Aftersun ★★★★★

“I’m still copying you though.” 
“I know. Now copy this.

I am standing in a room and I am looking at my dad.

It is 1996 and he is 33 years old and he is journaling hour by hour the day that I am born. He is the first person to ever put my name to paper. It is 2008 and he is 45 years old and he is gripping my arms too tight and screaming at me, so close I can smell the beer on his breath. I am telling him I do not want to live with him anymore because it makes me too anxious to see the way he drinks. It is 2012 and he is 49 years old and two states away from me, he is collapsing while on a walk, braindead before he hits the ground, from an injury acquired while drunk. 

I am standing in a room and I am looking at my dad and he is both the man people told me “loved being your dad more than anything” and someone I was, and maybe still am, deeply angry with. I am stuck, frozen, by the overwhelming, simultaneous urge to fling myself into his arms and step back if he tries to get close. He is the man who would always wrap me in a towel after I got out of a pool and would squeeze me tight until my teeth stopped chattering. He is the man who volunteered to be my soccer coach every year, 8 years in a row. He is the man who would sing the loudest at all my birthday parties. He is the man who would keep open Dr. Pepper cans in his car that were full of beer instead of pop. He is the man who would leave me drunken, raging voicemails after I stopped living with him. He is all these men, these fractured pieces of a half formed person. He is deteriorating before my very eyes with each passing year, preserved solely by my context-lacking, ever-fading memories and the remnants of video tapes from our old, family camcorder and photos.

I am standing in a room and I am looking at myself at 16 years old, on the floor of my dad’s closet, his favorite sweatshirt pressed into my face. I am taking in the smell of him with each inhale, terrified I will forget what he smelled like. I did forget what he smelled like. I am screaming with every exhale, the fabric muffling the sound so that it is for my ears only, a brief moment to let myself truly become undone by the weight of his loss. I am 16 years old and my dad is dead and he died before we could be okay again.

I am standing in a crowded room and I am looking at my dad as he dances. The music is too loud to hear my wailing. I am trying to grab hold of him so he can hear me. I need him to stop dancing so he can see what’s coming towards us and pull us out of the way of this great, barreling beast of devastation. But he can’t hear me because he’s not really there and I’m not really there either and the great, barreling beast has come and gone and left me ragged and fatherless and with the agonizing realization that my dad died not knowing me just as much as I don’t know him.

This is Aftersun. Attempting reconciliation with a ghost. Untangling every memory to pinpoint the moments you understand with more painful clarity now that you are yourself an adult. Examining your grief like a science experiment, seeing the bruise it has left on you and pressing your thumb down into it, recording how sharp the sting still is. Gathering up the pieces of him you knew from your limited time with him and trying to piece them together, a jigsaw puzzle with half the pieces missing. Rewinding the tape again and again and again, standing an inch from the screen, staring at the grainy image of his face, at the upturn of his smile, trying to determine if it was genuine, if he was as happy with you as you desperately hope he was. Having to turn the movie off and accept you’ll never know for sure, exhaling in relief at the weight lifted by the bittersweet acceptance. Finding the ability to smile a little through the tears when you think of him, remembering that he loved you the best he could, no matter what, until the very end.

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