Catching and Releasing Mortality

I have been thinking about my father a lot recently.  He’s close to seventy, not a big deal.  But I’ve noticed that his memory (which was never perfect in the first place…) has gotten–well–spotty.  For example, he’ll tell me something.  Five minutes later, he’ll tell me the same exact information.

We went to see a movie together.  Throughout the movie, he kept on asking me about the identity of a character.  The same character.  Over and over and over.  I am not exaggerating if I said that I answered the same question or variant of the same question at least five times.  Likely more.

Today, I went with my kids to see Star Wars and, if you haven’t seen it, then stop reading.  Seriously.  Right now.  Stop reading.  Because I am about to explore a scene which kind of threw me for a loop.

All right.

You have been warned.

As a girl, I was in absolute love with Han Solo.  Sure, every other girl was in love with him as well.  Sue me.  I feel for the conformity crowd.  I had no patience with Luke Skywalker.  To me, he was whiney and over-emotional.  But that whole, “I love you” and the “I know” reply from The Empire Strikes Back…melt my heart.  When he was frozen in carbonite, I sobbed, convinced that my dashing hero was gone forever.

I hated Boba Fett.  Absolutely hated him.  He took away my hero, my dashing scoundrel, my scruffy nerfherder.

And then he came back in Return of the Jedi and my world realigned itself and all was good.

I fell in love with Indiana Jones.  I loved WitnessRegarding Henry, and the Jack Ryan movies that starred Harrison Ford.

Do you see a pattern?

I think I had a long time crush on Harrison Ford for no other reason than he played amazing men who had lives filled with adventure and were always on the side of good.  Yeah, I saw him in some movies that I kind of wish I could erase from my brain, you know…Hollywood Homicide.

And then I saw him in the Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull train wreck and kind of died.  I also saw him being interviewed for some movie in People magazine and my long-time crush on Harrison Ford came to a screeching halt.

Because he looked like my father.


Since then, I have never been able to look at Harrison Ford in quite the same way.  Recently, with the Star Wars  movie arriving, pictures of Ford have shown back up, pictures of him from the seventies when I was…five. And I can see that he’s good looking but all the emotions are distracted.

And then, today, I saw Han Solo die.

And I just sort of started sobbing and could barely stop.  No matter how we were led through the denouement, I was still barely holding onto the edge of my emotions because…the man who was now a reminder of my father had died.

Yeah, it’s a bit of a stretch.  And even as I am writing this, I can feel that the lines of those emotions are a bit tattered and frayed.  Harrison Ford is obviously alive and well (and hopefully not reading this because he’d probably think I’m a whacko).  And my father is alive and well.  Except the integrity of his mind is not quite perfect anymore.

Since Dad’s heart-thing-a-mah-jig (no one will call it a heart attack) and when he/his brain was oxygen deprived for (according to my mom, ten minutes), he’s never been the same man. He’s still playful and fun-loving and just loving in general.  But he’s aged.  My old skiing partner enjoys the warmth of the Florida winters to the ski slopes in Germany.  He sometimes wanders around his condo, almost looking lost.  I know that I’ll walk around my house completely distracted and frustrated because I had a purpose in mind but the moment that I started acting on that purpose, well, I couldn’t tell you want I was trying to achieve.

But, the constant questions.  The repetition of action and statements that had happened not five minutes earlier.

The way he’ll just kind of sit in a chair and stare blankly at the television.

Or lie on his side in bed when it’s three in the afternoon, and then talk about how he’s weary.

My father is close to seventy.  In so many respects, that’s young.  But I will never forget how, in the last five or so years, Dad told me that he thought he had fewer than ten years to live.  I’m not psychic.  But….I keep on hearing those words in my mind over and over again.  Every time I catch him rubbing his arm or unable to summon the words that he’s trying to speak….I feel like I’m hearing some horrible metronome.

My father is going to die.  I have written about this before.

I am going to write about this again.

But I feel like I’m entering a dance a little too late.

It’s only been in the last four years that I learned how to fish with my father.  And I’m lucky if we get together twice a year.  And because of various limitations, I can’t travel to Florida every year which is where we go fishing together.

Dad and I are strictly catch and release fisher-type-peoples.  And as I sit here on my couch and think about my father, I remember the last time we were in kayaks together, separated by about twelve feet of line.

The waves were rough, rocking the boats and I kept on remembering various scenes from the Jaws movie franchise.  And I kept on telling myself to stop being stupid because great white sharks do not hang out in the Gulf of Mexico.  Nor are they about to come up and attack the kayak.  (Note, if they do live in the Gulf of Mexico or are hungry for kayaks and chubby middle-aged women, don’t tell me)

And then, my rod would dip, become a spectrum, and Dad would chortle with laughter and pride as I reeled up another fish….a sugar trout, a pin-fish, a jack, a whiting.

I have grown up enough that I can take the fish off the hook by myself, unless the stupid animal swallows the hook…or gets it stuck in its eyeball.  Then I feel really sorry for the fish because it has to hurt to have a fishhook in the eyeball….

But Dad will pull out his pliers and will do some nifty twisting and then toss the fish over the side of the boat.  It’ll hang suspended in the water for a moment, wake up, get its bearings, take a deep breath, and then scurry-swim down to the bottom and wait…for the next baited hook.

I love fishing with my father because all the separations and gaps that I created from stupidity are erased.  I love fishing with my father because it’s something I’m actually halfway good at and we can chat and laugh while we are taking fish off the hooks, re-bating the hooks, dropping the hooks back into the water and watching them sink back into the depths of the ocean.

I love my father dearly and understand that his mortality is even more present than I have ever really expected.  I understand that someday I will stand over his grave in a national cemetery and will lay a wreath upon it, will tell him over and over how much I love him.

I accept that future because to deny its inevitability is pure foolishness.

But, right now, I’m feeling old and tired and emotionally-achy.  Because no matter how much I might know that he might have twenty more years, I am also starting to wonder at the quality of his life over the next twenty years.

Will I become a stranger and those amazing hours spent in kayaks and fishing become nothing more than ghost images in a blank mind?

The days we spent skiing, when I was a tiny child tucked between the triangle of his legs as he guided me down a slope, almost like a homo sapien marsupial….I know that eventually I will be the sole owner of those memories.

My brother (who is right) would tell me that I’m emotionally jumping the gun.  My husband would tell me that I need to stop worrying and just enjoy the moments that I have right now with my father.

And I do enjoy these moments.  And I love these moments….and will hold on to these moments, even as they slip beneath the waves with a flick of a tail or the flick of a wrist.

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