I hadn’t opened the binder for more than two months. I couldn’t even remember why I stopped reading its pages. And yet there it was, on my living room coffee table, waiting patiently for its turn among the piles of books, magazines and research notes demanding my attention.
My father’s book has waited 20 years for me to read it. I guess another two months wasn’t such a big deal.
On this particular night, my husband was going to be out late. My work was done (enough of it, anyway), my house was fairly tidy and I even had a big pot of my favorite Barley Minestrone Soup on the stove. I had at least two hours ahead with no interruptions.
It was time to go back to my father’s book.
My father always said that everything he wanted to say to me and my brothers, but couldn’t, was in the novel he wrote during the months before his death, just after Father’s Day, in June 0f 1991. You would think we’d be eager to read it. We each started to, but never managed to finish it — partly because it’s written in a style that is antiquated and cumbersome. (My dad placed his novel in Australia during the mid-1800s and tried to mimic the language of the day.)
But for me it was also because I was afraid I’d be disappointed. That there wouldn’t be any great insights. That his words would not solve the lingering mysteries of his life, or the frightening, painful death that he endured without letting any of us know that he was ill.
In January, I decided that the specter of that book was messing with my mind — with my own goals to write a book and my emerging sense of self as a middle-aged mother of two grown sons. So I mustered my courage and dove back in.
For several nights I slowly poured over each chapter, trying to read behind the lines and understand the process behind his choice of story line, characters and setting. I read with purpose, pausing after each chapter to jot down notes about my initial impressions. I looked for fictionalized interpretations of my real-life experience as his daughter. I read with kinder, more understanding eyes than I had offered as a self-centered, 35-year-old who still carried no small amount of resentment about her largely absent father.
The first time I tried to read my father’s book I didn’t get past the first 40 pages. This time I made it to page 58. There, to my great distress, I discovered that some pages of his manuscript were missing. So I start again, at page 64, hoping the answers I am seeking aren’t lost forever with those six missing pages.