I Don’t Know What That Looks Like

You would be 75, and I don’t know what that looks like.

Would you be a crotchety old man with a zimmer frame, an old 75 – telling my kids to quiet down because Zeida is trying to read the paper, letting them sit on your knee and regale you with exaggerated stories from school and nursery? Or a sprightly man who looks a good decade younger than his years, a young 75 – winning races against your 7-year old grandson who adores how you play and laugh? Are you losing your inhibitions and your filter, making jokes which embarrass my husband and make me pretend I didn’t hear you? Have I stopped explaining the work I do – because the technical stuff is too complicated, so I just narrow it down to “y’know, articles and blogs – that kind of thing.”

You would be my 75 year old father, and I don’t know what that looks like.

Would you call me every day, like you used to when I was a teen, the last time you called me, excited to hear the minutia of my day? Would you hang up, then call again ten minutes later – just to tell me something inconsequential that I could have coped not knowing? (Was that just pretext to hear my voice one more time again that day? I wish I knew.) Or would the passing of time have made that different for you, now the pace of change in my years has slowed down? Would you know what my identical days look and sound like, and speak to me every other evening or so, busying yourself with a Netflix subscription, the thought of which was science fiction when you were alive. Orange is the New Black? What nonsense, who watches this rubbish? Does that sound right? I don’t know. Would you be supportive of the choices I’ve made these last 12 years? Or would my adulthood be a surprising second act to you, if you hadn’t left my show during the interval – when I was just finding my feet?

I am your 30 year old daughter, and I don’t know what that looks like.

Do I call you every day instead? Check up on your health? Did I buy you one of those clever medical alert systems so that I can check you took your prescription meds today? It’s all done through a mobile app now – oh, how the world has changed. Do I send you photos on WhatsApp of the kids and me playing in the park, feeling guilty we haven’t visited in more than a week? Or are you there with us in the photo, ruining it by smiling at the wrong split second and making me delete the snap immediately, tutting at my phone and starting over, because I have what feels like endless chances to do that – to start over. Do I berate you for the way you give the kids treats right before their lunch? Forget to turn a blind eye while you sneak forbidden tooth-rotting, choking hazard lollipops from your oversized pockets in those shorts I wish you would let me replace. Come on now Dad, you’ve had them since I was a kid. Am I stupid enough to tell you off for acting like my kids are yours, am I ignorant enough not to realise what a gift we have?

I was your 19 year old daughter, and I knew just what that looked like.

It was crystal clear, a handprint on my memory, I thought we’d seen and done it all. You carried me into this world and then I carried you right out of it, with an eternity in between made of 19 years of getting it right and getting it wrong. And now those memories, the ones that filled the in-between are hazy and feel like they don’t belong to me anymore. They belong to a child. Next year, my son will be closer than I will be to the last age I heard your voice or held your hand.

Those hazy memories are worn, they are fragmented, most days they feel foreign, but worst of all, they are all I have. I am penniless to replace them, my pockets are turned out to the seams looking for a currency which doesn’t exist. I can’t buy more time, I’ll never uncover more stories. How ironic, as stories are my trade. Don’t worry, I’ll continue to imagine them for us both. Fiction is easier to create than the truth is to recall. 75 now, 80 in five years time, 90 or even 100, those milestones keep on coming. You’ll be glad to know that you always look great for your age in my mind’s eye. I don’t have a choice, I can’t imagine you any other way. I simply don’t know what that looks like.

 

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