Tonight like almost every night, I smear Vaseline between my toes, pull my hair into a bun, and go for a run with my Dad. Some nights I’m eager to sprint, opening my chest and elongating my stride the second I shut the door. Other times I stumble and begin halfheartedly, a combination of walking and jogging caused by a nagging injury or especially draining work day.
After I adjust my earbuds I’m gone; untraceable, feet pounding the pavement for hours. My father is somewhere in the world but not with me. We do not speak; our estrangement a mutual decision. So every night I run alone, listening to hundreds of songs from years in the past we shared together. This is how I choose to remember my father.
“And I get on my knees and pray we won’t get fooled again…”
“Out here in the fields, I fight for my meals…”
“There is a house in New Orleans they call the Rising Sun…”
“Rock and roll, hoochie koo…”
Every blue-sky Saturday morning we made soap bubbles cascade down the chrome of Dad’s car and rinsed with blasts of the hose, his radio tuned to the sounds of “wah” pedals and voices thick with cigarettes. My father in construction boots and blue jeans dancing on wet concrete, teaching me the Swim, the Monkey, the Jerk. At family parties my adolescent body shimmied and shook, performing coordinated go-go dance routines with my cousins. Before soccer games Dad smeared blacking under my eyes, lacing up my cleats to Queen, The Rolling Stones, The Who. English bands reminding me I was the champion of the world, why I couldn’t get no satisfaction, and don’t cry because it was only teenage wasteland.
I ignore the Muslims who chide me for carrying an iPod everywhere, insisting music is sinful as I plug my ears full of memories they can’t understand. They believe that only because they never fathomed a father choosing such a way to communicate; raising a child on music because music was what he truly loved. Growing up I knew what Jim Morrison looked like shirtless, exactly how Jimi Hendrix crooked his fingers as he knelt in front of a flaming guitar. My nightly post-bath ritual was jumping out of orbit on my parent’s bed to seventies classic rock, hair damp against my nightgown.
“Insanity laughs under pressure we’re breaking…”
“Keep on rockin’ in the free world…”
“Goin’ up to the spirit in the sky…”
“You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave…”
When you’re a runner you become accustomed to pain, trained in how to breathe through it. Biting your lip and clenching your fists you slowly stretch out leg muscles, deeply exhale when plunging limbs into ice baths. I completed my first marathon in five hours and fourteen minutes and seventeen seconds of soundtrack, Dad’s music still in everything. My calf muscles showcasing all the times I ran when I wanted to explode. Through thunderstorms, blood blisters, through tears, Roger Waters and Mick Jagger keeping me company.
I have no patience for people who suggest I reconnect with my father. Who don’t know what words were said that can never be taken back; will never recognize the soft hitch in a voice that comes from begging someone to see you. How I vowed to no longer be disappointed by someone who had children, even though he never wanted them. I run instead of arguing, wordlessly taping my bruised feet in order to finish another mile. I learn to breathe because I’ve been breathing for years and running for years, and outrunning everyone who told me girls don’t run, and Muslims don’t run, and it’s okay to be angry Lee; it’s okay to be angry. I miss my father every second of every day except when I don’t miss him at all.
“Slow ride, take it easy…”
“He’s a Pinball Wizard there has to be a twist…”
“All in all you’re just another brick in the wall…”
“Against the wind, we were runnin’ against the wind…”
The day I let my father go was like the last moment of sound on earth. I re-played every record, every live concert; choosing only to salvage the best of what I remembered from our relationship, of my parent. How driving in the front seat with Dad I always imagined we were on Abbey Road, live at Wembley, surviving the tragedy at Altamont. I still know the intro to every one of his favorite songs; can recognize a band in three notes or less.
I don’t run to fix anything, only to remember what was lost. The memory of being five and cradled roughly against my father’s work jacket, shrieking with laughter as I’m spun in the middle of a thirty year old guitar solo. I run through the nighttime into the past, hair so much longer and streaming out behind me. Silence excepting breathing, not-quite catching up to someone who doesn’t want to be found.
Photo Source: Leanne Scorzoni