Sitting idly on the couch, flipping through the pages of my book, I am startled by a movement in my hair. I jump slightly, instantaneously realizing with relief that it is Michael. He’s sitting next to me on the IPad, dazed and playing Clash of Clans. This is normal. His right hand, however, is holding a long strand of my hair. I don’t dare move. I’m a little bewildered, caught off guard. He’s not paying me any mind, with his eyes fixed on the IPad, and his autopilot hand has latched onto my hair. He’s rubbing the strand between his thumb and index. Less of a gesture of affection, more a distracted fidgeting quirk, his hand continues tangling for about thirty seconds, and then abruptly yields, returning attention back to the responsibilities of the game. My mind abandons the perspective lives of the characters in my book, and focuses back to my own.
This small gesture threw my mind in a spin. How does he view me? His father? He’s drawn the standard, Crayola portraits of us, Mom with long, dark hair, dad with short, black hair, blue eyes. But which seemingly insignificant traits and mannerisms will remain significantly lodged in his memories of us and stamp his childhood in days to come? Which will be the touchstone traits he attaches to us? I think of my parents.
It was summer of 1986. Barefoot and tightly wrapped in the scratch of damp, chlorine scented towels, we exited the green astro turf of the pool area through black iron gates. Orlando, Florida. The sun was setting as we trudged up the cement steps of the Holiday Inn. The spirited laughter and yelps from the pool grew more distant with each step. Our damp feet left fleeting inscriptions of our presence onto the pavement as we pitter pattered our way. The ephemeral glow of dusk stretched our shadows against the brick as we strolled single file through the open air corridor to our hotel room, breathing in the warm, humid air. With teeth chattering, we stop at our door. Cicadas hum from the nearby palms, filling the silence as we wait. We hear the snap of the dead bolt unlock from inside, and mom answers the door. She’s wearing an anxious grin and her eye brows are raised. We take slight notice, but with childlike indifference we brush past her without demur into the chill of the air conditioned hotel room and bounce unto the beds.
Peg and Bren make their way towards the cooler to get juice boxes, as Fran and I watch TV. A sudden shriek breaks the monotonous drone of the television.
“Nooooo!!! What?! No no no no!!”
Peggy’s crying behind the obstructed view of the bathroom wall. My mom is smiling. Fran and I sit up in alerted confusion. Suddenly a man who appears to resemble my dad steps out into the openness of the room. Appears to be my dad, only he is missing a very vital distinguishing feature. He is sans moustache. No stache. Our stache. Our dad has a mustache. This is a fact, an undisputable constant, a fundamental, undeniable truth. Who is this bare lipped imposter? Not our dad.
My sister is looking in the sink, tears staining her cheeks, irrationally and desperately in search of finding our beloved mustache. Traces of shaven facial hair litter the sink bowl. We all lean over and gape at the remnants in denial with wide eyed astonishment.
Our eyes suspiciously rebound back to the stranger amongst us. We approach him with apprehensive cautiousness…. Slowly… He is sitting on the bed now, smiling. Gradually, resemblance begins to filter in and take shape. We begin to touch his face and upper lip like a scene out of Planet of the Apes. Surrounding him and examining him like an extraterrestrial being. My sister, Peggy, is outwardly the most distraught, but disappointment could be detected in all of our eyes. I remember the feeling distinctly. We didn’t even get to say goodbye.
Perhaps we were just a weird bunch, casting tears over a shaved stache, but we were attached to that stubble. From our innocent and naive perspectives, that mustache served as a vital keystone in the constructed character of our dad.
Which physical traits will Michael recall when he thinks of Mom in years to come? Will he remember my hands, as I do with my mother? Slender and lean, with raised veins I would playfully nudge- side to side- as time stood still in the quietness of church. Will he remember the crease in my furrowed brows when I scolded him? My worried stare while driving when pressing concerns are stirring? I wonder which keystone traits he will choose to govern his collective memories.
I don’t dare move, as he absentmindedly fidgets with a long, tangled strand of hair.