I imagine my father’s life as a line. One, long paint brush stroke. The paint brush is a wide one, and the Great Maker has pulled it along the page for quite some length, pressing down heavily at some points and pulling back to lighten the line here and there.
Last February, the Great Maker picked up the paint brush, and the end of my father’s life became visible. Now we see the entire continuum, and where the individual hairs of the brush that had just a little bit of paint were finally lifted off the page. It’s a sparse ending; not all of the bristles were still coated with paint at the end.
It turns out the line is a circle.
I had a great, cathartic cry after grieving my father’s death day anniversary. First about acknowledging the tender, good parts of my dad, like baby bamboo shoots, and then about the business that my partner and I have started that is focused on sharing Lao food and culture, fueled by passion and love, and I cry about the immense welcome, encouragement, and support that we’ve received. I wish I had the chance to cook Lao food for my dad .
Then I cry again about having to believe that “I did the best that I could have” or otherwise not really being able to live with myself, a thought that came very soon after receiving the news that my father had died.
“Did he have to die for it to be this way?” I ask my counselor, snot and tears making my mask disgusting, as I reach for a tissue.
He doesn’t say anything. A tactic, I tell myself. He’s making me think.
The scared little girl still dwelling within me needed that to happen for the ultimate, whole healing and forgiving to begin. What a pity, I continue to think, that he isn’t here to be part of the forgiving process. What does the little girl need? We ponder, my counselor and I. Play. I finally respond.
Maybe dad’s watching over me. Which I’ve never really thought that he was doing before. Maybe the shortcomings that he had as a father during his time here on earth are things that he’s still trying to make up for while he’s traveling through the galaxies. Maybe he’s stronger-willed and gentler as a spirit, released from his body. Maybe without the imprisonment of material woes and the attachment to time and place, to his own trauma, he can be his ideal. My ideal. And he’s as spry as he was when he was a young boy. Snatching young green mangoes from tree boughs. Irritating the water buffalo.
I vaguely remember my father telling us that we would miss him when he’s gone, and of course, he’s right. No matter how dark, angry, and stormy my father’s temperament could become, I always felt that he was wise and a deep well of knowledge. I trusted him. He’d seen some shit. Had to defend himself in the war, squatting to eat meals so that he could spring into action or run when needed. Built many structures, shelters. Dug a pond. Raised some fish. Cultivated acres worth of plants and herbs. Bartered, traded, created.
I watched a documentary that spanned 23 years, titled “The Betrayal” or nerakhoon in Lao that dragged feelings to the surface that I never knew existed.
It was about The Secret War, the diaspora of Lao folx, the adjustment to life in the U.S., gangs, pain, familial change and heartache.
So I poured a glass of wine, lit some incense at my dad’s dedicated spot on the porch, and smoked a cigarette. A semi-rare treat.
Here is what I said aloud, while ugly-crying:
“Dad. I wish we could drink a beer together, while smoking a cigarette, and having you tell me how to grow these damn plants into thriving plants.
I wish I could have known how to forgive earlier than I did so that we could have shared these moments before COVID took you from us.
I khao jai you now.”
I understand you now. Translated literally, I enter your heart now.
Lao, as a language that is so tonal is incredible in the that in every word, a slight difference in tone can become a turn of phrase.
Khoi hahk jao – I love you.
Khoi hakk jao – I break you.
I may or may not have gotten that right, phonetic spelling-wise, but … you can imagine the slight difference in sound. And it’s the differences in circumstance that make (or break) your heart.
Khoi hahk jao.