My father died twenty years ago today, reads your text message in the mid-morning hours. You watched a body given to the ground, a soul departed. And somewhere a hemisphere away, I knew nothing. I slammed my locker after first period economics, scratched out pre-calculus problems on notebook paper, read glossy brochures from colleges on the other side of my country, across the Atlantic from yours. Your father was dying, and I saw the grey of my high school and plotted a future of manicured lawns, sprawling trees, college textbooks held snug against my hip. Ten thousand miles split the us that existed then as you and as me. Your father whispered words into your ear. Shallow, warm breath against your skin. A root, a memory to touch, turn over, feel again and again. Your body heaved with a now adult sigh, and the dust clung to your good clothes. We couldn’t know then the way time zones would collapse, the way beating hearts would crush distance. Twenty years gone, and now in the late-night hours I whisper in your ear, cup my fingers in a circle and speak with the sound of the living what I think echoes from the grave. You make me proud, I say. I wish for a voice I never heard, a deep tone I can only create in dreams. A voice you knew twenty years ago.
Patrice Gopo is a 2017-2018 North Carolina Arts Council Literature Fellow, and her essay collection about race, immigration, and belonging will release this summer. Please visit patricegopo.com/receive-updates to receive updates about her book.