Dad Memory #6: The Men In Black Hats

It’s like I erased him with my little pink eraser, or like maybe I erased myself, too, along with him. I know I was there, because of the things I do remember.

I remember an oxygen tank in his bedroom. I don’t remember it with any conviction, but I’m pretty sure it was there. I maybe remember a hospital bed, though not necessarily in the context of his bedroom. And I remember the men in black hats and overcoats who came to visit him. That is, I remember men in black hats and overcoats walking through his bedroom door, greeting him the way men greeted each other back then, in 1965 or 1966. The hats, maybe would come off, and there were crooked smiles and some genial grunting (a la Mad Men). Or maybe that’s just the way it looked to a nine year old.

I tried to name them, the men in hats, to myself the other day, but I could only get two names: Murray Pergamant, a neighbor; and Ben Shankman, a doctor who was also a relative. There was another key guy, a doctor friend, but I don’t remember his name. The strange thing is that, though I can remember that they visited my dad when he was sick, I don’t remember my dad. From the angle of the visual memory, I would guess that I was sitting or standing beside my father, looking up as the men entered.

The other day I was thinking about my younger brother’s friends when he was a boy, and suddenly a kid popped into my mind who hadn’t been there for many years. He came out of the void—a little black kid in a trench coat. It took a few days after that for his name to come up, like an answer from a Magic 8 Ball: Billy. This tells me that there are other memories in the depths, or out there, that can arise, given the right circumstances.

What are the right circumstances? My friend Angela, a Buddhist chaplain (among other things), was telling me today about a woman she worked with in a V.A. Hospital who had been traumatized in her teens; the woman had been gang raped. This woman talked to Angela about this experience sometimes, and every time she did, she’d be re-traumatized–that is, she’d remember the event anew, and her hands would shake and she’d cry. Etc.

So since I erased my father, if I remember him, will it be like that? Like I’ll remember him, suddenly, this man whom I loved—my father, that is—dying?

I don’t care about being retraumatized. I was nine then; I’m a grownup now. I’d like to know, rather than not know. I’d like to know, rather than not know. I’d like to know the pain of someone I loved, and who loved me, rather than turn away—turn away from him, and from myself. In turning away, I turn away from everything painful, and also everything good.

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