©2007, originally published in Center: A Journal of the Literary Arts, Vol. 6, “My Father’s Guns,” by Kara Frye
My Father’s Guns
Travel back. The early eighties: I might have been ten or eleven, and Dad had recently been severely depressed, suicidal even. The woman—Lucinde? Catherine? I no longer know which one—was gone from his life, the girls returned home to Wooster, to school, to normal life, to Mom. He was left alone. Dad called Mom frequently, late in the evening, needing to talk for hours. She was one of his only friends, despite permanent tensions from their divorce, disagreements on loving, raising, and caring for two children.
“He was slurring his speech,” Mom remembers. “He was saying things about rugs for you girls” and reminding my mother about what debts he would have.
Following one of these conversations, my mother remembers me turning to her after I hung up the phone. “It seems like Daddy is feeling a little better,” I said.
I remember long hours, during childhood summers, sitting in the formal living room on Ruby Lane. Oriental rugs on the floor and two walls, the wood and brick fireplace—seldom used—an antique carved table, dark mahogany with a silver decanter and miniature wine cups adorning its polished surface, precious jade on the finely carved end table. My father almost silent, his body slumped in his old leather chair, his face slumped too, the air thick with the weight of sorrow. It was as though the measure of gravity for the house had been doubled, the depression so tangible, the air oppressive. I tried to slink beneath it, to slouch my shoulders so as not to have the pressure of this weight push down so hard, just waiting for days to pass, for the end of the weeks to arrive, wishing for a woman to return, clearing the wreckage of the last departure.
“What do you think I should do?” he asked. I didn’t know.
A decade later, I still didn’t know. On the phone, in the months before he died, he asked for advice from me, from Adriane. Did we think him foolish? Falling in love with a student, a woman so much younger. But he said nothing about Alicia’s pregnancy, said nothing of how he wished for another child, a fantasy I had had myself years earlier, thinking another brother or sister—a lasting woman for Dad—would ease his hostility, quench his need and soften his hurt. Alicia began to do exactly this. That spring he found joy, as he hadn’t experienced in ages. He summed up this feeling of flight in a poem that March.
“To be taken back to youth with a /sweep so natural that only later / one knows an eternity is needed to return intact. To not stay there, and never to find / where one was. The deadly joy of / scattering one’s self to the wind.”
He wanted to marry Alicia, though she was married already. He welcomed the thought of being a parent again, though he would turn sixty that September. An illusion of beginning anew. But his checkbook tells of his resignation, the entry from two days before his death, part of a journey that began decades earlier, again involving a notation in a checkbook registry, that 3rd day of July, 1959. Numbers, cryptic words, struggling to tell a story, the central narrator missing.
Alicia had the abortion in the weeks after my father’s death. In the haze-filled days after Dad’s suicide, I could barely take her in, let alone a potential half-sibling growing within her. Yet his life is now inextricably linked with her, a woman barely older than me, who I have met only a few times. The pregnancy, her abortion, these were just additional details thrown upon the pile of inconceivable information, a new reality, everything shaped by one thing: my father pulling the trigger of a gun, his blood in the house, suicide.
I did not realize how dark his world had become. I did not understand when he said, “I have stopped thinking. I only think anymore on a sub-conscious, an unconscious level.” Each day I live with his choice, just as each day he no longer can.
This September my father would have turned seventy-two, an age I can’t make him reach. He might have mellowed, as the proverb suggests, or he might, too, have grown more cantankerous as common wisdom tells us. I prefer the former thought, allowing him the benefit of my grief, which, of necessity, has softened with the years.
Two weeks after Dad’s birthday, I browsed in a department store, window-shopping possible furnishings for our apartment, envisioning changes my husband and I hoped to make. My son, born the autumn before, kicked his legs in exasperation against his stroller. It had been a long day, and he had been patient, but I needed a few more minutes of fortitude as I tried to imagine our small family in our rearranged home. I approached the carpets, our penultimate destination.
We would be abandoning dirtying cream wall-to-wall in favor of parquet floors, over which I envisioned an Oriental rug in the small living area. I imagined J. playing on its colorful surface, toying with the fringe at the edge as I’d seen him do in the doctor’s lobby, the deep reds rich beneath his curious hands. Just as I must have played on my father’s rugs more than three decades earlier.
I plucked J. from his stroller, an easy antidote to his displeasure, as well as my own weariness, and propped him on my hip, guiding the stroller to a pile of rugs. We quickly looked through the top layer before turning to examine a carpet covering the wall. I held J. closer, the compactness of his warm body a welcome reassurance as tears pierced my vision.
“That looks just like a rug your Granddad Frye used to have,” I said to him softly.
My tone arrived as an admixture of cheerful, thoughtful, wistful, a combination I had found since becoming a parent, wanting to share memories with J., but not wanting to burden him with their full weight. We stood there together, my ten-month-old son and I, in the emptying store, the weight of him against my body, tears filling my eyes.
In the days, after my father’s death, days which turned to years, Dad’s possessions had exuded death, inseparable from the violence of his departure. Yet this strange carpet, far beyond my means, reminded me of what my father held dear, what then I must have too: inchoate memories of love embedded in worn threads, now gone. For a few moments among the lights and salespeople, our three generations stood together, a welcome weight, Granddad Frye—the name still strange—with his daughter, and the grandson who will know him through me.
~ ~ ~
©2007, originally published in Center: A Journal of the Literary Arts, Vol. 6, “My Father’s Guns,” by Kara Frye // * This Coda previously appeared in slightly different form.
*Several names (of people not related to my father by blood or marriage) and some physical details have been changed.