Nothing is quite so existential as the what-could-have-beens. Some people suffer far more from them than others but they are the solid trail of crumbs that lead us back into the haze of the past.
Send in your flash: 500 wordsish. Celebrate the cold weather. Or revile it. Write.
Father and Son by Jeffrey Castilla Wohl
My father once told me, “Son, someday you’ll be a man like me. You’ll see what it’s like to have life trials, things that test your will. So it’s better for you to learn sooner than later how to be, or at least act like, a man.”
Then he recited from memory (or perhaps it was improvisation) a list of manly qualities—the Do’s and Don’ts of becoming a man. At this point in my young life (I was six), I had already become accustomed to my father’s speeches. And I had a tendency to nod my head and meet his eyes with mine, but travel to other places mentally. I thought then that I was only obeying physically, but that my thinking only belonged to me.
I daydreamed a lot during that period of my life. On this particular occasion I thought about birds. I thought of their randomness, their random patterns of flight, their random stops during their southward migration, how they sat upon power lines at 4-way stops at dusk and dawn, and their seemingly random choices of mates.
But somehow, through all my daydreaming, at least one of my dad’s “manly” principles was able to penetrate my imaginative force field, deep into my subconscious, and become a suppressed memory that would only surface years later after extensive contemplation and reflection.
“A man never apologizes, ever.”
I tried then to think of all the times I had not apologized when I probably should have. The time I wrecked Nina’s car—I paid for the damage on the trunk, but I never apologized. The time I socked my younger brother in front of his girlfriend. The time I told that racist joke at my best friend’s New Year’s Eve party. The time I called my mom to vent and got angry and hung up on her when she didn’t agree with everything I said. The time I smashed my cousin’s violin on the front porch in a fit of anger. The time I spit on the window of my would-have-been fiancée’s car as she buckled herself in and revved the engine, the doors locked.
I thought of these things whenever I thought of my dead son. These were just a few of my favorite reasons to blame my dad for everything that went wrong in my adult life. And I thought of everything I had done wrong, and how I would make them right again, if I just, just, had another chance to do it all over again.
Lyle Rosdahl, a writer living in San Antonio, edits the flash fiction blog & best of in print for the Current. He created, facilitates and participates in Postcard Fiction Collaborative, a monthly flash fiction response to a photo. You can see more of his work, including photos, paintings and writing, at lylerosdahl.com.
Send your flash to firstname.lastname@example.org.