The episode played and we laughed at the scenes and punchlines we had seen and heard at least a hundred times. Our laughter was tracked on a loop, because no matter how many times we saw it, always Ralph and Ed would wind up handcuffed to one another, and always Ralph would chew on the rubber marshmallow given to him by Ed, and Ralph’s threat to slug Ed and “boompf” him out of the train car was an imperishable threat, one that belonged to a slapstick continuum.
I looked over at my father. The doughy bulk embedded in the recliner, the cigarette poking out of his mouth, the creased face, the brown hair speckled gray.
He was getting older. I was getting older. Ralph and Ed would never grow any older. They were time-locked in a black-and-white world, a special kind of forever.
Anya would never grow any older. Thirty-six was far as she had gotten, as far as she would ever get.
Why had I come home, and why did I specifically choose to stay with my father, in the apartment where I had grown up and where my mother had died?
Nostalgia is a form of mourning. Had I set myself the impossible task of recovering something that had been lost? It was a fool’s mission and yet I undertook it because a mission is a mission is a mission, right?
I looked at my father and listened to him laughing at the The Honeymooners in the way he always laughed at The Honeymooners.
When I was younger I never considered my father’s inner landscape. Or that he might even have one. He was simply my father, my hero, my monster, my god, my tormentor, my boogeyman. He was the man I sometimes I wanted to murder and sometimes expected to be murdered by. His inner life was none of my concern. I was too busy retreating into my own.
It is the photo of the three-year old cowboy, grinning ear to ear, overjoyed to have his pony and his mother, that I need to remember. He, like the rueful little boy digging in the dirt, and all the other little boys I never saw that are time-locked inside my father, might widen my perspective, if not deepen it.