My Muse

I have to be quick about this. I have a cheesecake to bake and a floor to mop and I still need to get to the liquor store and I forgot the walnuts for the sauce and what am I going to feed the vegetarians?

But I promised myself two things today, besides the feast I am preparing for thirteen people tonight: first, some exercise and second, an hour to write and reflect on this impossible milestone: the 20th anniversary of my father’s death.

I got thing one accomplished by getting up at six (more easily than I expected, really) and hauling my butt up Mt. Nittany. It may not look like much of a mountain, but that thing is steep! And after yesterday’s long run, my legs were not particularly pleased with me. But that’s kind of what I wanted today–to extend myself, to push my muscles. To feel them working. The view at the top is always worth the climb and I sat there for twenty minutes or so, thinking about dad, talking to him (yep, out loud and everything), and reflecting on everything (well, you know, the highlights) that has happened in my life over the last twenty years.

God, it’s a lot.

Marriage, divorce, grad school x 2, marriage, kids x 2, friendships, short hair, long hair, travel, gardens, cats, coffee, career, hundreds of students taught, thousands of pages written….and so many of them about him.

Sometimes it feels like everything I’ve ever written has been about my father. Some things are obvious: the poems that make up my forthcoming chapbook, In This Dream of My Father, are specifically about him, about losing him. The memoir, obviously, too.

But even when I sit down to write other things, he finds a way in. I imagine him sitting with me, hanging out in a chair next to my desk or across the table at Wegmans (where everything gets written these days). He drinks coffee, steps out for a smoke and comes back. Brings me a treat to eat. Reads over my shoulder. Points out my grammar mistakes. Maybe he nods his head, maybe he laughs if I’m funny. I’m not, usually. Usually I’m writing about loss or anxiety or crushing love or, yes, death.

So, clearly, my father has been my muse. And his death, some kind of fairy dust or fertilizer sprinkled into my writing career, that has made so much bloom.

It’s hard to be grateful for such a thing, but then again, look at all those blossoms!

This is the first Dead Dad Day in eight years that I didn’t wake up in the morning and feel, in addition to the simple ache of his absence, the relentless, nagging ache of the unfinished memoir. I thought I would feel relieved by this, and I do, to a degree. But there is also the feeling–and I started to sense this as I got closer to completing the thing–of being disoriented, un-moored. As if I thought I could keep him with me as long as I had the book to write, but the minute it was done…well, then what?

And here I am, now, twenty years older than I was the morning we turned off his life-support. Four years younger than he was on that day. Happy marriage. Wonderful children. Good friends and good health. Poetry manuscripts about him written and being published. Memoir written and earnestly searching for a home. No major calamities to report, but also, nothing new to work on, either.

An odd, unexpected silence around me. As quiet as that mountain top this morning.  Not bad, but maybe just a little bit scary.

But I’ll sit here for another few minutes and listen to it. Finish my coffee and hear what it has to say. Then, off to the store, and back into the kitchen to cook for my friends, as I always do on this day, in his memory.

Richard D. Squillante
I miss you, Dad

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