The medium says she wants to talk about the father figure in my life. Every muscle in my body finally relaxes. Out of all the people I have lost he is the only person I want to hear from. I’m not spiritual but I have been praying for hours for him to come to the medium, so when he did it felt like sitting down after standing all day. My father and I had an interesting relationship. There were times he showed me unconditional love yet more often he didn’t want anything to do with me. He would brag to his friends about how smart and talented an actor I was, then shun me at the dinner table. I more than loved him, I admired him, he seemed so confident, I wanted to be just like him, so on the times he rejected me it was like lightening without thunder. I think he knew I was different and that confused him. When he passed suddenly I was unprepared. The medium’s head tilts to the side and explains, “I’ve never seen anything like this before; he’s showing me a room full of ties?” I laugh a little too loud.
My father was a hoarder of ties. We counted them once, 237 exactly. He hoarded ties the way CEO’s hoard money, proud of his collection; each tie had a purpose and he wore one or more a day. Until the age of ten, I was convinced he wore the tie with stars to bed, when he turned around the light from the refrigerator revealed he wore shorts and a t-shirt. It is the only memory of my father without a tie. I came to understand he cherished them, more than he cherished me. He had a complex system of ordering them, depending on length, color, and pattern that I never understood. He kept them under plastic bags; he said it was because he wanted to preserve their energy. He has been gone for two years, I have kept all his ties in the same order, who knows what ramifications would come if I moved them, or wore them. The entire world might crumble beneath me. The first one I remember was a white and blue paisley tie he wore to church. He said it connected him to God.
The medium then asks, “What’s the connection to Johnny?” My father was the typical strong silent type. He was never the center of attention. He was an observer, I think that’s why he liked Johnny Carson so much – he was the opposite of my father, an outgoing man, who always had the punch line. He was the type of guy to come up with the punch line a week after the joke was told. I could feel his eyes grow with envy in the evening. I inherited all my quite from him.
The thing about my father is that he had a tie for every occasion. He had one that was brown with torn edges for the horse races. He once told me a thread broke every time he won big but that he was never the one to prick the strings. For the concerts, the plays, and the recitals he wore this bright red shiny tie that could be seen anywhere in the auditorium, simply so I knew he was there. I would search the audience for him; he never acknowledged my eye contact. When I started playing t-ball he actually took me to buy a special tie just for my games. It was the only time he let me pick one out. I had no idea what I was doing; at the time our team name was the bumblebees so I picked a yellow tie with thin black horizontal stripes. I knew he hated it but he wore to every single game. By the time I graduated high school dirt and dust had changed the yellow to brown, he refused to wash it in fear of messing with karma. And of course he had a different themed tie for each holiday. Santa for Christmas, bunny’s for Easter, American flag for the fourth, fireworks for new years, and one that looked like the butt of a turkey for thanksgiving. We could never eat or open presents until he changed to the festive tie. No matter the colors he always wore a tie with these weird oblong geometric shapes with a pink and purple color scheme to weddings. It was hideous, and always clashed with the bride’s colors. It was the same tie he wore at his own wedding, he would say “I have been blessed with a beautiful family because of this tie, and I want this couple to experience that.” For funerals he wore a simple skinny black tie. It’s the only tie I don’t have.
When I say my father wore a tie everywhere, it is not an exaggeration. Imagine a 45-year-old man behind a boat swerving between the wake and open water wearing a blue tie with abstract waves outside his life jacket, flapping in the wind behind him. It was my job to hold the flag in case he fell. I held the orange so tight and high, every boat knew he was down in the water, I was panicked he would get caught in the propeller of someone else’s boat. When it came time for him to teach me to ski, he didn’t give me his tie, even though I asked many times. He claimed I was not responsible enough to be trusted with a tie that held the universe.
If you couldn’t tell my father was a very spiritual man. He didn’t identify with any particular religion, but he always attended church. He believed that everything is connected, that what tie he wore and when could cause earth to fall out of rotation, make volcano’s erupt, and stars explode. Ties could only be worn once every two weeks, with the expectation of holiday’s or any other special event. It was ritualistic. When I was 10, I went into his room and tried on a few of his ties, I put them back in, what I thought was exactly the same order. He knew they had been tampered with. He found me in the dining room doing homework. It would be an understatement to say he simply yelled at me. He was changed, morphed into something else, at that moment he was no longer my father but a werewolf. My mother, a peaceful woman came rushing in, grabbed me, threw me in my room and went back to calm him down, but there was no stopping his rage. I was a child being introduced to wrath; I hid under my pillow, while I heard my father. I heard lamps shatter, dressers cracking, and my mother scream in pain. The next day, I went to apologize and saw my mother applying concealer to her eye. My father was not home for a week, when he came back it was as if nothing had happened. He walked through the door, kissed my mother, patted me on the head, and started reading the days newspaper; he was wearing a tie I had never seen before.
My father never taught to me shave, instead he taught me to tie a tie but only after years of begging the night of prom. I rented a tuxedo that matched my dates from the quilting store downtown. It was supposed to have a tie that zipped but they ran out before I had a chance to order mine. I wasn’t planning on attending prom but after my date Sarah’s boyfriend broke up with her, I became her replacement. It was minutes before I was supposed to pick her up. At first I tried myself, I had seen him do it so many times I thought it would be easy. There is a difference between watching and doing a task. I wanted him to be proud of me, to walk out my bedroom door and show him I could do it. He taught me not out of wanting but out of necessity. I took the knotted fabric to him, he stood behind me, over, under, up through the neck, wrap around, up the opposite, tuck under, shape until you look like a God. It was a right of passage with my father, even if he wasn’t ready.
I set up this appointment with the medium because I wanted to know if my father knew what I never told him. The words ‘I am gay’ sat on the tip of my tongue for years but there is no tie to give when you come out, trust me I shopped for days. I knew I would see the rage in his eyes again and as the years went by it started to melt my sand into glass, so when he passed, it shattered me. I stood over his cold and stiff body the smell of formaldehyde and ethanol coming from every pour. I leaned over the casket, placed my head in his chest and told him threw snot and tears who I was. I went back to my husband who held my hand like a vice grip.
The medium tells me he is showing her a blanket and holding his arms as if to hug me. She tells me that my father knows about my partner and that he was there on the day we got married. She smiles and relays “it was his proudest moment.” All the words have left my tongue; I am emotionless attempting to wake the synapsis that can process what I just heard.
The last thing my father says is he kept the ties for me, so one day I could feel as strong as he felt wearing them. He’s gone, again. I beg the medium to bring him back, that I still have a wealth of language to share with him. She holds my hand and says, “It doesn’t work like that, once they are gone, we can never speak with them again, but he is still looking over you. You can still speak to him, he simply won’t reply.” I can’t tell which is more painful that he can still hear me or that he can’t respond. Both of us living a one sided conversation.
After she leaves, I take the ties out of my basement storage, slowly peel back to the plastic that now sticks to them, and lay them neatly on my bed. I look at them, trying to decode what type of legacy he left. There are so many colors and patterns; it’s hard to pinpoint my father. I guess that’s what he was, a character wanderer, trying on different people, desperately wanting to stand out in a world louder than him. I understand the medium could have fabricated most of what she told me but right I know my Dad loved me. I take the white and blue paisley tie he always wore to church. I make the same knot he taught me, over, under, up through the neck, wrap around, up the opposite, tuck under, feel his hands guiding me, look in the mirror, and see him.