way, I'm imagining nothingness. Emptiness. Loss of purpose. Loss of presence. Loss of memory. Loss of soul. Loss of thought. What comes after? What if there's nothing? But I can't recall a "before." Reasoning. Rationalizing. Questioning my religion. Terrified. For years, these nightly thoughts shook me to near-tears. Until recently. The fear of my end got bumped down to the second slot. What about my father's? What will I do when... I try not to think about it. But I know one day, he'll have to leave me, and knowing that hurts.
Growing up, all of my closest friends had fathers. Dads. Whether I met them or not, heard fond memories of them or not, the male parents were all there. Between picking us up from school, granting permission for sleepovers and pissing us off daily, they were as normal a part of life as sunlight and breath.
But each year that we grew older, the fathers were plucked from lives one by one like the petals of a daisy. They became pinned pictures to mirrors and refrigerator doors. Centerpieces for obituaries and church fans. Facebook pictures and In Memoriam statuses. Willingly discarded memories and afterthoughts. Even some who were ghosts from the get-go.
And there's my dad. Here is my dad. My devoted father, whom I love and know loves me, a fixture in my daily goings on.
The one who I can count on to tell me I'm holding the camera at the wrong angle. "You're making the subject look too short. You have to crouch," he always says. And other times, the one who takes my portfolio and pulls up my website on his iPhone to show his coworkers and friends the "wicked" photos I took last.
The one who complains about how little sleep he gets, but stays up into the night hunched over in front of his computer editing photos he took eons ago, that people will probably never see, squinting into the glow of the monitor. The one I hear grumbling about the pain in his eyes, head and heels, but still tells me to call him when I'm out 'til 3 am in Brooklyn on New Year's because he knows I have a slim chance of snagging a cab back to Queens.
The one who faithfully goes out into the cold to get Chinese food from Kim's even though I nag him about how terrible it is for him. The one who cooks banana fritters, boiled okra, ground beef and chicken soup sometimes when he feels like it, but insists I come watch my mother cook in the kitchen so that I can help out when she's tired instead of just waiting to be fed.