Like Raymond Carver I also have a photograph of my father. I found it last night whilst sorting through boxes looking for Christmas ornaments. It's a photo I had put away intentionally, buried deep under old work files and papers I had written in college. A photo that I had no desire to see again.
This picture was not given by him. My aunt had given it to me when I turned seventeen. "You look so much like your father," she had said, and I remember feeling the creep of discomfort, looking away. I didn't know how to respond. As I recall I mumbled something about my uncle telling me that before. She went on as I sat in awkward silence, her tone collusive; the family was just outside on the patio and this was forbidden conversation.
She spoke of how cool he was, driving around town on his motorcycle. He was in a band, a local bad boy who drove the girls crazy with his flirting. She spoke as if we were both schoolgirls and she was confessing to me her secret crush.
I don't recall all the things she said that day, but I do recall the comparison of our mannerisms, our shared habits, the similarity of our laughs. He was, and is still, my uncle's best friend. She said they visited him in Florida every summer. I took this information in, but not with curiosity; rather, with a growing feeling of desperation. This was a conversation I had never wanted to have. I wanted to clamp my hands over my ears and block out the words as she drew closer, watching for some reaction, some dramatic change in my countenance to prove that her memories were affecting me as they were affecting her.
"Do you remember what your father looked like?"
Those words finally struck me. I realized that this was where we had been heading all along. This was the thing that had been sitting in my throat, a hardened mass that made it difficult to breathe. I recall saying something non-committal like "Yes. He looked like me," but my ambiguous response did nothing to deter her conviction.
"Come on. I want to show you something."
Her next words to me need not have been spoken. They came hurtling from her mouth through a vacuum in time. They had been spoken already, at that moment when she had first said "You look so much like your father." They had been hovering in the air around us, waiting.