he is gone again

“You’re not really here, are you?” 

I keep searching for you, but I can’t find you. I opened up that door when I first passed it, and there was a wall of bricks directly behind it. The other door led to the edge of a cliff. I was afraid that the last door would open to an ocean that would flood the whole containment, so I left that door closed. It was leaking from the upper rail, and the knocks I made felt like thuds against the moisture-seeping oak. 

Where could you be hiding at this time? Why aren’t you answering me? I have the feeling that you’re listening, perhaps even observing me as I meander curiously in search of you. 

“I’m not going to hurt you. I only want to see you and talk to you.” This seems hopeless, but I continue anyway, “I want to know that you’re alive.”

Now I am beginning to feel scared. What if he is actually hurt? What if he feels trapped and scared? He’s been evasive for a while now. But how was I supposed to reach through to him? Every time I tried to talk, he’d put his head down and cry incessant tears. Tears that he’d catch to save them in jars. He labeled them with the memory of his latest regret.

The room with the jars, I remember now how scary it was. Endless rows of glass with their little aluminum caps. Their bodies labeled, “my first break-up,” “the day my father left,” “the lies my mother told.” Some were vague and buried deep underneath the rest of them. “The thing that happened when I was 7.” 

“Dad? I’m really starting to get worried about you. Could you please come out?” I called to him, feeling a bit hopeless, but knowing that this was probably just his latest episode. That’s what people called his behavior, episodes, as if his life was a tv show.

Growing up with him felt like the best at times. He was so strong, so motivated, so curious. A conversation with him could take any turn, and I loved that so much. As a kid, it was my favorite thing, that he didn’t talk like an adult to me. He talked like another child, imagining always. But there was something that still made him feel so distant, so inaccessible, that even though he said the words “I love you” and it was hard to doubt his meaning, you’d wonder exactly how he meant it. Or what it meant to him. Did he understand that love, above all other things, meant being there for those you love? That it didn’t mean the endless games of hide-and-seek which to him were more like a magician’s disappearing act. 

He could vanish in an instant. He’d go off to some other world, some other planet, and he would come back weeks later, not having aged a bit, with a bit of soil from Mars. Everyone in the neighborhood pointed this out, the Mars soil he’d found came from the side of the road by riverside drive. He’d travel everywhere on foot, but supposedly he’d known those who came from afar to pick him up. I can’t say I was used to his disappearance, but I was comfortable speaking in his language. And maybe that’s why he still talked to me after years of silence toward everyone else.

“Dad, do you know what we call a wingless lizard who lacks the gills of a hammer-headed shark?” I said the question almost to myself this time.

“A lizard.” He responded from underneath the floorboard. 

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