Periodically, without warning or apparent provocation, the tune creeps into my head. All alone at the end of an evening and the bright lights have faded to blue. . . My conscious associations with the Eagles song “Take It To The Limit” are few and the lyrics hold little direct meaning. Still, when the song begins its slow sly creep into my consciousness, I am six years old and my father is singing in the car. He periodically glances over at me, earnestly performing for us both. This isn’t memory. This is time travel, a nostalgic, almost comforting mirage dating back to the gap.
The gap spans the five years between when I was two and seven years old, bookended one one side by my mother’s recollections of a crumbling relationship and on the other by my stepmother’s emergence, when contact with my father became more regular. Mom left college to go to work after I was born, while Dad remained an undergraduate, albeit a depressed one who struggled to keep things together at home. The one animus-free image my mother recently shared of those early days is that of my clean-cut 19-year-old father holding me at my grandparents’ kitchen table. He gazes into my eyes. I gaze back. The image is profound, simple, and concrete. When I think about it, it is almost as if I was there.
My mother did not mention this moment until after my father’s death. Had she told me earlier, I could not have truly taken it in. Finding the good, locating the connection, between my father and me so early in my life was too painful. Unable to do its sweetness justice, I would have gotten angry at the thought, the nerve, of those gazes, the cheap looks of someone who could not follow through on his good intentions.
I am almost fifty years old and yet I still sift through my childhood looking for clues. For example, this gap I’ve been contemplating lately, the years that I can no longer ask my father about — why am I thinking about that time with this fresh curiosity? His absence make it possible to consider it without the familiar anger. It also makes the exercise strangely futile. Whatever story I tell myself is as close to the truth as I will get.
There are spotty memories, disconnected from any timeline, a random scattering of dots on a blank page. Being awakened in the middle of the night to take my asthma medication. A scary story in a dark car. A golf course apartment and my fear of a stray ball to a window or the head. Maybe this Eagles song singalong. The details feel like they matter. There just aren’t enough of them. Maybe what really matters is that this newfound curiosity will never be satisfied. The truth isn’t a series of facts, I assuage myself. It’s in the stories we tell. But this story has multiple narrators. And one of them won’t be talking.