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Letters My Father Wrote

Jaime Morelli

My father is walking behind me.

           I don't usually let him do this, but this obstinacy emerged after my mother died. I circle back and take his arm.

           "No," he says, shaking me off. He walks carefully, each step planned and scrutinized and finally accepted. I try to imagine what it looks like to him.

           I move ahead again, angle myself to his path so I can watch him out of the corner of my eye. His pace is maddening. People go around him, huffing.

           "Where are you?"

           I turn around. "I'm here."

           "Is this the mailbox?"

           I will myself into patience. "That's a trash can. Colors, Dad."

           He walks on, catching up to me. He doesn't notice. I am in step beside him, invisible.

           I remember a letter my father wrote to me while I was still in college. My father is a writer.

Each morning I face a new house, a new neighborhood. My vision consists only of memories. Only by memory can I see the world around me. Yesterday I ran my hands along the walls. It took twenty minutes to find the bathroom this way.

I went to the doctor again, and they scanned my brain, and pointed out all the reasons why things are as they are. I don't think modern medicine truly appreciates the symbolism of this experience.

Everything is in pieces. I fear to look in the mirror. I don't know if I can put my face together. I haven't watched television in weeks. I don't drive anymore.

I find I can hear things. Even the softest hum upon the air. The neighbors are all very polite about it.

           My father is not blind.

           I wish he were. It would be easier to explain to other people. To accept for myself.

           This is how my father described it to me: "I cannot see objects. I know what things are when I touch them. I haven't lost my memory of these things. But two-dimensional representations are rendered into their most basic components. I can name and recognize these components, but they fail to come together as parts of a whole. Your kindergarten drawing of our house is but a square under a triangle to me now. The world outside is a series of shapes and colors, line and form. Truly this condition is the art appreciator's dream.

           "My brain is myopic," he wrote. "My intellect has been distorted. It's a fault in the wiring, a misplaced circuit, a path that has been covered over and forgotten."

           My father said, "It will only get worse." He didn't need to write this down for me.

           I tried to be too busy to write back, to craft something of difficulty for my father.

Your letters are so short. I am impressed by the brevity and succinct nature of your sentences. Unfortunately I cannot read them any longer myself.

I would prefer to hear your voice in my head, instead of your mother's in my ear. She is color- coding everything in the house. The medicine cabinet was first. She is a path to the bathroom. She talks of getting me a nurse.

Creativity at its most basic has left me. I cannot even direct myself through the house in a different route than I did a day ago. If things change, if anything alters, I am lost. `

Do you understand what it is I am telling you? I have to be literal in everything I do. Ha -- it's a great joke!

           I have these words written in a neat row in my journal: look, see, watch. And below them: observe, perceive, distinguish. Each one appears through my pen, crisp. My father's voice penetrates these pages.

           I threw away the last of his tapes for me, where he recorded the stories that I was instructed to transcribe. The soft pacing of his speaking voice, the carefully chosen words, the overdramatic characters started to infuse everything I wrote. Suddenly I was writing as him, writing the things he might write. All the language available to me, and all I could do was impose on the writer he used to be.

I have ordered the things I see into two categories: things I know and things I don't know. I only know the things that I remember. I don't know anything that has changed or anything that I don't remember. It seems simple at first, but let's work a little harder.

My life is filtered down to this: knowledge versus non-knowledge, ad infinitum. Everyone else goes through their day, experiencing elements of both, but they are unconscious of the constant flux between the two states. Every move I make is dictated by the condition I find myself in at that particular moment. I cannot proceed without acknowledging that I am in one position or the other. Although my situation is fairly unique, my predicament can be applied universally: we are all directed by our knowledge or lack thereof; but only I am conscious of it.

Your mother will read this letter over again before I send it to you. If I write quickly, and I don't look down, my hands remember how to form letters, words, sentences. This letter is already a series of white spaces enclosed by lines. I tell myself I am writing to you.

Would I rather lose my memory, not rely on it so much, and understand what I see?

What would you prefer me to be?

I have only my memory and my hearing to console me. And your mother, though I don't let her help me. There are new challenges at every level, beyond children, beyond marriage. I will fight myself all I need to.

I stop in front of the mailbox, and I think he stops too because of the cessation of movement to one side of him. I try to take the envelope from his hand.

           "It's from your mother."


           "I think I would like to receive something from her."

           "But she.you can't even read it."

           "I can see the letters if I try long enough. If I memorize the letters in order---"


           He puts a hand on my shoulder and I can tell he is seeing my face clearly now, that all the pieces fit together. For a moment I glimpse his desperation and his relief at recognizing me.

           "I can't see the physical world as it is. I cannot construct the real with my eyes, so I construct the unreal with my mind."

           I realize he is quoting himself.

           "I couldn't to see her anyway. At least I can pretend she's here. Is this the mailbox?"

           I take his hand and place it on the handle.

           "Ah, yes." He drops the envelope inside, and I watch him listen to the groan of the drawer as it shuts.

           My father turns and retraces his steps. He does not squint or blink too much as he looks ahead. He walks slowly, takes a little longer.

About the Author (click here) © 2003 Jaime Morelli, all rights reserved
 appears here by permission

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