Among the first items to go onto the bookshelf were the contents of a box my sister gave to me before moving to New York City, artifacts from my father that I'm pretty sure she didn't even bother looking through. Among them are some books of guitar tablature and sheet music, and half of the baseball collection my father helped me amass in elementary/middle school. But there are two items that gave me pause and for which I am writing this entry now. My apologies for anyone who actually reads this blog for my tech writings; I've deviated quite a bit from those in recent months. I'll get back to it when I feel like it. Right now this blog is for me, not you, and I've got to write this.
There is the "A–Ameri" book of a set of 1986 Funk and Wagnall's Encyclopaedia. Why only one book, you might ask? Looking through the long lists of consultants and writers and researchers in the introductory couple of dozen pages, my father is listed: Steven A. Stahl, M.A., Ph. D. I remember once in Athens he'd bought just this one book, 'cause his name was in it. He didn't want the volume that actually contained his work, just the one that credited him, because he thought it was hilarious. He told me he'd put the "funk" in "Funk and Wagnall's". Say what you will about us jewish boys, but I definitely inherited my soul from Dad. So silly to have just volume 1 of an encyclopaedia on a bookshelf, but there you have it.
The other is a passover hagadah. For those not in the know, passover is a pretty big holiday for us jews. It's a feast to celebrate our deliverance from the pharaoh of Egypt in the book of Exodus. I always hated it in Georgia though because everyone kind of associates it with Easter just the same way they associate Channukah with Christmas. They're completely different holidays from completely different cultures celebrating completely different things people! But whatever. People are just ignorant as hell and there's not a whole lot I can do about that except to note here that teaching others is among the greatest of mitzvahs. Maybe I, like my father before me, will eventually become a teacher. Maybe I already am in a way. Life's weird like that.
Anyways this particular hagadah is very special, because it was my father's hagadah when he was a child. Its pages are worn from dozens of passover seders, with a couple of dog-eared pages (a practice my father absolutely forbade in his home!) just to give it character. It smells like old book, and rifling through the pages I can see my father's characteristic scrawl on the pages. His handwriting was as unmistakable as it was incomprehensible. He could've been a doctor with handwriting like that. On the cover, though, in forced D'Nealian cursive, are the words "Property of Steve Stahl — President, Treasurer, Secretary of Steve Stahl, Inc." and near the top "From the desk of Steve Stahl". It's so funny. When my dad was a kid he wrote his lower-case "d" nearly identically to how I do it now. And, I mustn't forget, it also says "Copyright © 1962 MCMLXII All Rights Reserved".
Though I am happy to have found these little things, it just seems so unfair that this is all I have left to remember Dad by. Of course I'm never going to forget him completely, yet as I keep living my life without him he fades just a little bit year by year, and every time I notice this decline I sadden just a little more. Children are supposed to outlive their parents, such is the way of things, but I still feel cheated. I feel cheated out of the extra couple of decades I could've enjoyed with my father had colon cancer not combined with a sociopath second wife to take him away from me.
It hardly seems fair that the most vivid memories I have of my father are of his decline or of the breakdown of my parents' marriage. It just doesn't seem fair at all. And people will tell me they know how I feel and maybe if they've lost someone close to their heart they do, a little, but everyone's feelings are theirs and theirs alone. True perfect empathy is an illusion and it's really just something you say to someone because you want them to feel just a little better. It does make me feel better when I know I'm not the only one suffering, but I have no comfort to offer others. I've been dealing with this for three years and seven months and a week or so and it still hurts like hell every time I'm reminded of it. I've been sitting here for an hour thumbing through these books and listening to music and, every once in a while, crying. I'm just so struck by the enormity of it some times, that this spectre of cancer that we know so little about was able to swoop in and take my father away from me. I am left with these books, some artwork, and myself, being nearly identical to him in appearance and eerily similar to him in demeanor. I have my memories, too, even if they fade a little.