I’m studying how memory works. Memories are reconstructive. The brain uses many parts to recreate a memory, collecting the scent of a distant storm, with the movement of a gauzy white curtain with angry sounding crickets to recall that perfect summer day at the lake.
I used to think that everything was stored away in a file, like one labeled “My father didn’t talk to me for ten years.”
A decade of missed invitations to any events to celebrate or commiserate. At least the reason was clear, I fell in love with a black skinned man in 1980 in sunny seaside Santa Cruz, California. We met on a bus stop bench both our cars coincidentally at the mechanics, my navy blue BMW and his shiny yellow Cadillac.
Daryl never even met my fair skinned family but once I told my sister, Kathy, about my new boyfriend, the word spread. In solidarity, my older brother, Ken, decided that silence and avoidance was perfect punishment.
My mother, Pearl, suffered the most, her family of five, severed. No longer could she invite the whole family over for special occasions. No longer could she set the holiday table with her good china the precious porcelain plates trimmed with tiny pink tea roses. Her cut glass pickle dish now empty, her beloved silver gravy boat blackened and tarnished.
I was desperately hurt, then became absorbed by my anger thinking what selfish pricks they were, especially my own father, just abandoning me. My brother was less of a loss as I always thought his prudish, parochial ways were skewered deep into his soul, condemning him.
I was my family’s oddball, restless and creative and christened the “black sheep” getting into trouble with boys and drugs.
Desperate to find some kind of solace as the years piled up, I started attending a new-age church that had a group studying A Course in Miracles. I had long surrendered any shred of belief in a god-fix but I was compelled to go to the weekly meetings carrying, like a shield, the thick book with the royal blue and gold cover and the tissue thin bible- like pages.
I learned the Course of Miracles simple straight forward definition of a miracle which thankfully did not require angels to magically appear or any celestial harmonics. It was simple.
A miracle was a change in perception.
In the sessions, I stammered out my loss and longings and bewilderments. The group leader asked my “How would I like my relationship with my father to be, what exactly would that look like?” I was stunned. I was overwhelmed, was there a possibility I could have a miracle?
I began to imagine my father and me together, maybe we were making potato salad and he was chopping onions extra fine, maybe we’d be working side by side in his orange grove or taking a leisurely drive into the mountains in his turquoise Mercury Monterey. I embellished on all the tiny moments, using my happy memories, urging my storytelling mind to take slices of the past and stack them up into something fresh. I perfected my imagined scenarios, fluffing them up, softening the edges until I started to believe my lies.
In 1990, my mother had knee surgery. I willingly committed to be the dutiful daughter and help with her recovery. I drove from the airport for two hours in the fog to the hospital, anxious, knowing I would see my father for the first time in ten years. I arrive at her room and he is sitting there, right there, by her bedside.
I remember what he said, “I brought you some oranges.”
His gift of forgiveness.