By instinct, I sip on my coffee and think about the date. I do it every single morning, a way to place myself in the context of the day, date, year construct. My mind reels off the facts, 27th of November, 2022, Sunday. For an instant everything slows as my brain sends off tiny alarms telling me there is something important about this date. By rote, it appears in thought bubbles in my head. November 27th, Appa died.
I am on the phone, gingerly talking about the date with Amma as she remarks that no one remembers. I get it. It’s just a date. A date someone else got married, some one celebrating their birthday, some one anguishing into their pillow about that particular date. We talk about Appa for a bit and I hang up.
Taylor Swift’s Midnights croons in my ears as I walk around my home. My eyes track the lyrics on my phone but my mind is remembering odd things like rough callused hands, deep lines on a firm palm, sinewy forearms and deeply tanned skin. Around and around I go in a blur in my home, my mind a whirlwind, going back in the vortex of time and memories. Appa on a TVS moped. Appa sitting on a rexin sofa in Coimbatore, Appa on a scooter. Appa pretending to bowl in the tiny front yard of our home with his son and nephew. Appa in cricket whites turned a particular shade of yellow and brown at the arm holes and collar because of sweat and grime despite repeated washes. Appa’s paunch as he sits on the sofa and watches TV. Appa’s shiny bald forehead where the light glances off before it hits my eyes.
I remember other things, like the factory smells, the grease sometimes on his palms, the dried skin of his heels, the sound of his bike on a distant road. I close my eyes and I can remember most of the shirts he wore while I was growing up. Memory is a wonderful thing amalgamating decades of images into composites. I peel off each layer, discarding it into neat piles. Appa as a new father, appa as an employee, appa as a husband to my amma, appa as my siblings’ father. Each person is like the new turn of a kaleidoscope, vastly different from my experience of this one person as my appa. I long for more visceral memories and come up wanting. In his fifty nine years on earth, I was part of thirty. Of the thirty, I only have a handful that feature just appa and I. All of those are images of my riding pillion on his bike in the early morning Madras air from the railway station to home.
I wonder what version of me appa got. I wonder what he would tell me if I asked him who I was to him. I never asked. I will never know.
I was insanely proud of being his daughter. I still am. My identity as Giri’s daughter is one I carry with pride. I just wish I knew he knew.
Anniversaries are days I reflect on what it means to reconnect through space and time. Active remembering brings lumps of pain to my throat. I feel the memories in tangible ways, like tears streaming down my face. Like the way my stomach remembers the day he died and clenches itself. I look at his picture and remember the day it was taken. I look at old albums and wonder why we do not have any candid pictures. I ache for all the things that we can no longer create. I look at pictures of other family members with my babies and feel pangs for all the what if he had lived moments.
In morbid ways, I wonder what it will be like past when I am gone. I wonder if I am doing enough to leave no regrets behind.
Today will be snatches of tears, memories and forgetting and berating myself for struggling to remember and hold on.
Death is cruel because it takes people away. Time is worse because it takes memories away.