I want you to believe me. It's not important to anyone but me that you do, that you believe I'm sharing. You think less of fabrication and more of the self. You're as confused as I am about motives. You've suffered deception and you're detecting mine. Years have taken their toll. Cold and miles brings truth to stasis. Sometimes I make things up. Now it's whatever we say it is. What's buried was once alive. Everything alive, some day buried.
It's what I say it is.
It's what you say it is.
What's left in the grave? Does he live in our seeing photographs? In flights of crows or traces of monofilament across green black waters?
Sunday green. The sound of the club head whipping through the air.
Do you see us, Dad? She and I alone on the beach. Under the oak. Beside the stones.
Or are you an inanimate standard for a failed champion, the icon of a bested second-stringer adorned in dented armor and blinded by dreams that drowned his fortitude.
You weren't perfect and I bear your memory, your smile, your turn of phrase, your moods. I can't escape the mirrors to escape you.
Does he live in my choices? In my ability. In my frailty.
Could I one day awaken and not remember I am the dead man's son?
Golf is not my sport. I cannot adopt it. It will not have me.
On the thirteenth fairway I pray for it to end. Searching for my ball in the rough, beside the tree where it would take Tiger Woods to have a shot at the green, I pray for it to end. The brilliant white pill sails against the blue, lands and takes an unkind bounce from the green to the fourteenth tee.
You're turning your wrists. You're not keeping your head down. You're opening the club face.
Yes I know these things happen and I have for nearly forty years. They are habits that go uncorrected in the same way a man must live with a faulty heartbeat. Forty years and I have not been on a course since our last game together, Mother's day 1996. Since you rode the cart and the marshal told us to pick up the pace though we were the only foursome on the course.
How could he know it was your last game? How could any of us? Silly old man with a job. He probably wanted to get home to his wife. Dinner was a reservation that night at Denny's so she wouldn't have to cook. He didn't know it was the last time your spikes would pierce a green. The last swing you would take at a ball. Last attempt at your passion. The game. Your prayer of golf. The twist of the spine and the way you tsked and clucked at every shot you made. The shadow of the visor brim across your eyes, the sun on your neck, bead of sweat on your temple, every shot could have been better, you said. You made par and waited for us to hole out. One by one.
That's a seven for me. That's a nine.
Days are beautiful.
The marshal's job was to get us off the course. He didn't know we would never play again.
I have never enjoyed the game. When you were gone, finally, I put the Pings in the closet and shut the door. Deprogrammed the golf channel from the dish. Cancelled the magazine subscription.
And when the Open is on the networks I scan past those images of green and blue. I switch the sotto-voce commentary to music. Never hesitate at the presentation of the billboard-sized check. The Lexus nobody needs.
Olympia Fields where I was a caddie.
There is no place for them in my life anymore. I'm absolved from the execution of my abysmal swing. The snickers of the audience at the first tee. The years of lessons that highlighted the inability you could not fathom. I do not miss the intimidation of the white sphere perched on the tee.
I am not you pumping the handle at the washer between the sixth and seventh holes. I am not you driving for show, putting for dough. I do not have a preference between Titlest and MaxFli, and I am not you making the impossible shot out of the trap, holing out in three on the par five -- marking the card, pencil stub stuffed in the trousers pocket, offering Mulligans to all takers.
Because I don't want to think about it. I can't pause the channel switcher at the Senior Tour because it comes back to me how happy you were at the lie in the middle of the fairway. The pat on the pack and the, see, you can do it -- at the long putt.
I can't be out there anymore on the back nine. I can't do it. I can't face your ghost.
Which is what I am on a golf course.
And so now the things I need you to believe.
I have not played golf since my father died. My last game was at Lochmere, Cary, North Carolina 1996. I have been a different person. I ride mountain bikes. I explore Antarctica. Those are not my dad's things. I am my own man.
There is a beach at the southern tip of Bainbridge Island in Washington, just across the channel from Seattle. There is a beautiful day and two of us standing on the beach recollecting, she her childhood, me my recent past. The Seattle skyline cut the sky in razor sharp seams. Mount Rainier adopted its role as the god of the clouds. The sun blessed the earth. What we were doing, us being there: nobody knew.
A group of crows passed overhead. Men fished from boats, monofilament slicing the green black water.
Days are beautiful.
The waves lapped at our toes on the coarse sand beach. We strolled between the rocks and scattered driftwood. I bent to touch the water and a golf ball rolled toward my fingertips.
It had been in the water for a while. It was covered in green algae.
Borne on one, then two wavelets -- I had it in my hand.
A golf ball. Is there a course nearby?
Not on the island.
Maybe someone was driving balls into the water. They don't float. This one must have been brought up by the tide.
Maybe I'm the ghost. Cannot hide.
Hello I see you.
Our lab is 147 in Crary, first phase. McMurdo station. I'd lost my Leatherman. Left it -- I don't know where.
Bag drag in two hours. Search all my luggage before I have to check it in for my flight home. Tear everything apart. Every sock. Every shirt. On my knees. It must be tangled in a sweater.
Nothing. Everything scattered on the lab floor, flat as I can get it. Where's my Leatherman tool?
Jeff, have you seen my Leatherman?
Nowhere. Must have left it at pole station. Fell out of a pocket or something.
I repack. Everything folded and stuffed in the orange duffle bag. One bag done. My shirt on top -- Scott Amundsen Pole Station -- written across the chest. Put it aside turn to grab the other duffle to begin the packing and when I look down, atop the shirt in the first duffle, on the words is a white golf tee.
Jeff, you play golf?
What are you talking about?
I hold up the tee.
He asks what it is. I tell him, a golf tee. In a biology lab in Antarctica. You put it on my luggage?
He's on the other side of the room. Hard to throw a light piece of wood from there without me noticing. And I only looked away for a second.
I mean, it could have happened. He could have done it. Only the two of us in the lab. I didn't bring a golf tee to Antarctica. Maybe he did.
My father, he used to love golf -- I'm staring at the tee, waiting for it to evaporate as easily as it materialized -- We used to play together, occasionally.
Wow. That's wild, man.
Maybe it was in my clothes or something. Maybe someone put it in my orange bag at the south pole.
Jeff shrugs. Why would someone do that? Goes back to what he was doing.
Snow colored golf tee in my fingers -- Hello, stupid miracle.
Asinine. Ridiculous impossibility, hello.
Hello I see you.
I got out of the shuttle on the ice runway. Right before I got into the C-17 for home I bent over. Acted like I was tying my shoe.
Pushed the tee into the ice in McMurdo sound.
It's a long drive to the pole. Eight hundred miles.
But you could probably make it in two with the right club.
My counselor asks what I think it means.
I dunno. It's my dad.
What's he saying to you?
I dunno. My feeling about these things, I mean, the golf tee. Maybe I put it in my briefcase a few years ago and forgot all about it and it fell out or something.
Is that what happened?
No. No, I don't think so. I don't see how.
Then, what do you think? Why are you avoiding?
When I was really into this stuff, studying it, psychic weirdness in mine, in everyone's life -- I came to the conclusion that it means whatever you want it to mean. You can analyze it right out of existence. Do apples fall by gravity or magic? You can live with the math and die happily thinking you figured it out, but you didn't. You come up with inverse square rules or you find the god of falling apples and blame him, and it really doesn't matter because apples keep falling, and you die anyway.
So it doesn't mean anything? It doesn't look like you think it's nothing.
Outside it's a beautiful day. It's the kind of day to drive to the muni, pull the clubs out of the trunk and play the front nine at Santa Clara.
But I just got back from the South Pole. I do not like golf and I never have.
So I'll go mountain biking instead.
I am not his ghost.
But he must have thought I was a good son, anyway.