I forget his face sometimes. I mean, I can’t see it resting in my hands like I used to do when he’d stand over me, his hands around my waist. I can’t see his eyes looking into mine. I can sense the body but I can’t see the eyes. I guess there was no time I told myself to remember the moment. Why remember something you believe will be there the next day and the next?
I know I looked in his eyes at our wedding when we said our vows. I know I was holding his hands. I know I kissed him at the reception every time someone clinked their glasses. But I don’t remember looking into his eyes. I remember stopping at the bowling alley and eating hamburgers still in our wedding clothes before we drove to Sioux Falls. I remember taking the dozens of hair pins out of my hair in the hotel that night and laughing at the sticking up curly mess they left. I know we made love but I don’t remember the details. I remember opening gifts in the living room and laughing at the big ugly green lamp we received, but I don’t remember the sound of his voice.
It’s because I don’t remember his eyes or the sound of his voice that I’ve been afraid all these years that we never were, that he never existed, that his death also took our history. Our daughter exists and she is real and her eyes look like his, but as she stares back at me she is our daughter, not her father, and her life is her own creation because she was only 11 days old when he died. We didn’t raise her. I did.
But on this dark, gray, rainy morning more than 23 years later, listening to Roberta Flack sing “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” a small detail emerged. It unfolded in my brain like it was always there but was covered by a piece of paper and today that paper blew away. It was just there, so small, and yet I burst into tears in the parking lot of the gym so happy it was there and so sad that he wasn’t.
I remembered the softness of the hair on his chest, quiet and warm.
And from that remembering came a whole bunch more and I thought of them eagerly, voraciously, my eyes shut tightly not wanting to forget again. ‘That’s right!’ I thought. I loved to touch his hair lightly, run my fingers across his muscles, with my head resting just below his shoulder. We’d lie on the bed and talk for hours listening to music with just the light from the stereo shining on us. I could almost feel it.
I’ve always remembered the feeling of missing him when he was away at work, the thrill of hearing his truck pull into the drive, holding his hand while we drove, watching him drum the steering wheel to one of his favorite songs. I remember watching him feed cows and vaccinate pigs, sitting with him in the tractor in the pitch dark waiting for his brother to return from combining beans, singing at the top of our lungs. He was Diana Ross and I was Lionel Ritchie. I remember taking off my shirt one Sunday afternoon in spring, walking through the pasture, feeling free, making love, feeling so alive. I remember watching the last episode of MASH, crying on his lap. I remember hearing him sneak back in the house to grab a vase in which to put the flowers he’d bought me for Valentine’s day. I remember how he cried when he cut Carlene’s cord and held her and sang to her for the first time.
And now I remember the warmth.
Sometimes I think I’ve clogged my life with so many people that I don’t know which ones are truly important. Thank god for this morning and for Roberta Flack and for that bittersweet song that helped me remember that long ago there was a boy who made me feel unlike anyone ever has and that he had soft hair on his chest that I loved and that I’ll never forget again.
First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
The first time ever I saw your face
I thought the sun rose in your eyes
And the moon and the stars were the gifts you gave
To the dark and the empty skies, my love,
To the dark and empty skies
And the first time ever I kissed your mouth
I felt the earth move in my hands
Like the trembling heart of a captive bird
That was there at my command, my love
That was there at my command
And the first time every I lay with you
I felt your heart so close to mine
And I knew our joy would fill the earth
And last till the end of time my love
It would last till the end of time
The first time every I saw your face, your face, your face