I can’t remember the sound of my father’s voice. I remember how he looked in his long gray sweater, a cap on his head or a fedora for dress occasions, a pipe held between his teeth, and his laughing eyes behind his wire rim glasses. I remember the funny faces he would make, scrunching up his lips as if he had no teeth, and leaning down to stick his distorted funny face in my face to make me laugh when I was crying. I remember lots of things, but not the sound of his voice.
I was the youngest child and he became ill in January when the doctors discovered the cancer in his colon and rectum. I was nine. I didn’t see much of him after that. There was surgery performed, not that I understood that, but I remember my mother saying that the doctors “got it all out.” I never heard that he received chemotherapy or radiation, so I assume those things were not yet offered by the medical community. At one time he was back at home and he took me with him to see my piano teacher to explain that I would not be able to continue lessons. I had disobeyed my mother, went across the street to play in the backyard of my friend, tripped, fallen, and landed on the ground with a compound fracture of my right arm. Thus, I too spent time in hospital with more than one surgery and visits to the doctor to have my casts changed. Sometime during that time my father was no longer at home but lying in a bed at a nursing home in Amityville, New York.
I remember when the film, “The Amityville Horror” came out in theaters. I didn’t go to see it. I knew the Amityville horror. It was seeing my father lying on his deathbed in that nursing home. He couldn’t speak to me or my mother. She brought me there after a visit to the orthopedic surgeon for my arm. What could I make of seeing this incoherent man, almost comatose, in that bed? I didn’t understand death. The concept of the end of life was alien to me. I was still reeling from stays in the hospital where my arm was pieced back together. The ether anesthesia and being alone in ward of children with my mother missing was trauma enough. Now I was gazing at the most important man in my life and he didn’t even recognize me.
My father died in October of that same year right around the time the final cast was removed from my arm. I had turned 10 years of age and was in the fifth grade at Saint Joseph’s grammar school in Hempstead, Long Island. After the funeral I never returned to school but was sent off to live with my mother’s youngest brother, his wife and three-year-old son, people I had never met before. Abandoned. That’s what I thought.
Sometimes I find I can’t conjure up what the man I love looks like even just a few hours after parting. It is most annoying. I can see in my mind all the characters on the latest TV show, but not his image. No wonder we take so many photographs with our cell phones. As a professional photographer my face is often hidden behind the lens while I snap the shutter. This can lessen the enjoyment of an event or seeing nature in its splendor or spending time with a partner and simply gazing at his face. So, I wonder, when he’s gone, will I remember his voice?
I remember my father’s kindness, the crinkles around his eyes, the warm feeling while held on his lap, the sweet smell of his tobacco. But the memory ends there in silence. I can’t remember the sound of my father’s voice.
(An excerpt from "The Secret Life of a Heretic" to be published in 2021)