I haven’t spoken with my father in many years, but I spent a week or so of summer vacation with him in Houston when I was eleven. Most of that time went by in a blur, but there are a few things I clearly recall and which I actually think about quite often:
He was living with someone at that time, a new-to-me girlfriend who seemed very sweet and kind, and I warmed to her–as much as a shy little kid can–right away. Every night we would all play a game before bed. It was like Mad Libs, except there wasn’t a book for filling in blanks, we just made it up as we went along. I felt so clever and and smart after every round of story-telling, and I loved listening to my dad’s goofy stories and the silly way he played with words and language. As someone who spends a lot of time writing today, I think the whimsy of those games continues to make its way into my own words.
My dad rented studio space near his apartment, and every morning we’d head over there so he could work on whatever it was that he was doing at that time. He had a low wooden shelf jammed with an enormous back catalog of Heavy Metal magazines, and never having seen the likes of such darkness and weirdness, I would spend hours and hours curled up on a sagging sofa marveling at them from cover to cover. Ranxerox terrified and exhilarated me, Druuna’s naked, tentacular adventures may have been the catalyst for the first sexual stirrings in my weird little bod, and the art–oh, the cover art! From Julie Bell to Frank Frazetta, Jefferey Catherine Jones to Olivia De Berardinis, Crepax, Moebius, and my very favorite, Luis Royo…! Until that point, the fantasy and fairy tale stories I knew had a very certain look to them: dreamy and delicate, ethereal wisps of things. But Heavy Metal showed me a very different, raucous, rowdy, bold, brilliant type of fable; it showed me how to look for beauty in the things I found odd or repellent, or hideous, and horrifying. I never saw art –or stories– the same after discovering my dad’s cache of Heavy Metal magazines, and you can see that in everything from the clothes that I wear to the art on my walls to the books of art that I curate and write about.
During my visit that summer, there was something big happening. The Harmonic Convergence, an event of “cosmic importance,” was what they called the world’s first synchronized global peace meditation, which occurred on August 16–17, 1987. People were congregating in “power centers” and doing all sorts of new-age things, and as this also closely coincided with an exceptional alignment of planets, I think the woo-woo was probably off the charts. My dad called it “The Harmonica Convention” and wanted us to see what it was all about. I was scared because I thought I would have to talk to people about things. I don’t know why I thought that, but I was scared of talking to people, and that was always a huge fear.
The night before the event, we found a tiny baby bird that had fallen out of it’s nest, and I was desperate to ensure its survival. We kept it warm in a little shoebox with scraps of cloth, and tried to feed it so that it got nourishment, and we ended up staying all night keeping a watch on it. The next day I brought it to the Harmonic Convergence space with us, and I don’t remember looking a single person in the eye, because I sat down on the grass with my baby bird and never once looked away from it. I heard so many voices above me telling me that I was doing a good job, and there were so many heartfelt wishes and sweet sentiments murmured by passers-by. I may have replied, or maybe not. I don’t recall. Did anything big happen? I have no idea. There was only me and the littlest thing I’d ever held in my hands. And my dad cheering me on in his weird-dad way. And I was not scared of a single thing that day.
When I arrived home that summer, my (late) mother complained that I was squirrelly and secretive. I think what happened is that I discovered some big things about myself–about who I was and what I might become, and how things just “clicked” for me in many ways. It felt so private and personal, I never would have been able to articulate it, and I didn’t want to. The me who came home was very different from the me that had left, and all of the things I did and saw and learned–they were mine and mine alone.
My dad died last night. I don’t know how to feel. I don’t know if I’m “allowed” to grieve a man that I stopped communicating with twenty years ago; I feel like those rights aren’t mine to hold anymore.
I think right now, right in this moment, I’m sad for a version of our relationship that hasn’t existed since I was eleven years old, and that he’ll never know how that summer shaped me.