Just once, I want to see my father’s eyes when I look at my favorite picture of him.
He’s sitting outside, his hands clasped in a gesture that looks relaxed. His afro is short, rounded, highlighted by long sideburns and dusted with a hint of grey.
Shielded behind his beloved dark glasses, it’s his eyes that intrigue me the most. Over the years, the frames changed – sometimes horn-rimmed, sometimes aviator – but the lenses always shaded his eyes so he could see you, but you could not see him.
It was his signature look. To those who saw him in passing, his glasses, like the rest of his appearance – tall, serious, rarely smiling – suggested he was one not to be toyed with.
Looking back, 31 years to the month that he ended his life, I realize it was a form of protection, a way of dealing with things that hurt him deeply – the loss of a child, two failed marriages, being fired from his job, being rejected from the man he discovered was not his dad. It was a lot to endure in 15 years.
Like so many people coping with grief, my father self-medicated with alcohol – gin was his choice – and he slowly closed himself off from those who loved him.
It became too much to bear, and shortly before his 39th birthday in November 1982, my father ended the pain by taking his life.
If I close my eyes, I can still see his hands, how they were often ashen or how he always seemed to have a little dirt under his fingernails. I can still feel the tickle of his moustache whenever he’d kiss my cheek. I can still see those dark glasses aimed in my direction; how they were always a bit smudged, how they sometimes sat just a little off kilter on his face. But I never see his eyes, and it gets to me.
Maybe it’s for the best. Those dark glasses shielded us from his pain. No child should have to see their parent hurting, and he did what he could to keep that part of him safely tucked away.
As an adult, I get it. Looking at his picture with mature eyes he never got to know, when I look at those dark glasses, I see the pain I never could’ve comprehended when I was a little girl. But at the same time, I look at the picture with the awe of a child who eagerly wishes for those dark glasses to be aimed in her direction, for his body to be leaned in with hands clasped but relaxed, listening intently to everything she says.
When I look at that picture, it’s as though I can hear him saying he loves me one more time, a love that shines through the darkness.
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Tracey Morris is the author of, “You Said You Wanted to See Me Naked: An Autobiographical Poem Cycle.” Her work has recently been published by Rust Belt Chic Press, and she was a finalist in the 2013 Springfed Arts Writing Contest.