From across the deck, the culprit looked up to see the three of us making figure-eights at each other.
There was a point, maybe around age seventeen, when I believed myself to have become a grownup, and it was a tragedy. I just wasn’t going to catch that giddy sensation in my throat anymore by hiding under tables and boring into rug patterns. Everybody mourns the loss of wonder, and maybe some people dabble with drugs because being high means seeing the face of an old wizard in a rock, or traveling light years at the sight of Star Trek glowing dashes.
It was through the eyes of others that I saw wonder hadn’t deserted me. Any time I walked beside a guy, whether on a hiking path or city street, they either took delight in or showed annoyance at the number of times I stopped to lean over an out-of-place weed flower or climbed a scaffolding to hang upside down.
Choosing men to date was as easy as picking the delighted ones over the annoyed ones.
I thanked my father:
Anywhere I go, I stop to touch and look at things like I’m new to the planet. That’s because you took us out in nature, to foreign countries or the backstage of theaters to show us…things. Their juxtaposition. Their beauty, ugliness or strangeness. With you, life had a transporting quality. Sometimes you’d say nothing, but I’d look up to see your head tilted toward a bee or a branch with your shiny eyes and half-smile. It’s like you had x-ray vision and saw glittering bones in everything. You passed this on to me and [my brother], and he’s passed it on to [my niece]. Basically, you’ve made the world wondrous for your entire progeny.
When I finished the speech, it looked to me like my father wasn’t paying attention. It was about a year ago. But last month, while he visited Los Angeles, we walked in the hills and strolled by the ocean, and out of nowhere, he mentioned those words and how they had sat in his heart. His eyes held their usual shine. Then he embarked on story he’d told me many times.
“You were three or four, and handed me a banana to peel,” he began, his expression soft. “Something struck you about the position of the fruit and the hanging peel,” he made his voice small and delicate to emulate three-year-old me. “Look baba, it’s sitting, you said. Remember?”
“No, I don’t,” I said, smiling, his tenderness just about undoing me. “I only remember your other reenactments of the sitting banana.” I was referring to the gesture he made whenever he told the story, bunching his fingers to a point. We laughed and took our time looking at the waves.
Every occasion we see each other, my father and I continue our decades-long dialogue about the nature of existence. On the beach, we were pleasantly interrupted by an extended family of ducks on shallow water letting out to sea. There were adults along with young ducks no bigger than a hand. They could’ve been a feathery version of my own extended family.
My nine-year-old niece sees the world with bewildered, shiny eyes too. To her, every petal and stone is important during a garden walk. So above her favorite garden, her father — my brother — hand-built her a treehouse with a skylight. At her birthday party, after the flitting little girls in fairy wreaths collected garden treasures, my brother and I retreated to the treehouse.
The treehouse is high up. It’s spacious and meticulous, with an almost industrial feel. The windows and slanted roof are constructed with clear, corrugated siding so that the interior is bathed in light and surrounded by a visible flurry of the outside green.
Inside, my brother contemplated the possibility of dismantling it so they could somehow keep it once my niece’s maternal grandparents moved from the property in the coming months. I wanted to cry. In my mind, I likened the situation to the time he and I were children and had to move from our house in Iran, leaving behind our special cartoon stain-glass window made up of our bright collection of stickers.
Leaving behind my niece’s magic house, built by her magic dad, was an unbearable thought.
On that trip, everything having to do with loss when it came to my family, became unbearable for me. Saying goodbye. Leaving. Missing the daily changes in the new baby.
Back in Los Angeles, my father and the Exceptionally Tall Man bonded, and that too, tugged at my heart. But joyfully.
At another sort of garden party, the three of us sat along with my youngest brother, the eighteen-year-old who had just moved to California. We were watching live music in a lush, multilevel yard among tree lights and arty Silver Lake types. Narrow, meandering stone steps led to the other levels. We were all affected by the music, our eyes shining in a row.
When my father got up to head for the steep stairs, my man scrambled to help him by the elbow.
“He treats me like an invalid,” my father chuckled, looking at me. “But it’s okay. I like it when he pampers me.” They put arms around each other’s waists.
“You can’t die yet, old man, we still have much to talk about,” said the Exceptionally Tall Man.
My eyes rounded in mock-outrage.
“He’s only seventy-five!” I protested.
It was none of this that brought out my tears. They came later.
Night fully set in, as did the cheery atmosphere of the tree lights. The Exceptionally Tall Man went to get a drink while I stood across the deck with my father and lil bro. Lil bro was in the middle of a monologue, something to do with knowing everything about all things (as opposed to us mere mortals who’d long ago outgrown teenage arrogance). Our father suppressed a smile, because like it or not, the kid was charming.
After a while, my father zoned in on lil bro’s elaborate hand gestures, so my attention was caught too. There was a familiarity about the long-fingered waving around. Lil bro looked at his own hands’ figure-eights like they were independent of him. Without breaking stride — teen arrogance comes with an effective helping of bravado — he continued in the same non-chalant monotone:
“…so people should investigate, not be sheep, and I don’t know what’s happening to my hand right now or where I adopted this gesture.”
And suddenly, I knew.
He’d subconsciously picked up the mannerism from the Exceptionally Tall Man. I practically yelled it out and we all burst into laughter. At that very moment, from across the deck, the culprit looked up to see the three of us making figure-eights at each other with our wrists.
He somehow recognized himself in the gesture and made a bee-line toward us with a huge smile. By the time he reached us, the hilarity of it all had my father’s eyes squeezed shut and his shoulders convulsing in epic laughter.
That’s when my tears came.
As I’m wont to do, I tormented myself with, what if this is the last time I see my father laugh like this? So I made sure to memorize the image and torture myself more.
Worrying about my loved-ones dying is a childhood neurosis I’ve never shed.
People die. They already have. Young people. I don’t need to keep inside this fear I’ve had since childhood. I also don’t need to adore magical people in retrospect — I can do it right now and tell them so.
That way, there won’t ever be a time when I’ll wonder, did they know?
But this isn’t about that. Nor is it just an homage to magic men who are alive and well.
It’s about enchanted moments and how good and simple it is to be happy.
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