Goodbye, Dad

What would I be thinking if I were in her place?

"Could you drive a little faster, please?" she asked as I finished taking the car down the steep curves and the road began to straighten out at Sha'ar Hagai. I nodded, slid my hands over the steering wheel in an attempt to wipe off the flop sweat and stepped on the gas a little more. I don't like driving at night, certainly not with the kids asleep in the back seat and definitely not on the highways.

"How are you?" I asked because I couldn't find the right words. She just kept on silently staring at her cell phone, checking that she hadn't missed a call. What is she thinking about now? I tried to guess what was going through her head. What would I be thinking if I were in her place, God forbid? I'd probably be flooded with memories, I thought to myself. What memories does she have of him? They must be good ones, otherwise she wouldn't be crying. They must be childhood memories. At times like this, childhood memories are the only ones that are etched into the brain.

Illustration by Amos Biderman
Illustration by Amos Biderman

For some reason I picture her as a little girl with a huge smile and a genuine laugh, the kind only children have, and now I see how her father, much younger, is picking her up in his arms. This is the picture she must have in her mind now, I was sure, even though this memory must have been shaped by those American movies where whenever a character misses a parent there is a flashback to an old home movie of happy smiling children surrounded by their loving, protective parents.

What would I recall? And why won't any memories of my own father come to me right now? I've always been so certain of my prodigious memory, able to recite every little thing I experienced from age three through kindergarten, and now I find I'm inventing memories that never happened. Is it the same for her? Maybe she doesn't have any memories of him, maybe she's trying at this very moment to insert him into childhood pictures that he was never a part of. Inserting him by force in the preschool birthday party that never was, making him build a sand castle on the beach with her.

And where the hell is my father in all those memories I know I should have? Why doesn't he appear before my eyes? Maybe I'm just anxious, I thought to myself. Yes, I'm too nervous. I'll breathe a little more slowly. Ah, OK - I smile briefly as the childhood images return in full force. I wasn't mistaken, no. I'm almost happy for me, for her, for our parents. There he is in all his glory, the superhero, an inseparable part of the picture, coming to visit me in preschool. And here he is with the old Sussita in the garage. I wiped the smile off my face - This wasn't the time. She was crying softly now and looking at her cell phone again. "Please, a little faster," she repeated when we got on the Trans-Israel Highway.

I really wanted to floor it, but I couldn't. I hoped she could see it in my face. There was no chance of even getting up to the speed limit at that point. The car seemed to be sliding, first right and then left. Maybe it was the wind, that wasn't blowing? Or maybe one of the tires needed air. I'm sorry, I wanted to say, but I can't go any faster. I have no control over the car, and with every little bend in the road I'm just praying we won't end up in a ditch. These French cars, I thought, I need a new car, something with more stability that gives a feeling of total confidence. And I know that this car is fine, so why do I feel as if I'm fording a raging river?

Once again she looks at her phone and I take the blame onto myself. For a few days now she's been saying something's wrong with her phone and she's not getting all her calls and messages. I should have taken it in rather than just hoping it would somehow heal itself. Had she received the first phone call from the hospital, we surely would have been there by now. All I could do now was try to drive a little faster, and I couldn't even do that. I'm sweating again and the headlight beams from every oncoming car seem to shatter into a thousand pieces, sending me into a whirlwind of fear and mechanical taps on the brakes.

Something's wrong with the windshield, I thought. I'll replace it, no, I'll replace the car and it will have an anti-glare windshield especially for night driving. Maybe if the kids weren't sleeping in the back seat I could drive a little faster. I give her an apologetic look and am relieved to see an expression on her face that contains no resentment. But it's an expression I've never seen before, and I don't know how to interpret it. A hollow look that might mean she is not having a single clear thought of any kind. Maybe this is the expression of someone who cannot herself identify this new feeling and is trying to cope with it, to label it, to understand its meaning for the first time.

"Faster," she said, and I knew it wasn't from anger, or because she could actually sense how fast I was driving, if at all. I could have stopped on the shoulder right then and I'm sure she still would have asked me to drive a little faster. Does it really matter if we make it in time? If it were me I'd want to make it. But I don't know why. Curiosity, perhaps? A desire to give one last look that just says despite it all I love you very, very much. Or perhaps the expectation of a last look from him, a look that says I hope you know that despite it all I always loved you. Is that it? A request for mutual forgiveness, a goodbye expressed in one last look?

As I turned right at the Kfar Sava exit I told her, "Soon I'll let you off and then I'll go on with the kids. OK?"

She didn't answer, and stared at the phone in her hand. She didn't say a word. Now she was crying, and her entire body shook uncontrollably.

"The kids," I scolded her shamelessly.

She took a deep breath, closed her eyes and said, "Drive slow."