I had not held my father’s hands since I was five, reaching up above my head when it was demanded. Rebellious even then.
He approaches me, pointing with one bony, brown finger. Goofy grin. No tie. My rebelliousness has turned soft since I was oh so small and crossing streets. Now I am crossing state lines, crossing boundaries, leaving so much behind. But the crooked little man who haunted my dreams for ages wants to dance, and I am saying yes even as I am screeching over the music “Why me?” and shrugging hard, making evil faces and sticking out my tongue like nothing has changed.
But if it hadn’t changed, he wouldn’t be asking.
My mother reminds me time and again of the evil faces she remembers, when my father and I would scream across the house, ringing the walls with the sounds of the bloody wounds that neither of us understood. 4’3 toe-to-toe with 5’10, and never looking back.
Now I am looking over his shoulder instead, falling into his eyes from time to time but backing off before the intensity gets too much, and we might say things. He is not so tall anymore, nor me so small. Here he is before me, reaching a bent arm around my back and me instinctively putting up my hand. We try to create a distance at the same time that we are grasping each other, breathing the same air, holding our waists beside each other and unsure of what to say; we are forced into such tight quarters by our own arms, our own fears of looking ridiculous. I am smiling and he is laughing and I wonder what a picture we must make. Father and daughter. Man and girl. From a distance, I wonder if you can see all the resemblances that we have fought so hard to bury, but are only now just beginning to unearth -- the sameness we have sought for so many years to ignore for fear we may share the same pieces that enrage us, but which we have never been able to shake. Our looks go much further than our skin, and we dig deep with hard words. We know each other’s insides. We know where to place the pain.
He tried to hug me on the morning I moved away, but neither of knew how to do it, and our physical spaces felt compressed, unsure, and frightened. For the last two years, when it has come time to go, he has put out one finger, and I have laughed and mirrored as he has asked. I have reluctantly extended my own finger, so that we might touch tips in what I imagine is his own shy kiss.
He is close now, in an embrace so weak I can scarcely feel it.
We are at his best friend’s daughter’s wedding. Does he see himself giving me away when my own time comes in however many years? Is he picturing that even now? I do not think so. I think he knows he gave me all away a long long time ago. Or perhaps that I gave myself away and never asked him, only took. I imagine giving myself away again, and my father watching from the seats before me, the two of us parting the way we will tonight, letting go with arms, unsure. Feeling maybe we have found something new. Wondering who that stranger was, and if we will ever see him or her again. Maybe hoping so.
I said yes to him tonight, and I am shuffling along-side his crooked gait, telling stories. We each have our own space, our own distance, and we always will. We are too guarded now. But also we are laughing now. I think maybe I squeeze him just a little through the music and he is surprised, but it is all ok. He looks at me quickly and glances away. We’ve come far enough tonight and do not break it.
As the music stops, I think it’s him who’s squeezing my hand.
I am glad.