Last night I woke up in a full-fledged anxiety attack. My breathing short, my hair wet with sweat, my blankets wrapped like snakes around my legs, and my screams echoing between the two fans that oscillated in the room.
What was I so upset about? Don’t laugh. Promise me.
I was terrified because I have never seen my father barefoot in the grass. That was the last thought I had before drifting off and something my subconscious must have kept on the surface and hours later a pipe inside my heart must have snapped in desperation and sadness waking me paralyzed with fear. I know, I know, it even sounds crazy to type it, but it’s scary. And more than scary, debilitating, because I’ll never see it. My father is dead.
In the summer, sometimes, he’d unlace his cracked yellow work boots and wrestle them off of the thick wool socks that clung to his swollen pale feet. My mother, sometimes, would pull out her cheap Walmart foot bath and bring it to him in his chair and he’d watch Wheel of Fortune while the swelling went down. Those were the only times I have any memory of his bare feet.
It’s not that I have some weird foot fetish or need to remember what they looked like, it’s not that at all. It’s that I never saw them play. Sure, occasionally we’d get him to play a game of Yahtzee between shoveling the driveway if we were home from school on a snow day. And I have memories of him and my mother playing Rummy 500 at the kitchen table late at night when I would wake for a drink, or to avoid sleeping, or to catch them drinking, smoking, and flirting with one another. But that’s all. When he stepped outside in the morning, until long after I went to bed, his feet were covered and in work mode.
I close my eyes and imagine his tall frame in his white tee shirt and green cargo work pants and then try to mentally remove his shoes and put him in the yard. It makes me laugh because in my daydream his face is grimacing. He doesn’t like it. Stillness was for children. Being idle made him feel worthless.
I wish I thought of this when he was living. I wish I would have taken his bruised, cut up, calloused hand and beg him to try it. To do it with me.
He’d be reluctant, at first, he always was any time I asked him to do something just for me. But he’d do it. He always did. Because I was his favorite. But more than that, he was mine, and he knew that and didn’t take it for granted. That’s what real love does.
I’d make him sit on the two seater lawn swing that he built and painted blue because that’s my mother’s favorite color. It was a swing he hardly ever sat on but constantly examined for repair, for her.
And while he worked at one boot, I’d work at the other. Once they were off and the socks were stuffed into the neck of the boots I’d dramatically throw them as far as my arms would allow, and he’d laugh that laugh I haven’t heard in 19 years.
I’d make him step out into the grass, leaving the security of the wooden swing floor, and give him the rush of freedom. The sensation of bare skin directly in touch with the earth.
“Okay,” I’d say, “close your eyes and wiggle your toes.”
Then I’d ask him to slow dance with me.
Then I’d ask him to run to the road with me as fast as he could.
Then I’d ask him to lay down with me and examine the sky with me.
Then I’d ask him to not die and be with me because I have a fucking list of things we didn’t get to do together and it’s not fair.
I untangle myself from the blankets. I go lay on the couch in the dark and listen to the city begin to wake up. The street light that pours into the window goes to sleep for the day. I finally catch my breath. I stop crying. I grab my daughter’s notebook that she left on the coffee table covered in math problems I don’t understand. I begin to write a list of the things I never got to do with him, for us.