I wear special clothes when I visit my dad.
I have a routine. When I get home from school, I head to the far closet at the end of the hall, the one mom forgets about, filled with all of dad’s things. It’s not a very big closet.
I get this eerie feeling when I open the door, like dad is right there with me as I carefully maneuver my way through his old books and clothes, everything he cherished in life. Like he can see me as I catch my breath when I stumble upon his signed copy of The Old Man and the Sea. Like he is watching me thumb through the pages both he and Hemingway held. Like he is close enough to wipe the tears from my face.
I snap the book closed and tuck it into my jacket pocket.
I grab the tux. It’s dad’s tux. He probably should have been buried in it, because it’s his nicest tux. I slide my scrawny girl arms inside the jacket sleeves and my legs into the ballooning pant legs. I don’t even have to take off my clothes, jacket, or sneakers. I roll the sleeves and pant legs up.
Once I’m dressed, I grab his hat, the black pageboy cap he loved. He never would have worn it with the tux, but that doesn’t stop me.
At the cemetery, I don’t head straight to dad’s grave. I walk the perimeter, like always, taking my time. A breeze whips my hair around my face in long octopus tentacles and I tuck it under the pageboy cap.
When I feel ready, when my chest wells up so much I might burst, when the emotions spill from me in jagged breaths, I make my way to dad’s grave.
Just a name. Just a date.
No “beloved husband and father.” No quote or poem or song.
Just a name. Just a date.
I touch my cheek where he hit me when he caught me kissing Miranda Stahl.
His brash comments rush back to me and I catch my breath.
I made a promise to myself when he died that I would forgive him, but I haven’t been able to keep that promise.
I stitch this version of my dad together that I can touch, this tangible, good man who loved reading and collecting old books and wearing pageboy caps. This man who was smart and kind. This man who hugged me when I was sad and who understood me more than anyone else because I was created from him. Because I was a part of him he understood.
When I get home, mom scowls at me. She’s never home this early. She says nothing as I hang up dad’s tux. As I pull my arms and legs out of the too-long fabric. She says nothing as I place the pageboy cap on the shelf. She says nothing as she hands me a bowl of macaroni and cheese.
I grab the bowl. I fumble for the right words. I find nothing. Shouldering past her, I head to my room.
I don’t go back to the closet. Half-worried mom has cleared out the closet. Half-worried she hasn’t.
For Christmas I unwrap dad’s worn copy of The Old Man and the Sea.
“Let’s go see him,” mom offers. She leaves the room and returns with his tux. With the pageboy cap.
I wear special clothes when I visit my dad. I wear the clothes he should have been buried in.
Tiffany Grimes graduated with her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University in 2015. Her writing has appeared in Feels Blind Literary, Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, Microfiction Monday Magazine, and The Fiction Pool. She lives in Portland, OR with her cats.