“I’ve never been to PEI,” he said. Looking back, I realize his tone was wistful, if matter of fact. Then, sitting at my kitchen table in the ever constant plume of his cigarette smoke, its acrid hands about my throat, I heard only a whine.
I remember thinking, “Oh no, not this time.” It was supposed to be our vacation and he, with his too loud voice, his penchant for arguing, his mournful reminiscences of mom, just seemed too much to bear. I’d been eagerly anticipating our family time at a cabin on the river. The brochure had promised night skies paved with stars, loon calls, and kayaks on shaded paths of bubbling water. I was more than ready for all of it.
Clearly, this paradise could not be a place for concealing tears that always raised their tattered white flag and searched for a safe place to fly. Nor did I want to invite the compressed sadness, the helpless anger that started churning as soon as he was near. It was a geyser I’d feared couldn’t be capped once it started spouting. That fear was with me all the time then, when it seemed I’d forgotten how to breathe.
I glossed over his words, pretended I didn’t really hear, and began to ask questions about his neighbour in the retirement home. Now, how I wish I’d done it differently. If only I could have him sitting across the table from me today. I’d listen in a new way to that too-boisterous voice that never quite filtered out his grief, his panic. I’d say, “Why don’t you come with us, Dad? We’d love to have you.”