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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Remembering

It's a funny thing, memory. Well, my memory is. I remember that I was at places, knew people, did things. Except I remember them like they were something that someone told me. Not like I was the person who was there. Most of those memories are gone now, anyway. A year or two years or three, and there's just vague fragments, like a half-remembered story or a distant dream - yet somehow, I still remember pretty much everything I ever learned.

There's stuff there though that I do remember. Little glittering shards of memory, paradoxically clear for no good reason. Much of it mundane, and a lot of it sad. Some of that involves my father.

My father was poor - my family's always been poor - but we got by. My father worked hard, and I helped out where I could. He was always a reader, though. He made reading seem like the most natural thing in the world, and for me it was.

I was slow to learn to talk. I was mostly a silent child until not long after I turned two. No attempted words or sounds. Then suddenly I managed a short, imperfect sentence, and was communicating in short sentences very quickly after that. A few months later, I discovered my father's sheet music. He'd played the bagpipes in his youth, and had some records and the music to go with them.

I immediately grasped the relationship between the records and the written music, and I'd sit for hours, leafing through sheets of music and listen to it play in my head.

Written English wasn't any harder. The spoken word and the written word were just... connected. When I was three, I picked up one of my father's books - Andre Norton's The Zero Stone - and haltingly began to read through it, pestering my dad with questions about words and generally pronouncing them badly - learning from context when he was at work (I still have some degenerate pronunciations). In the evening, we'd read over dinner (a practice my mother hated) and in a month, I'd finished the book.

For my second book, Alan Garner's The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. For my fourth birthday, my father bought me Frank Herbert's Dune. Shortly after that, Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings for Christmas (I didn't read The Hobbit until quite some years later). My father kept me well-supplied with books, but I wasn't in school yet, and had more time to read than he did. When I was five, and not yet started school, he took me to the local public library and got me a card. He spoke with the librarian and she spoke with me, and then she smilingly issued me with an adult's library card, signed and stamped by her on the back, so that I could borrow any book without question.

Looking back, I don't know how he managed that, but the entire library was open to me. Every second day, we had to go back so that I could return the books and borrow more. The sleep disorder phase of my autism had kicked in, and I barely slept. I read books, mostly.

Some months later, I started first grade at school. Golly, now there was some excitement. Everyone's learning A, B, C and I'm sitting there thinking about marine biology and mesons, or reading Hamlet. You know how kids hate it when they first start school? I did too - but not for the same reasons.

Dad was very proud of me, and pointed out that I had access to the school library as well. That easily doubled my reading workload (though I'd finished them all by the end of the second grade).

He comforted me when they started keeping me most days in the 'special school' attached to the main one. It was called the remedial school, and it was for kids who just couldn't manage all sorts of intricacies, like reading, or talking, who couldn't hear or speak - and apparently me.

Why? Well, I guess it was probably because I never did any work. None at all. I never paid any attention either, really. Not for the first few years. There was nothing new to be had.

I passed all my exams though, always well and didn't get held back a year like some. I didn't like the remedial school very much, though. My dad could see there was something wrong, and I avoided it for a while. Finally I told him that I spent most of my time sitting with kids whose highest academic achievements involved  fingerpainting and trying to make pictures with glue and cloth scraps. Kids who had trouble figuring out which way up their lunchboxes were supposed to be.

My father was very angry, and very quiet. The following day, he went to the school principal and was angry and quiet at him too. Quite pointedly. That was the last day I spent in the remedial classes - well, almost.

Most of the rest of school didn't go so well anyway. One day, after school, I simply walked away and kept walking. My father found me - quite some miles away rather later. I don't remember what he said, but he made it alright again for a while.

Stumped for what to do with me, I spent much of my sixth and seventh years teaching in the more advanced remedial classes. I suppose it kept me from being a bother to the other students. I don't know how it happened, exactly, but the teacher who arranged it had a long discussion with my father beforehand. It seems the sort of thing he would have had a hand in.

High School was worse. I'd just been diagnosed with a terminal illness, and I was expected to live only a few more years. On the social ladder, I was on the rung just above the albino blind girl. I was beaten regularly by other students. Enough for it to seem like it was every day. After two and a half years of trying to pretend that school wasn't happening to me, I passed all my exams with the highest scores in the school's history, got my results, and walked away before the second semester, never to return.

By that stage, I was already working part time, and I was pretty sure I could make that a full-time job.

I got home, and I spoke to my father about it, and he nodded and he told me, "Don't let anyone make your decisions for you. Not the important ones. Not me. Not your mother. You've got a brain, and you're smart, and you can do anything you set out to do if only you stick at it."

And I did. I chose to work, and I worked hard. I expected the next few years to be my last (and they very nearly were), and I wanted to be productive before I died. As it is, I survived that phase of the illness - though it is still with me.

My father gave me music, language, and a serious case of the stubborns. He supported me when I needed it, and spanked me when I needed that too (and by golly, I certainly did sometimes).

He helped me to learn to think, to learn to respect people, to listen and to be my own damn person. Even when he didn't approve of my choices.

"Life is a test," he told me, "Everything is a lesson. You stop learning when you die. Maybe not even then."

On Sunday morning, my father died after 17 months of pancreatic cancer. Maybe he's stopped learning. Maybe he hasn't.

But I remember him. I remember his lessons, and the environment he provided for me. The example he set for me. A reader, a writer, a poet, a philosopher, a teacher, a parent and for many years, my only unfailing friend. There was more. So much more to him, that it could fill a book - more than one. There's not enough that can be said to do the man justice - although, perhaps that's true of any person.

I may never be his equal - but I know that if I never stop trying, that might just be good enough.

27 comments:

  1. Massive hugs, Tateru. Your father was clearly a treasure. I am so very sorry for your loss.

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  2. *huge hugs and sniffles*

    *smiles at Tateru*

    We're here for you hon.

    *kisses on the forehead*

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  4. http://flickr.com/photos/cbredgrave/2254098100/

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  5. As long as you live, Tateru, your father lives in you. The good work he did in raising you and helping you reach your full potential is to the benefit of, not only you, but all of us.

    "I know that I'm a prisoner to all my father held so dear, I know that I'm a hostage to all his hopes and fears, I just wish I could have told him in the living years..."

    Keeping you and yours in my thoughts this day.

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  6. Thanks for sharing some of what your father meant to you with the rest of us. He sounds like a remarkable person.

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  7. It took me until the end of second grade to finish the school library, and I nearly got thrown out of third grade because the teacher thought I was cheating during spelling tests. (I was reading Poe.) Eventually, I skipped grades and became the weird little girl who was younger than everyone else. These days, I'm just mildly agoraphobic and happier to stay in with a piano than socialize.

    It sounds like your dad was really there for you every step of the way, and I can't imagine what that might have been like, despite wishing for it many times. My grandmother was that person for me, and I lost her to a hard battle with breast cancer just a couple of years ago. I won't lie - I miss her every single day and often wish she were here with me. However, being able to look back on her and what she gave me, and know that it's something I will never, ever lose.... well, that's something to be thankful for and treasure, because it's not something everyone gets a shot at.

    I sincerely hope you will always remember your good times together.

    much love,
    thaumata

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  8. *hugs*

    Thank you for sharing your memories with us and I am sorry to hear about the loss of such a special person to you.

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  9. What a marvellous post, Tateru. Thank you for showing so much of yourself and of your father. He will always be with you.

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  10. I'm really sorry to hear about your loss Tateru. I lost my father after a short illness not long before Christmas, and there's really not much that anyone can or will say which will bring you much comfort at the moment. But one thing which will help is just being with family, and talking, and remembering. Lots of people's thoughts are with you.

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  11. *gives you a big hug in tears*

    What a wonderful post. An excellent tribute to your Dad.

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  12. I'm truly sorry to hear about your loss. I know it doesn't come as a surprise to you — except, perhaps, as how your Dad stubbornly "refused to go" at the very end, and endured his pain for so long.

    Your tribute to him is incredibly moving — I couldn't avoid shedding a tear or two, both for you and for your Dad. Thanks for sharing that with us.

    People don't really 'die' so long as they're remembered, and our memories will remain for quite some time. I wish that you continue to be a faithful guardian of all those happy memories for years and years to come.

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  13. OK, that brought a tear to my eye... which is rare. Tat, we never talked much except that one time around the time of your interview with me, and I remember thinking 'What a remarkable person is she'.

    Now I understand how you became the remarkable person that you are today.

    I don't believe in an afterlife, but if there is, our fathers must be discussing music now. I still miss him, that's why I am swallowing hard now, typing this, over two years on.

    Another big warm hug from Tish C.

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  14. Earlier today, I was thinking about how much you've helped me in SL through your writing. I came to your blog with the intention of writing a simple thank-you note. I was so saddened to read of your father's death.

    Your post is a beautiful tribute to an obviously wonderful man. How fortunate you were to have such a father.

    Thank you for opening your heart in this post, and thank you for all that you do, Tateru.

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  15. Tateru,
    That was beautiful. Sad, but a truly beautiful short autobiography.
    I actually happened by your location in Second Life and became fascinated with you work. Then I went to your 'Massively' website which led to me to this blog. WOW. You are a modern miracle. I'd love to have you for a friend. Take care, Fixx Paine

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  16. That's a wonderful tribute to an excellent father. My deepest condolences, Tat.

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  17. I dont know you but I fell that I want to bring a HUGE HUG to YOU!

    /Tina

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  18. My condolences, Tateru. Thank you for sharing your emotions with us. It is obvious you father did such a great job, helping you to become the person you are.

    You are very much in my thoughts.

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  19. Wow.

    That..
    made me cry, I rarely cry tears and haven't cried so close as much when I lost my mother a few years ago... I send you my most heartful sorry for your loss..

    Just remember, it is the privilege of the time you did spend, all the happy and sad memories that you have gained with being your loved ones, those are the ones that count.

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  20. Thank you for sharing those bright beautiful memories of your relationship with your father.

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  21. A lovely tribute to your father, Tateru. I'm sure he would be touched, I know it brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing it with all of us.

    My thoughts and prayers are with you and those close to you.

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  22. MaryLou Infinity8:52 AM

    My deepest respect, Tateru. My deepest condolences.

    I am deep sorry for you.

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  23. My deepest condolences, Tateru.

    /me sends the biggest hugs she ca muster

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  24. Tateru,
    Your elegiac story is touching, and its articulation is a fine testament to the things your father built into you. The far greater elegy, though, is the life that you continue to live and through which you bless so many of us in the SL community.
    In memoriam,
    Kage Seraph

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  25. Tat, what a beautiful eulogy. I can see how much he loved you and how much it was returned. I honor his memory for the beautiful woman he helped create.

    -- Sho

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  26. My condolences Tateru..

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  27. I just now found and read this blog post. Tat, I understand what you are going through. I lost my father just over a year ago, to an unexpected heart attack. I WAS Daddy's girl and he never thought I asked too many questions. I miss him every day and dream about him every night. There are tears rolling down my cheeks right now. If you need to talk.. or just a hug.. you know how to find me in world *warm comforting hugs*

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