My father took me on a drive around the island when I was fifteen years old. We packed our bags and we were off on an adventure. He was a special person, my father and his illness rarely allowed him to do something as extravagant and powerful as take a road trip. That time he did. We took the car and we drove off, just him and me, not knowing where we would sleep during the night or what we would do.
We drove a lot. Maybe more than he wanted to. But I liked the road and he allowed me to drive, from time to time, even though I was too young to have a license. I had made a mixed tape and we used to listen to it over and over, especially one song. It became the trips signature melody and every time I hear that song I’m reminded of it and of him.
Magic happens in rare moments.
I got to see things then that colored my entire life later on. I still go back to that trip when I need to find energy and there was something born in me on the roads we drove then that I have been trying to describe ever since, but I have been more or less unable to.
Magic happens in rare moments. And maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll manage to express what was at the core of that trip before it is my time.
I was in Venice, of all places, when I realized what was about to happen.
I had a life of my own by then. A life far from him, in another country. A husband and a daughter who seemed to be my spitting image. How he would have adored to see her curly stubbornness more and to know that I sometimes, though rarely, see a glimpse of him in her eyes.
I was standing on one of the bow bridges in Venice, the sun blazing as it tends to do when you’re there and a tourist. The hoard of people around me were so diverse it was hard to keep track. The place was fascinating and confusing at the same time. The lack of streets was incomprehensible to someone who was basically raised in the back of a car but it was fascinating at the same time. The narrow walkways by the canals smelled of something old and forgotten. There were small squares, surrounded by houses only accessible by hopelessly narrow pathways and in the middle of these squares there were often wells, covered with enormous, ancient looking well-head covers. They made me think of secret societies and hidden pathways.
At first we just roamed around, then we found a small diner which had managed to push impossibly many tables in an incredibly small space and then they had added a strangely comfortable Italian ambiance. It was a pleasant combination and we sat down and ate sandwiches. O had a glass of white wine and we ate pastry for desert. The kid was delighted. She was only four, importantly soon five, and this was a big adventure for her, tiring in its extravagance. She giggled at the clowns selling strange, small toys on every corner. Hid behind my legs when they tried to approach her, speaking to her in their impeccable Italian, so quickly that it seemed more of a trick than whatever they were doing with the toys. We browsed the shops that were filled with strange memorabilia, golden masks of all sizes, architectural lego buildings and chess boards and pieces. We bought a small bracelet that Daniella wanted to put on immediately and a small dream catcher that seemed uncharacteristic for the place.
Roaming around we found dead end allies filled with laundry lines high up in the air where there hung amazingly colourful clothes. We watched the gondolas that had golden seats and gondoliers wearing striped shirts and funny hats sailing slowly along the canals. There were women wearing old-fashioned dresses in bright colors, they wore golden masks and held small white parasols to shield themselves from the sun. Their hair was fantastically set up and you wondered just how they survived the heat in this grand panoply.
The history of the place seemed weighed down by the excessive tourism, making the ordeal of walking the pathways of this old city fascinating and sad at the same time and realizing that you were a part of the problem didn’t make it any less cumbersome.
I was buying a rubber snake from one of the street salesmen when my phone rang. I guess it was a conversation I had been waiting for. I guess it wasn’t as unexpected as I’d like it to have been. Though the whole macabre idea that was delivered by that phone call was so outrageously unthinkable that I didn’t grasp it at all.
It didn’t change my demeanour much that day. We still continued to roam for a while, or until Daniella became too tired and we decided it was time to head back to where we were staying. The boat ride was calm and the air soft and not too humid.
The pleasant memory of having been to that special city was still untainted by the news I had received, standing on that bow bridge amongst the black and white painted clowns in striped outfits and the Japanese tourists carrying two cameras around their necks.
I listened to Daniella’s pladder as she explained in fine details what she was going to do when she came back to the beach, where we were staying and I joined in, carelessly chit-chatting away.
It was on that beach that I spoke with my father for the last time. I was sitting in a sun chair relieved to hear his voice after the bad news. Relieved to hear that he was the same person as he always had been, the same caring human being who looked forward to the future and was seemingly unchanged by the knowledge he must have carried in his heart by then.
He was the same person, his reticent wit still with him. We spoke of my trip to see him later in the summer, spoke of the future as if it was plausible, almost tangible.
He knew better and though I was seemingly fooled by his words there was still a stone in my stomach. A stone that I realized would never actually vanish, only turn bigger as I found myself unable to do anything but continue our adventures in a far-away land, unable to grab the next plane ride to where I should be.
To where I should have been in the first place.
It was a long ride home, and yet it wasn’t. Driving through Austria’s landscape seemed to almost bring me back to that place, where I was with my father all those years ago. Passing by these fantastic mountains seemed to allow me strength and comfort. As if the landscapes durability shed some light on the ancient old puzzlement of life and death. It was almost like the act of driving brought him to me, carried him with me as we raged through the landscape on our way home.
I drove like the devil was on my tail. Thankfully O was happy about it and Daniella is blessed with a seemingly endless capacity for long drives. We crossed through the landscape, while navigating through songs that pushed the stone up, from my stomach into my throat, filling my eyes with tears so I almost lost sight of the road.
It was passed midnight when we arrived home. We carried Daniella up to her bedroom and fell asleep instantly, not contemplating what tomorrow would bring. What sudden arrangement would have to be made. Sleep was welcome, light and cumbersome at the same time.
The next morning seemed as bright as that day in Venice. Colder, but just as bright.
The phone call came before I had even started thinking of what to do, how to tackle the future that seemed so impossibly heavy.
He died last night, he said.
He wasn’t afraid, he said.
The stone dissolved and instead there was suddenly a great hollow. A gap in my soul that would only grow bigger and bigger. A sense of sheer anxiety filled my body and began to eat away at my soul. And that song, that always reminds me of him and the trip we did once upon a time, echoed through my head and would never really vanish, as if playing it constantly in my head would somehow help to keep him, ever so softly, with us.
The memories kept washing over me, like a tsunami I was incapable of shielding myself from.
Me running towards him as he tried to take my picture. He had a fedora hat on his head then and I was very little.
Sitting in the car with him as we went to the shops to buy soda and a chocolate bar.
Driving through the landscape, him letting me drive although I was too young to have a drivers license. I now wonder what kind of calm that took.
Greeting him at the hospital, his face turning exquisitely happy as he saw me.
Him walking into the room as I was playing with a friend, we were playing some music and he would dance for us, small awkward steps that showed sheer happiness and willingness to play the jester.
Him sleeping all day, because getting out of bed was just too hard.
Him waving me off at the airport. He looked so old then, and so impossibly fragile.
Him seeing Daniella for the first time. His wakeful eyes following every toddler step she took. A smile of joy on his face.
The sense of calm he always brought with him wherever he went.
And all those phone calls. Every day. Sometimes exactly the same words spoken by both of us, yet there was something missing when those phone calls weren’t conducted.
Still to this day during the act of going to bed at night I find myself thinking that there is something missing. I haven’t spoken to my father today.
And then I remember.
It just seems too implausible.
It leaves us hollow, death. It leaves a giant gap within us that will never really be filled again and as the people who used to fill your day start to vanish from the face of the earth, one by one, you start to slowly realize that there is less and less left for you, left off you. It’s as if people in general become stranger and stranger, the effort to reach out becomes harder and harder. As if the world is slowly preparing you for the same fate.
But he cheated a little, my father. We cheated a little. Because he and I will forever be on that road trip that we took all those years ago. He and I will always be sitting in that car, watching the white stripes on the road vanish under the car, listening to that song, that soothing, fantastic melody that always makes me happy, always reminds me of him and the landscape he showed me. The dark sands of Iceland, the curiously outrageous landscape of Dimmuborgir, where it looks like the devil will surprise you in every turn. The deep Ásbyrgi, where the pond was dark and the ducks looked transient. Goðafoss, that made me realize that it would be plunging in its awe inspiring glory long after I was gone from this earth. The contradictory glaciers beside the dark sands.
And we will forever be in that old white Mazda, listening to that song, and I will be driving and he will be telling me stories of times past.
Is it possible to become a ghost of eternity before you die?