Early before the day officially begins, a young man–with canvas bag balancing against shoulder and back–waits for the 3 train toward Manhattan. He presses his fingers together and pulls them apart, holding an imaginary photograph.
Dad, this is the concrete. Dad, I am waiting for the train. Dad, remember this wall. Dad…
I turn around, ungluing my eyes from a book that keeps me occupied and notice him. Because he needs to be noticed. Because maybe the other two humans watching think he is crazy. I think he is mourning. I think he is far more human than all of us.
He is tall, slender, and although his face is dry, mine becomes wet with tears.
Wonder if he carries the phantom photograph with him everywhere. Wonder if he narrates his entire day to his dad, whom he stretches out his hands toward. His palms face the subway platform:
Dad, this is my day. Dad, remember when you said….
He starts to a hum a song, maybe one they used to sing together. The words are muffled by the sounds of traffic above and the rats below. His hands are still outstretched. His father’s face is imaginary and yet I can almost see him too.
When I think about fathers, I think about gratitude. I think about garage sales, whistling, listening to old time radio shows, sitting on benches and making up stories about the people who pass by. I think about baking, making dim sum, watching old episodes of Columbo. I think about late night chats over coffee and over-cooked (but delicious salt and peppered chicken). Sharing tales of dates and love affairs while playing Uno or canasta.
This is when I realize when I think about fathers, I am thinking of mine.
One of the times I ran away, I did not get very far. I packed up my backpack shaped like a spaceship, silver with fake buttons, and packed a peanut butter sandwich, grapes and my notebook. I got no further than a few blocks away before I turned around. Ate my sandwich. Forgot about the grapes. Months later, they became raisins.
Years later, I ran away to my favorite park at the time. This was when I could drive. Walked out of psychology class or math class and drove to this small park in suburban New Jersey. Wrote poems. Carved my name into as many benches as I could find. I needed to imprint myself. Even now, those scars can still be found.
I ran away to my father’s house when I was supposed to be in English class. Drove until I found myself at his driveway outside of Hartford. Used my key. Walked inside. We ate stir fry.
On this morning, a man holds onto his father so deeply, his hands become a photo album. He is a documentarian. He is a traveler. He is lamenting. He is a son.
I was supposed to go first.
I think this, as I watch this young man converse with his father. I was supposed to leave when I was fifteen. Then sixteen. Seventeen twice. Many times when I was nineteen. Twenty-four should have been it. Twenty-seven was in slow motion, but it should have been the last time.
We are both still here. Though we are often so ghostly. We are often just drifting. The Uno cards sometimes get picked up. We’ve replaced stir fry with his famous spare ribs and dim sum is still dim sum, but we both should be eating more vegetables.
There is disease(s) now between us both. There is heartache and sorrow and loss and regret and exhaustion and secrets and love and love.
I wonder if this young man had enough time with his father. I wonder if this young man really knew his father. I wonder how long he has walked with this photograph that only he can see. I wonder if any visible ones exist.