I didn’t want to embarrass my daughter at her wedding. I’d already embarrassed her enough, I suspect, during the previous night’s rehearsal dinner. It wasn’t the words of my speech that embarrassed her. They couldn’t have embarrassed anyone, as they were unintelligible, drowned in my embarrassment-inducing blubbering. Yes, I could barely articulate a sentence because of how often, and how heavily, I cried. In the far corner of the restaurant, an old woman, who may have been related to the groom or may simply have wandered in off the street to scarf down a free meal, shouted into the awkward silence I’d birthed, “It’s monsoon season in here.”
Later, as I was leaving the restaurant, she patted me on the back and said, “It’s tough to lose a daughter.” I tried to argue that I wasn’t losing her. She was only getting married, after all. She would be living within a day’s drive. She would visit me during holidays. Some holidays, anyway—I’d be happy to see her even on minor ones, like International Postal Workers’ Day. And over Thanksgiving and Christmas, I would travel to see her, providing my ex-wife and her husband weren’t planning to do the same. But before I could say any of this, I began sobbing.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Monsoon,” the old woman said, “you’ll see the sun again.”
I wanted to assure her I wasn’t ordinarily the weeping kind. I was, in fact, the opposite: a stone-faced Stoic. At other momentous events during my daughter’s life—her first steps, her first, training-wheels-less bike ride, her high-school graduation—my ducts remained dry. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel emotion on these occasions. It was that I knew that more such occasions awaited us. The future had always consoled me.
After the wedding ceremony, during which I staggered down the aisle like a seasick sailor, and after I had danced the traditional father-daughter dance with the bride (who, in a preventative measure, wore a discreet white towel on her shoulder to catch my tears), I felt no better. When, during the wedding meal, I deposited a piece of filet mignon in my mouth and it lodged in my windpipe, I decided I had a choice: I could make a scene as I called attention to my impending suffocation or I could simply go off somewhere to die.
If I made a scene, I could imagine the criticism, the jokes: “There’s the bereaved father, pretending to be choking to death so he can, one last time, be the center of his daughter’s universe.” Worse than the thought of solidifying my now solid reputation as a clown, however, was my fear of interrupting my daughter’s delight. She and her now husband were on a grand tour of their guests’ tables, stopping to chat, soaking in praise of the lovely wedding service, laughing.
The only person I might have turned to for quiet assistance with the Heimlich maneuver was my ex-wife, who, a decade after our divorce, remained forgiving of my shortcomings. But she and her husband, married three years and as happy as a pair of swans, were on the dance floor. Across from me sat my daughter’s new in-laws, a couple in their mid-sixties who, as I’d heard one guest whisper the night before, were “a dignified counterpoint” to my “bawling buffoonery.” I liked them well enough. No, I couldn’t stand them, particularly the father-in-law, who, whatever the conversation, weighed in like he was the expert. In my view, his three Ph.D.s didn’t entitle him to act like Einstein, although, it’s true, one of his doctorates was in astrophysics.
Therefore, when I understood that a piece of beef would likely prevent me from breathing my last since my last had already been breathed, I stumbled out of the ballroom of the country club and careened into the night.
It was a beautiful sky under which to die: a Cheshire Cat moon and stars so big and bright I might have, twenty years before, pointed them out to my daughter and said, “If you jump, I bet you can touch one.” It was easy, back in those days, not only to pretend we could do what we couldn’t, but to pretend in such a way, with a nonchalant acceptance of the extraordinary, that we weren’t conscious of pretending. My daughter would leap up at a star, hand extended, and, laughing, say, “Ouch! It’s hotter than fire!”
At such a thought, I might have cried again, but I was too busy choking. I felt my head throb. I felt my heart speed up. I had a strange desire, dying soldier-like, to blubber for my mother, although she’d been dead for half a decade and would probably have demanded, as she did even when I was an adult, that I use my words. (She’d been mistrustful of tears. “Anything that can be induced by an onion,” she liked to say, “ought to be viewed with a grain of salt,” which seemed like the start of a recipe if not a mixed metaphor.)
I found myself stumbling onto a golf course. I had introduced my daughter to the game when she was six years old. Unlike gymnastics or figure skating, both of which she also proved proficient at, it was a sport one could perform while simultaneously chatting with one’s opponent. Naturally, I had loved talking with my daughter. As, year to year, early spring to late fall, we marched from tee to fairway to green, our conversation moved from the Shetland pony she wanted (the purchase of which my then-wife vetoed, although I was prepared, doubtless fool-heartedly, to pursue) to books and movies and boys and SATs and colleges and careers and…
It was possible, I discovered, to cry and die at the same time. At least there was this consolation: when my life came to an end, so would my tears. Perhaps, I thought, this represented, perversely, a happy ending—the end of the monsoon season the old woman had foretold—although, with the oxygen in my brain plummeting below life-sustaining levels, I might simply have been rendered stupid.
I was certainly hallucinating: Before me appeared my daughter as she’d been at age six. She wore a Scottish golfing outfit her mother had bought her, complete with knickers, a diamond-pattern, sleeveless sweater, and a beret—or whatever Scottish golfers call their headwear. She gazed at me with wrinkled brow and puckered lips, her telltale expression of concern.
I struggled to explain my circumstances, but she seemed to understand. Swiftly, and with loving urgency, she pointed to a split-rail fence, a dozen yards in the distance. With time ticking down on my life, I raced toward it, leaped, and landed—ooof—hard on my stomach. The sirloin shot from me like a Teriyaki-flavored bullet.
I gasped. I drew in quick, appreciative breaths. I gasped again. Presently I breathed more slowly but no less appreciatively. I was alive.
I was alive! The thought might have made me weep, but I was too happy to cry. I was alive! I danced around the golf course as if I’d just won the U.S. Open. My resurrection was a sign, I decided, that I’d been too bleak about my future. My future was wonderful because…well…it wasn’t going to be short-circuited by a piece of meat.
I of course wanted to share my new, optimistic outlook on life with my daughter—indeed, with all the wedding guests. I wanted to show them I wasn’t the sad sack, tear factory I’d seemed. I was full of bonhomie and bliss. My smile would light up the entire ballroom and perhaps shock the wedding band’s lead guitarist into playing something resembling an adequate solo.
But when I returned to the wedding hall, I learned that my daughter and her husband had departed—off to their honeymoon. I might have been disappointed, but I reminded myself that I also might have been dead. So I asked my ex-wife to dance, and when we’d finished, I asked her husband to dance. Rather brusquely, he declined, mistakenly thinking I was drunk. Or perhaps he wasn’t mistaken. I was drunk on life!
When the wedding reception ended, I feared a relapse of my tears. Indeed, I feared a deeper darkness settling over me as I pictured my daughter, like an astronaut, soaring off to a world far removed from mine. Instead of heading to the parking lot to slump into my car and putter back to my room at the Ramada, I stole back onto the golf course. I anticipated I would be alone, but there she was again, my six-year-old daughter, dressed to the nines in her Scottish outfit. At the time of its purchase, I thought it a little frilly and frivolous. Now I understood it was magic.
We had no golf clubs, but we didn’t need them. We had the night and our imaginations. In the hours before the sun rose, my daughter and I played a round, talking about everything we’d ever talked about as we boomed drives deep into the darkness and smashed chip shots over the smiling moon. Our final shots, synchronized like our lives had once been, ricocheted off the stars before falling, gloriously and with the sound of champagne glasses clicking, into the cup.
Mark Brazaitis is the author of seven books, including The River of Lost Voices: Stories from Guatemala, winner of the 1998 Iowa Short Fiction Award, The Incurables: Stories, winner of the 2012 Richard Sullivan Prize and the 2013 Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award in Prose, and Julia & Rodrigo, winner of the 2012 Gival Press Novel Award. His latest book, Truth Poker: Stories, won the 2014 Autumn House Press Fiction Competition. He wrote the script for the award-winning Peace Corps film How Far Are You Willing to Go to Make a Difference?