The State of Main

My father knows he came from Maine. But the presence of the State of Maine in his life has only been a mystery. To say a mystery sounds like it is something to be solved. The potential for resolution is part of the pleasure of owning a puzzle. Put together the puzzle is a New England water mill on a day it snows — the same picture as the one on the box. This isn’t worth anything. You’ve already seen the picture. But apart, it is the potential of being put together. For my father Maine was like this. He sometimes took out the pieces and thought about them, but he never put them together. And this conception of gathering things and storing them in a box was how my father remembered his life. I don’t have a narrative shape to my father’s life — even the parts I know. For a son, I know a great deal of my father’s life, nearly half of it I share with him. He was nineteen when I was born, and in my earliest memories, he was only twenty-three years old. I hardly remember myself, now, at twenty-three. Even though I have known him as I have known my mother, longer than anyone else in my life, I still don’t understand the shape of my father’s life. I know certain events happened to him, but unlike my mother who constructs the story of her life over and over again, each version layering over the old one, each one controlling some nuance of her present life, my father exists mostly without a story. “I didn’t do it,” he would say. If you were to ask him, “What’s your story?” he’d feel put on the spot. It is simply enough to know he came from somewhere that isn’t Seattle, a somewhere that is Maine. And it is simple enough to know some of the incidents that have happened to him in his life, his drunk driving arrests, a short stint in jail, the death of his brother, Fred, but these are pieces and do not fit into a whole. Maine means certain things to me that they don’t mean to my father. For my father they mean the childhood he can’t remember in the way that West Seattle means the childhood I can’t remember, and to you, these things mean something else entirely. He was a child. Now he is grown. That is my father’s story. To put together the pieces I do know wouldn’t even result in a kind of solution but rather questions in how they relate to each other.

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