by Sharon Frame Gay
What I know about dads fits into a 3 x 5 photograph, ragged, faded, and dog eared on one corner as though someone was trying to save the page for eternity. The photo was taken by the shore of a lake. He sits in a chair, with me firmly planted on his lap, a child of few months still sporting my milk teeth. The wind is rustling his hair. His eyes squinted into the camera and the sun. My tight ringlets must be tickling his nose as the wind tosses my hair like a dandelion.
He is a handsome man, Irish as Paddy's Pig, as they say, with dark hair, light brown eyes, an athletic build. There is an assurance about him, the kind of confidence one exudes after fighting in the South Pacific during the war. His gentle fingers wrap around my body, though I can imagine that in another life they may have thrown hand grenades or clutched his cross in violent prayer in a distant foxhole.
He was a gifted skater, a bar room brawler, a sweet talker, with just a hint of cruelty at the corner of his mouth, coiled like a sleeping snake. He met my mother when she was home from college one December, a restless young woman looking for somebody to waltz her around the frozen pond and warm her feet by the makeshift fire in the moonlight. By spring thaw, they had married and began a life together, a life filled with chaos and drama, long nights at the pub, the scent of other women.
With the storms and turbulence, one autumn, before the first snowfall, he simply vanished. Slammed the door on his children and wife and skated down some angry highway, leaving my mother to waltz alone, and my brother and I to spend endless days in new schools explaining to other children that we had no father. No father. As though he whimsically appeared one day, then fetched a magic carpet and took himself away to another realm.
When I look into the mirror, or at my brother, I see him in our faces. We resemble his Irish heritage much more than we do my Swedish mother with her glacial blue eyes and Viking figure. I see him in my cheekbones and in the color of my iris, in the slant of shoulder. I see him in my brother, in his quickness to brawl as a young man, though later my brother harnessed that energy and put it into becoming a Marine, and later a pilot, following in footsteps that were only marked in sand.
My father remarried, I heard. Asked his entire family to never tell his new wife that he had two children. We no longer existed. We didn't die. We were never even born. Ghost children, perhaps peering out from an old photograph, creased and tucked into an ancient leather wallet, hidden from the light of day.
My photograph of that summer morning so long ago by the lake is one of the few reminders I have that I was once held in his arms, the light summer breeze bearing witness. In the old dog eared photograph, I am peering up at his face, but I can see now that his gaze was already far off into the distance.
Sharon Frame Gay grew up a child of the highway, traveling throughout the United States and playing by the side of the road. Her dream was to live in a house long enough to find her way around in the dark, and she has finally achieved this outside Seattle, Washington. She writes poetry, prose poetry, short stories, and song lyrics.