It made me tense because every time he said it, I thought I was already doing it. He, Daddy, insisted I wasn’t. Squeezed beside him in the dark brown easy chair, we’d while away the late afternoons. He’d finish a cigarette while watching sports or news or whatever was on that time of day. Our legs stretched out, fully reclined, his head back and eyes closed, voice like a hypnotist, urging me to relax.

I am relaxed! I’d protest. I’m relaxing!

No, he’d disagree in that same quiet trance. Relax, he’d repeat. And on it went day after day. As the years passed, sharing the easy chair became more of a challenge. My petite build was now too much for a chair designed for one. His admonitions to relax fell to the recesses of my mind.

Pretending to relax.
Pretending to relax.

Until I found myself in my 30s holding my breath. Doing homework or watching a movie, or really any mundane thing, a quick moment of reflection would reveal hunched shoulders, a tight body, and me, inexplicably holding my breath.

It was as if my body were in a perpetual state of flight or fight.

And yet, as far as I could tell, there was no reason for stress.

Is this what daddy meant when he insisted I never relaxed? Did I somehow develop this habit of holding tension in my body, even holding my own breath, in childhood?

I think of it now for two reasons. One, I’m reading Tiger Eyes, and I believe it’s triggering memories of daddy. Davey, the central character, was close to her father. As the book opens, he has died unexpectedly. I didn’t make the connection before, but when the second memory, “Relax,” came to mind, I thought that might be the cause.

The second reason is I’m doing it again. I thought I had mastered deeper and more regular breathing, keeping unfounded tension out of my body. But twice in recent days I’ve found myself slouching, breathing shallow breaths. And I’m hearing his voice urging me to relax.

I’m listening, Daddy.

So long, farewell.

Thought about my daddy this morning. Not sure why he came to mind, but he’s always welcome.

This morning’s memory was of his goodbyes. He never said goodbye. I can’t recall a single time he actually used the word when departing. Whether we were separating for a couple of hours, or a couple of weeks, he always said the same thing: “So long!” He’d smile showing all his teeth, although the smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. We’d wave, go our separate ways.

daddy and nicole fullI always did a double take, as if somehow a second look would ensure so long really meant it was time to go, but only temporarily. Remembering it now makes me as sad as it did then.

I think I asked him once, about why he never said goodbye.

Perhaps he said he doesn’t like goodbye. As if goodbye were too formal or too final. So long implied a reunion was imminent. That it was so long until I see you again, but the seeing you again part was definitely going to happen.

I don’t know.

He never said goodbye.