Remembering Louie Ronald Lee...

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Shaken to the core. Split, even. Raw, vulnerable, lost. There's no way to vocalize how I truly felt upon my father's passing last September. To this day, that deep pit of loss in my heart wells dark from time to time, sucking me right back to those moments; and I imagine it always will.

I have to remember, cherish, and embrace all of those memories of times, words, and space shared between Louie and I... and acknowledge that no matter how deep the pit, his love will always be greater as only the unconditional bond of blood and spirit, of father and son, ever in silence and solitude shall be.

I think from time to time that the silence is now unending, but it's not. The silence is full of everything that ever was, can, and will be. There's a fine line between being enveloped by and embracing it... and for quite some time, I was more on the the side of the former than the latter.

So here I sit as my facebook friends and family change profile pictures to their pops, and I waver between crying and laughing.

I see my father's face in so many states... waxy and grey as his body lay forever still... beaming broad toothed as he tossed me effortlessly into the air as a child... wide eyed and goofy as he hopped apelike across the hallway to cheer me up... stern, furrowed brow as he tried to figure out how to deal with my preteen emotional chaos... calm and austere, yet determined and focused as we sat side by side chanting... the mix of sorrow and pride in his tears as I read my eulogy at his mother's memorial...

My father was many things to many people, and despite his many flaws, he was at his core a good man. Whether railing against the racial and social injustices he faced in his youth... running with the Red Guard, the Panthers, I Wor Kuen... Whether teaching the first ethnic studies course in the Cal State system as a grad student himself (where he ended up after getting kicked out of Berkeley for clocking a professor who called him a no good Chink)... Whether opening an Asian American legal center in downtown Oakland... Whether bringing breakfast and coffee to rally his brothers on the picket lines at Alpha Beta... Whether turning his home into a halfway house for recovering addicts... Whether driving into the desert to lend an ear and counsel to troubled Pasqua Yaqui, Navaho, and other tribes... I'll leave the "or" unspoken.

Growing up, he was my hero. He could never do wrong. As an adult, I came to know the man behind the mythos and saw he was just as fucked up as the rest of us. That was sobering at first and I honestly didn't know how to deal with it. Eventually, acknowledging it allowed us to speak openly of what he perceived as his failures, and for a time I became the one hearing confession and offering solace. In the end, we were equals, and each as proud of the life and understanding of the flaws of the other.

We seldom spoke. We never really felt the need to. From time to time, he would call; and on rarer occasions, I would... and in those initial awkward silences we were reminded that it didn't matter. He was there and I was here and we would always be. The unspoken bond of love that the men of the house of Lee seem to share.

And yet, upon his passing, how could I not feel the weight of every moment I thought to call him and yet didn't? The silence now forever...

That was a bomb. For a time, I was lost in the "what ifs..." and "if onlys..." but you just can't live like that. I won't.

It's been nine months since Louie died, and this is the first time I've written about it. I won't rehash the events... won't go into the dark details of my despair... won't rail against everything and everyone I could blame for keeping us apart when he was alive.

But I will do everything I can to honor him always with my own life, to be that hero I grew up believing him to be.

Among so many memories, the last I have was a vision I had while my brother Apollonio and I stood over his body at the funeral home...

The room disappeared, and my brother and I were standing on the shores of a cold grey river. My father lay just as cold and still atop a funeral pyre, and I lit fire to the wood with torch in hand... the flames from the burning pitch singing the hair on my arms. As my father's final resting bed caught fire, my brother and I stood shoulder to shoulder in silence watching the flames embrace the body of the man who brought us into this world. Watched as they grew red and hot, turning his body to embers, the physical vessel disappearing and turning to ash born upon the wind and water, returning to the earth. In that moment, I felt we honored him with our own lives and legacies, felt his life honored in it's passing, felt proud and pride, and smiled through the streaming tears and chest heaving sobs as Apollonio and I embraced each other perhaps for the first time since we were children.

When we stepped outside into the parking lot, my brother looked at me to reassure me and said that wasn't Louie... that was just a body. I looked at him and looked around and saw the mountains surrounding Tucson, the cacti on their distant slopes, the changing colors of the dusk sky, wispy fingers of cloud stretching across the grand vista and said, "You're right. That isn't Louie... this is."

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This page contains a single entry by Emiliano Silva Lee published on June 15, 2013 10:51 PM.

Daphne Zepos was the previous entry in this blog.

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