Listening To it Fall
fiction by Mormei Zanke
When I was younger my Dad would take me on long road trips on a whim. He would wake me up before the rest of our family was awake by opening my door and letting the hallway light stream onto my pumpkin patterned bedspread. He’d leave the door ajar like an open-ended question and I would fumble in the dark wondering where we were going this time.
We’d drive for hours, sometimes for the whole day, and as much as I’d beg him to tell me where we were going he would never say. Sometimes I couldn’t even tell when we arrived because the places we went were so ambiguous. One time we went to Jimmy’s Palace, a pizza joint 300 km away because my Dad heard it was good from his friend’s cousin. We went to lakes, amusement parks, mountains, baseball fields, movie theatres, everywhere. For every normal establishment available in our town within 30 km we went to the one ten times as far, just because we could.
It wasn’t until recently, twenty years later, that I started to think more about why he went to so much trouble to get me out of bed on Saturday mornings. Our trips are what I remember of my father and everywhere I go I am reminded of the time we played miniature golf, the time we drove all day and all night to make it to the 21st annual trombone parade, the time that soccer game lasted seven hours, and even the time I lost my pink hippopotamus sunglasses. It’s all there: every milk mustachioed smile, every shared bag of granola, every kilometer rolled off on the odometer.
I tried to explain this to my Aunt Helen over shrimp pâté hors d’oeuvres while endless home videos of my father flashed across my Uncle Bert’s ancient television set, but she didn’t get it. All she said was, “It must have been nice to spend time with your father like that.”
Yes, of course it was. But that wasn’t all it was to me, and I don’t think it was all it was to him either. He took me to those places for a reason, however arbitrary they seemed he took me because they mattered somehow. He took me because he knew this time would come when all I had was this faded unreal picture of him and I needed some last direction, some last human association with him. Something I could think about when the cold metallic alarm echoed off the peeling stucco, or in the car when the rain droplets streamed lonely across the windshield. He just knew, and because of that I was certain those weekend retreats away meant something.
I’ve relived every one of my childhood weekends, hoping to find some hint or reminder of what his purpose was. At first I thought there was nothing, embarrassed with my childlike fixation on something nonexistent, but then I remembered one Saturday late in November after I had just turned fourteen. I was young enough not to think much of what he said but old enough to understand his meaning. We were driving to Lake Madison, a lake hidden in an overgrown pine forest forgotten after nearby farms deposited runoff and caused it to be covered in a thin layer of algae. Of course I didn’t know at the time that this was our destination, but in hindsight it all made sense that this was the place he chose to go with me on this particular hazy morning.
“What is your favourite thing to do when it’s raining?” I remember him asking.
“Lying by the window and listening to it fall,” I replied, imagining it as I said it.
“It sounds nice. It makes me feel… better in some way.”
“Is it a happy sound?”
“No, not really.”
“Then, why do you like it?”
“I just – It’s hard to explain.”
“Do I have to?”
“Yeah, come on, here we are on an adventure, father and daughter, driving through this melancholy forest, just give it a go, I’m sure you can explain it to me.” “That’s it.”
“You like the sound because it’s… melancholy?”
“Would you say there’s a goodness to the sadness?”
“Yeah. I would say that.”
We kept driving for a while thinking about that in the silence of the old forest, and wondering when we would hear rain fall again.
My father believed there could be goodness to the sadness. That has stuck with me in life like a forgotten loonie that sits at the bottom of a pocket, unused, but still valuable.
Since that day I haven’t thought about why I liked the sound of falling rain. Now each time it rains I think about that long car ride, the quiet road, and my father’s steady hand on the wheel.
After all these years, I’m certain this is what my dad meant. This is what he wanted me to remember without him. I realize now that each place he took me to on those early Saturday mornings were places that weren’t necessarily happy, but often melancholy, they ached of loneliness, and yet, I never noticed because of how happy I felt inhabiting them. I felt more alive, more aware of who I was in those moments with my father. There was goodness in the sadness. There was brilliance in our solitary travel from one forgotten place to the next. It felt as though someone had just told the both of us we only had one more day to live, and we decided to spend it together, driving towards the unknown, happy just to be going somewhere one last time.
I wanted to tell him somehow that I had finally figured it out, that I had solved his riddle; understood what he was trying to teach me after all these years. So yesterday, I went to go visit him.
I woke up before any of my family was awake and propped open the door of my nine-year-old daughter’s bedroom. As I sat at the kitchen counter she came to me, sleep still in her eyes, and hair scrunched up with a pink hair tie.
“Where are we going this time?” She asked.
“Shhh, you’ll find out when we get there.” I told her.
We drove in the darkness; her little head resting on the window, her breath fogging up the glass. I thought about all the times I fell asleep with my dad at the wheel, and wondered how many times he looked over at me asleep and dreaming. I woke her up as soon as we entered the forest, she liked to see the towering trees and rocks overgrown with moss.
“Are we going to see Grandpa?” She asked as soon as she had peeked outside.
“Yes,” I said, “It’s been a while hasn’t it?”
She nodded sagely and kept quiet the rest of the way. I parked under the branches of a crooked pine and we got out of the car and stepped onto the worn path. We walked for a few minutes, her small hand in mine, then the path opened up and we were there.
The sun was high in the sky and its beams slanted onto the green water, refracting as it hit the surface. I thought about him. How I missed him. How I wished I could just have a conversation with the guy. I felt lonely there at the place we had laid him to rest, and then I remembered why I was there in the first place.
“I figured it out,” I told him.
“What did you figure out?” my daughter asked.
“I figured out that sometimes, there can be goodness in the sadness, sometimes loneliness strengthens you, it gives you courage.” I squeezed her little arm to demonstrate and she laughed, and I laughed, and our laughter echoed against the rock and it almost for a moment felt like he was laughing with us.
I looked out on the water acknowledging him, held my daughter in my arms, and said thank you to the guy, thanks for making this easier.