Present Tense

No one laughs at god in a hospital / no one laughs at god in a war

Regina Spektor is right, especially about the first part.


I’ll be the first to admit that I am a detail-oriented person. Perhaps obsessively so. I like organization because I am perpetually anxious when I cannot find things. I keep a box of life’s minutiae – postcards, business cards, ticket stubs, photos, pieces of my parents from before I existed, pieces of myself.

I remember birthdays. I send hand-written thank you notes. I remember the story behind that little scar on your chin. I know whether you are a cat or a dog person and the name of your favorite dish at your favorite restaurant.

It’s easy to get lost in the details and forget to take in the forest for the trees. Details are what lay between the lines. You have to read a little more deeply to keep track of them all. They’re what make us more than human.

Dad was a detail man. His details were just different. He didn’t write lengthy personal notes, but usually signed his cards with the ever brieg “Dad” in his cramped hand. His preference for details weren’t necessarily about finding you the perfect birthday present, but a preference for the things that made you feel special in a world where few people take the time to remember how to properly spell your name.

He was really good with names. He knew the moniker of just about any person he ever met. He usually knew their kids’ names and where they went on their last vacation, too. This made everyone feel that they were more than just a fleshy face he passed in the hallway.

I worry about forgetting the details now that he’s gone. I wish I had held his hand more. Especially during those days when he had already moved on to some other place that I couldn’t reach. Dad had perfectly oval nails at the ends of long fingers. No hang nails either. His index finger was the longest and his skin was smooth, soft, and warm. They were good hands for shaking. They were good for holding, too, but I was afraid. More afraid than I’ve ever been. More afraid than watching all those women whom I’d cared for die, more afraid than bungy jumping.

It seems silly, but I don’t want to be the girl whose father died when she was 24. That realization is perhaps the most excruciating thing I have ever felt – more painful the two broken wrists, the 14 stitches, and the tonsillectomy that I’ve had. I don’t think this pain will necessarily characterize who I am from this point forward, but it is always going to be part of the story I tell to those who weren’t already part of my life.

These days, the details are all about verb tense.

In conversation, I catch myself saying “was” instead of “is”.

“My dad was…”

It’s not a conscious thing at all. My brain seems to have been reprogrammed to account for the new vacancy in my life. I always end up correcting myself because the verb tense puts that question mark in people’s eyes – “What does she mean ‘was’?” And I don’t like the answer that comes after that question mark. It’s that answer that gets me labeled “the girl whose dad died when she was 24”. I’d rather be someone else.


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