His red hair flamed against the cobalt blue of the California sky, his white teeth flashing in a charm-filled smile. His cocoa brown eyes warm, and full of love.
Bristly cheeks, a hearty laugh. Big hands, gentle in his touch and deft with a painter’s brush. “Look, princess,” he’d say. “What do you see?”
A world of color, a maelstrom of emotion too mature for young eyes. The heart of an artist speaking the only way it knew how – with oils and strokes, palettes of hues and whorls of feeling.
He never came in rescue from the monsters of childhood nor the tears shed in the face of life’s bruising. Never chased away the unworthy boys; never walked down the aisle with his princess on his arm to give away. He never held his first grandchild, or even seen his face.
He was not there, or ever would be, yet he lingered in every curve of my heart. I thought I could see him out of the corner of my eye and I would turn, only to face my fear. He lived; he was dead. Dead to me, but alive to his second, and favored, family.
Thirty years later, all I have is an enameled box filled with the remnants of a life that should have been.
I opened the box and released my father’s ashes on the California hillside.