Contents - This Great Society - Issue 5, Mythology - December 2009/January 2010
Thoughts and Analysis
Ryan Walter Wagner
Laura Milligan - From Tactile Memories
Illustration by Ryan Walter Wagner

The sea of phone calls in the first 48 hours churned en masse. I cannot recall the finer details of the cloudy dialogues, leaving me to wonder how family and friends perceived my father’s death. I do not inquire and they do not offer. If I think about it too long the silence is deafening. One conversation rings clearly in my memory; I was asked if he left behind a note. When I replied no, it was met with quiet puzzlement. While my sister and I sorted through my father’s belongings I silently prayed for the unveiling of a letter addressed to me: not the missing will, not the coveted photos I now hoard, but a scrap of scrawl.

My father was diagnosed legally blind at age 15 due to macular degeneration, an eye disease that runs in his family. A stay-at-home parent, he was limited to driving the car down our country laneway. My mother must have looked the other way when he took up woodcutting for the winter with a chainsaw and a pyramid of logs. His limited visual field meant he rarely exercised his penmanship. My first recollection of his writing is around fourteen years old, after my parents divorced and I began receiving holiday cards signed solo by Daddyo or Pops. I saved them all, their rarity standing out amongst the other cards and letters I keep tucked away for a rainy day of reflection. While away at university, the trickling of paper contact slowed when my father fell in love with a woman who eagerly took over the handwriting tasks. Those cards never gave me the same feeling, even if I knew he was the lyrical composer. I resented that his childlike X’s and O’s were now polished. I continued to save them, but found myself coming back in fascination to a Post-it with a phone message he jotted down for me.

On the surface I understand what drove him to his decision – a terrible breakup that shattered the new life he had so carefully built. However, I am slower at processing how his mind walked to the edge of a plank without looking back. Why in his weakest moment did he choose to be terrifyingly bold, while my sister and I jumped up and down waving helpful flags? Why did he spend the evening listening to us yammer about the day only to shroud our parting goodbyes in darkness? I have longed for the individually addressed letters or the recorded confession to explain why he chose a definite escape. Although only 12 to 37 per cent of suicide victims write a confessional letter, I was convinced my father and best friend had intended to leave me a definite clue. Wasn’t that what the films, books and songs I devoured implied – that there should have been an official archive of departure if he really cared?

Two rings were found on his dresser, rings that never left his fingers whether canoeing, cooking, hiking or gardening. First, a silver ring fashioned from a spoon, a relic from a long-ago trip to Nova Scotia worn on his pinky. Until I carelessly lost mine, we both sported matching souvenirs. The second ring aglow alongside the spoon was his promise ring, an eroding band of gold nuggets from his Yukon courtship of my mother. The decorative etching was no longer visible from years of antique restoration, dish washing and dog walking. My sister now wears this ring with pride. Presented to us in the funeral home, we each took the respective bands and slipped them on our fingers with nary a word. I do not know what my sister was thinking, but I secretly told myself that maybe this gesture signified our note. Too depressed to pick up his magnifier, too clouded to record us a message, too hasty to rethink his decision – this removal of adornment was his version of a poem.



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