Dad died three years ago, this morning. 6:47 am, to be exact. I was awake for it, by some betrayal of my body, staring at my phone as the minutes counted down. The battery died before I got there, cheating me out of the most self-indulgent memorial I can fathom (besides, of course, this). I remember the exact time because I can still hear the doctor’s voice pronouncing it; somewhere, it’s still echoing in my ears. And in that place there’s a pathetic fallacy: eternal late winter without the hope of spring.
But, here and now, I know tomorrow will be warm, at least.
Three years and I still don’t know how to mark this day. I’ll never go visit him: he’s not in the earth. There would be no one there to receive me. I didn’t wear black, either. I went to class. I bought myself a new toothbrush. Life continues, in spite of everything.
I’ve been letting myself remember him, though. Which is more than I can usually bear.
I remember asking him his favorite color and his ambivalent response. “But when I was growing up,” he said, “Gansu was very dry. I was so happy to see anything green.” I remember his stories at the breakfast table: about his childhood, about the Cultural Revolution, about the history that’s in my bones and my blood but not in my lips or tongue.
My father loved listening to waves crash at the beach. Growing up, I sat through hours of war documentaries, NBA, and James Bond. He was a news junkie. He liked to problem solve, but no matter what he told you, he was never actually going to build that shelf he was talking about. Mom was the one with the power tools, in the end.
My father came to America in the early 80s: an early generation exchange student, studying overseas. He left my mother and infant sister behind. I wonder what he was thinking then. Was his mind full of physics and a potential PhD? Was he thinking of his daughter, 100 days old?
I never knew that man. I’m sure that man never thought he’d know me, either. I’m the second child, and was therefore inconceivable.
He never did do much research, in the end. Never had a discovery to call his own. But Tiananmen happened, the Cold War ended, and I was born, creating a perfect storm of circumstances for my family to stay overseas. If you asked my mother, she would say she knew she was staying right when she got off the plane. I don’t think my dad was as sure. But it’s not like I can ask him, either.
Domokos told me the other day that his dad was getting ready to build his “legacy.” It made me wonder if my father had ever built one of his own. He was a boy wonder in his home village, a world away from where his bones lie now. And there’s a ring of myth to that, but he was the man. Though I guess we’re all stories in the end.
His fatherhood is my story to tell. Mine and my sister’s, that is. In a way, I guess we’re his most tangible legacy: two bananas, living in Brooklyn. Both writers, one also a musician. What strange fruit from the physicist’s tree. I wonder if he’d be proud of me, sometimes. Whenever I finish an electronics project or think my troubled thoughts about what I will become. There isn’t much use in speculation. While he was here, he loved us. That’s going to have to be enough.
I remember creeping up on him once, as he napped on the couch. It was almost his birthday, and I asked what to get him. Without opening his eyes, he said “I want you and your sister to be happy. If you’re happy, that’s enough.”