my father has an ice-skating rink on the pond by his house this winter.
there is a Rockwell kind of veneer over this photo for me…this photo of my family on skates, taking by my dad on a sunny Sunday afternoon. a good afternoon. the ice was thick, and my skates clopped against it with that wintry schink-schink sound that’s almost like knives being sharpened, but happier. there were friendly family dogs on the banks of the pond, cavorting. we all took turns pulling Oscar in his little red sled. the photo may not show it, but there was much laughing. and whinging about sore feet.
we were like a full-page spread right out of a Canadian homemakers’ magazine, for gods’ sake.
and yet…there is no need break out the hot chocolate and gag on it, friends. the Rockwell bit is just a veneer, and part of me feels brittle and cheap even presenting the photo and its outdoorsy, clannish kitsch as a reflection of my life. i keep looking at it, liking it, trying to figure out what to make of it…trying to find a place for it, and relate to it on a level deeper than that of a friendly photo shoot. because this was no recreation of a childhood memory, for me, lived out in colour again for O’s sake. this was my childhood fantasy.
Oscar turned ten months old the other day. by the time i’d reached that venerable age, my father had left. not only left my mother and i, but left the province…and gone as far as he reasonably could while still staying technically in Canada. he took a nineteen-year old who happened to share my first name and who had previously been my babysitter along with him, which i suppose – this fine, insular island being what it is – made living closer somewhat inconvenient. they married when the divorce came through. they spent the next three decades in the Northwest Territories, coming home only in the summers. then, ten years after i’d grown up and moved away, they came back.
my father never saw me on skates until i was twenty-seven years old.
and all this winter, as i’ve been watching Oscar grow and (gypsy threats aside) bloom into a clever, watchful, laughing little personality, a small, wounded voice inside of me has been sitting in a corner, asking “how could he leave me that far behind, when i was small like this?” i see Oscar light up like a pageant contestant whenever Dave comes home from work, and, bewildered at how anyone could walk away from such blatant worship, that same little voice squeaks “what was wrong with me?”
i know better, of course. i’ve actually tried to stamp on the little voice, quite firmly, but only succeeded in making me feel sorry for it…ermmm….myself. and i resent that. i’m blown away by this vulnerability, this uncertainty. i’ve been told since i was small that the divorce was in no way a reflection on me, and i genuinely believe it. i’ve met both my parents. i’ve understood for twenty-odd years that the two of them, however civil, were no more meant to live together than they were to fly. i thought i’d worked through most of my baggage a long time ago.
then i had my own child, and lo, the floodgates of sadness came crashing open, apparently. because all the things that i am so fucking thrilled to share with Oscar, like his first Christmas, and his first steps, and his first time on skates (okay, i project) are things that i did without my father. i don’t believe in staying together for the kids. but really…three thousand miles away, eleven months of the year?
i know, petty problems. i don’t like feeling angry and wounded and childish. i don’t like the fact that i feel hurt…and in my hurt i feel embarrassed, too, like the statute of limitations has passed for airing of this particular load of laundry. but i don’t like the way that i feel small whenever i consider Oscar’s smallness, either. i feel protective of the child that i was. it’s true that when a child’s parents divorce before she can remember, there’s no specific image of family unity to grieve…those images all simply become veneered Rockwell paintings, part of a pop culture with no particularly relation to her own identity. but finding myself in the picture, now, with my own child, and particularly with my father behind the lens…ouch. that stings, and confuses.
i like my father, a lot. i love him, as well, and nurtured a little-girl crush on him from afar for years. but as an adult, i like him, wryly, and with a special eagerness i have no words for and no way of expressing to him except in the way i still become self-conscious around him, like a hopeful schoolkid. we don’t see each other much…distance is a habit i at least don’t seem to know how to break, any more, even when we’re close geographically.
but here we are, all in the picture on a Sunday afternoon. dark things lurk beneath this ice.