I am fixated on the memory of his hands. I can picture him lighting his pipe. The pipe in his left hand, the Zippo lighter in his right. The quick click-snap of the Zippo as he shuts it. His palms are thick and fingers stocky. I imagine they are like a gangster’s, like Al Capone’s. A little shifty somehow.
How many times did I hold his hand shopping at the super market, walking around the block, picking up mail at the post office? As a young girl, I was tethered to him like a balloon. He kept me grounded, found and not lost. Without thinking, whenever we were in a crowd, I reached up for his hand, not looking, trusting that it was somewhere near my left shoulder, waiting. I knew he would guide me through the land of thick wool coats and high heels and belted waists—the world’s attire that was in my view at three feet tall.
I have a vivid memory of filing into the church aisle with others after mass one Sunday, merging from pews. Adults with wingtip shoes and black pumps and pants and skirts and hose. I reached up and grabbed my father’s hand to guide me.
It wasn’t his hand. The college ring on his right ring finger, the one I had memorized by touch, was not there. This hand I held was long and thin, belonging to someone who maybe played an instrument—maybe a piano or the cello. Not the hand that held the controls of an airplane or flicked a Zippo or taped a board to the bottom of my foot when I broke my toe. This hand was smooth and perfect.
I looked up and found a stranger smiling down at me, amused by my assertiveness in grabbing his hand, perhaps. I, however, panicked, let go of the stranger, turned around in the mass of long coats, like a thick cornfield that required pushing aside, stalk by stalk. Breathless.
My panicked fear: that he would leave me too and that when these stalks of people all disappeared, I would be alone. I don’t remember if my mother had left us already or if she had just started fading into her bed at that point. What I remember is that my dad was the person to whom I was tethered and that without him, I would float away.
Today. My hands so much like his, thick palms and stubby fingers. The life line on my right hand, creased in the fold at the base of my thumb—there, the life line is abruptly, sharply divided, as if to say to him, this is where you end and I begin.