It is 1975. I’m sitting with my father in the sofa-like front seat of his father’s car which he’s borrowed to take me for a ride. Just the two of us. It’s a red car of some make; a 1960-something Vauxhall. I’m ten years old. My father smells of coconut oil. He always smells good—fresh, earthy and natural. We’ve just come from a long drive where he told me to just be who I want to be.
“You were cut out to be a writer and a poet. Don’t get sidetracked into thinking you have to be a lawyer or any of that nonsense,” he says.
He’s been on this mission to save my poetic soul. His mother has been paying for my private tutor in math and algebra, and he keeps telling me not to waste my time, that I’ll never need math “because the soul of a poet transcends the exactitude of mathematics. You’ll never be one of those persons trapped in arid mental categories.”
In the car we’re silent. We’re looking at the floor. He edges closer and puts his arm around me. The aroma of coconut oil—which he’d always used to tan his really pasty skin, so now it’s a rich bronze and glows a little as I look up, sadly, into his green eyes—mingles with his sweat. I can see my granddad, my mother’s father seething on the front porch. Everyone’s thought of my dad as a real loser, a bum who can’t hold a job. He can give his children a lot of hugs and kisses, and he sings really well to them, but boy, he sure can’t support them financially. That job’s been left to my mother. Yesterday he spontaneously dropped by and said: “J, ask for anything you want. Anything in the whole wide world.”
“I want a lemon meringue pie.”
Ten minutes later he comes by with the biggest pie I’d ever seen. I eat it right there on the spot.
We’re still looking on the floor of the car and I know that he’s going to say something that will make us very sad. He’s just emancipated me from a lifetime of school drudgery (I don’t ever have to do math, I can skip classes and read novels and poetry), and now he’s going to spoil it with bad news. I can sense it. The silence is unbearable. He begins to weep. Silently. He moves in closer. His body is trembling a little bit. I see his right ankle twitching in his Jesus sandal. Beads of sweat are breaking out on his legs, and he’s toying with the pleats in his denim shorts.
He says: “I love you, Jason. I love you so much. I love you more than anything and anyone else.”
I feel numb and sad at the same time. I feel lonely and confused. I want to hug him back, but I just sit there looking at my skinny, brown legs. I dare to look up at his face and see something I can’t write about because I can’t understand it. I see a look of absolute despair. He rests his head against mine and whispers over and over again: “I love you, I love you. I love you.”
I look up, wondering where my brother is. My grandfather is walking towards the car. He shouts something inaudible. He wants me back in the house, and suddenly my father bolts from the car and says, still crying: “I need to speak to my son. I have a right to speak to my son.”
I’d never seen my father in this state before. I can’t recall the exchange. I only remember the anger of my grandfather and the sobbing desperation in my father’s voice as he defends his right to speak to his son. I eventually leave the car and my father makes one last attempt to hold me as my grandfather asserts his right over me.
We return to the car and sit, huddled, holding hands, weeping. Sinning right there in the open. Just the two of us
And I loved him. And he loved me back.
The day before I had wrapped my legs around his waist and kissed him all over his neck and he told his mother: “I think my son is in love with me.”
He had lost his battles, tried to take his own life twice. The world told him he was a fool and yet, he had told me that I was to be a writer, and that I was special.
He said he’d seen God’s face and was seduced by its beauty. The world said he had caught schizophrenia.
Now it was over. This love affair with my father. Just like that. He comes to the house a few months later dressed in a white robe, painted white boots, and a white sword tucked into a sash on his white belt. He wears a white turban over his head that stretches his green eyes into two eerie slits.
He will have to repudiate us, he says. He has been called out to do God’s work, to be his servant and to be the bride of Christ. He explains and explains. Then, what he calls the apocalyptic announcement: “Observe my son, I am now married now to Christ whom I love more than anything else, even you.”
He leaves, and he never looks back as I stand staring out into the distance, perhaps in the same spot where he’d stood a few months earlier asserting his right to speak to and weep with me.
I get this in the mail from him a few weeks later.
My Son, Oh my Son.
How do I regret time was too short to
Kiss your sweat while we played.
Born prematurely old
I was called out to war; Vanity was not my cause Nor the cause of my Requiem. So, although the past remains a haunting cancerous memory, it is unwise to resurrect a cold deliberate casualty fired with the blood wrung from our twisted souls. I trod the king’s highway towards the souls I left behind. Solitude is my way out of madness, my son. Loneliness is a triumphant man.
I left Jamaica ten years later. My last visit to him was at his cottage in the lush Blue Mountains in 1994. I can still see him kneeling in the middle of the dirt road as I drive away. His head is thrown back. He is looking up at the sky. His arms are raised to heaven and tears are streaming down his face. And over and over again he is thanking God for bringing me back. “Thank You. Thank you sweet Jesus, thank you God, for delivering my first born back into my arms,” he cries.
I am looking in the rearview mirror of my aunt’s car which I’ve borrowed. I stop and contemplate running back and throwing my arms around his neck and telling him that I love him. Wouldn’t it be better to be one with him in his inebriated visions?
His arms are still outstretched and he looks as if he is falling into a trance. I feel as if I have entered a place where the living and the dead have exchanged places. I press the gas pedal and then accelerate, slowly at times, quickly, and then—I am gone, leaving that place forever where reason and madness brew and come to a stalemate.
Jason D Hill was born and raised in Jamaica. He came to the US to become a novelist, and is now a Professor of Philosophy.