When I was little, you and I would sit on the edge of the coffee table and watch a show about country line dancing together. You called it “butt dancing” because of the way the people swayed their hips. As you watched, you laughed under your breath and sighed, shaking your head. I was at the age when anything with the word “butt” in it was worth a million little laughs, and so that’s what I did, every time you said “butt.”
I went to Texas this week for a friend’s wedding. Drove eleven hours, stopping for muffulettas and beignets in New Orleans, as all good tourists do. I’d only been to Texas on a couple of occasions prior to this, once for a work conference where we ate lunch at a cattle ranch and I contemplated what it would be like to live among those wildflower-dusted hills every day, and when our family drove across the state when we moved cross-country for the first time. (We’ll get to that story soon.)
When I got home from the wedding, there was a package waiting on my doorstep. It was from you. Wrapped in red tissue paper was a painting you’d done for me (before or after the stroke, Dad? I forgot to ask). Purple and yellow flowers in a glass vase atop a wooden table blanketed with a pink filigree runner. You signed it at the bottom, your name almost transparent, hovering over the design.
I called you immediately and thanked you for it. You were in high spirits, and asked what I’d been up to, so I told you I’d been in Texas for a friend’s wedding.
“Texas?” you asked. “Is that where you went to school?”
“No, I was visiting a friend,” I explained. “I went to the University of North Carolina for school.”
“Oh, yes,” you said. I could hear your mind putting the pieces together as you spoke. Then you said something I never expected. “I remember that!”
“You do?” I was taken aback.
“Yes! Yes! I remember that. I think—maybe—we went there…?”
I grinned so wide it hurt. “You did! You came to see me there.”
“Yes, of course,” you continued with certainty. “I remember that.”
But here’s the thing, Dad. I didn’t believe you.
It’s so hard to know when you truly remember something and when something else is going on, when an inkling grabs hold of you when someone speaks a familiar word. Which memories are yours and which are ones just planted there, latching on to the tug of recognition deep in your mind?
My guess is that the truth is somewhere in the gray, fluttering about in the space between real and imaginary. You once caught me in a white lie when I was young, and you said to me in your philosophical way, “Ah, Ashley, but what’s the truth?” The truth was there in your eyes. You knew it already. You were waiting for me to admit it.
So here’s my admission, Dad. I don’t trust that you really remember what you say you do sometimes. I’m wracked with guilt for doubting when your sweet voice sounds so knowing and sincere, but still something holds me back. And sometimes I hold things back from you when we talk, because I can’t bear to have you say you remember, when I know I won’t believe you.
That’s why I didn’t tell you about the butt dancing, Dad. I didn’t tell you about how I can still picture those people on the television screen in their tight jeans and cowboy boots, hands clutching hats to their heads, dipping their shoulders to and fro while you mutter and laugh at them. I didn’t tell you that I can still hear your voice in that moment, our laughter filling the living room over the raucous music pouring from the TV.
I didn’t tell you that when I was in Texas at the wedding, I sat at a table and watched everyone butt dance for hours on end. And all I kept hearing was your laughter over the music, over and over again.
I promise I’ll try harder to trust, Dad. I won’t keep things from you, because that isn’t fair. You deserve the opportunity to disprove my doubt, and I need to be brave enough to take the chance. We’ll do it together. The truth will be what we make it.