My parents gave me my name. My mom named me after some forgotten member of their church I never met. My dad named me after the trickster, the shittiest family man in all scripture—who somehow was the steward of God’s love for this whole hot mess. I like to think I take after the former. More Jake than Jacob.
I love my name: Jake Tucker. It fits. It’s in the right key. Lately I’ve noticed some darker harmonies, the bass loitering just under the melody. That name Jacob is sticky. It’s sad and old and meaningful and I can’t shake it. My dad gave me a lot of things that have stuck. Things I’ve wanted to disown. Things that make me proud. And few things I don’t know what to make of.
Some of those things are stuff. I like stuff. It’s hold-able—has weight and color. After my dad died I got a lot of stuff. Stuff saturated in him: smells and stories. Stuff I am reluctantly seeing myself in. Stuff connecting me to him. Relics.
My dad used to fingerpick minor chords on his blonde Washburn acoustic guitar in his lonely office on wallowing evenings, usually just before Mom came home. My sister and I would watch TV and feel his sadness peak around the corner during commercial breaks and watch us like a gambler at the horse track.
After Hamburger Helper dinners, Mom would watch TV upstairs, Dad would retire to his office, and, on our cordial nights, sister and me would argue about what to watch. Sad lived in the walls and under the floorboards; like a family of rats we all ignored out of lethargy. Mom was angry-sad. Dad was self-pity. Sister and me were anxious. We heard them all scurrying through the walls whenever Mom sighed or Dad picked-up that guitar.
That sad worked its way into me. I think that’s where my predilection for Elliott Smith and Cool Ranch Doritos came from—like sitting in my Dad’s office closet spying and listening to him mumble Kingston Trio songs.
That guitar sits in a pile of miscellaneous mess now in my room. I tuned it yesterday—took me an hour. I picked at the corner of his rainbow “Praise the Lord” sticker, but decided to leave it. I don’t remember him ever singing a gospel song—but I think (hope) he wanted to. I just heard him sing: “Hang down your head Tom Dooley. Hang down your head and cry.” That chorus frightened me. There was deception in my dad’s melancholy chewing through the walls in a trembling tenor.
That same sadness is still in the guitar—spent and used, like a hurricane turned drizzle. No fright left in it. Self-pity’s trick uncovered—like Leah in the morning, a blessing unlooked for.
I looked up the chords to Tom Dooley today, sang along under my breath, and finger-picked as best I could. I felt the same sadness like family—his story in mine. That guitar has amazing resonance.
I caught my first fish on my first try. I left my line dangling with a red egg behind a rock on Troublesome Creek. I skipped stones. Rock-hopped. Explored the chattering stream. When I came back, a fingerling silver and green fish was flopping on my hook. My dad came to get it off the hook; I held the pole while my dad maneuvered the fish free. I lost interest, moved the pole, and the hook sunk into my dad’s thumb. Deep. Blood oozed out, dribbling into the creek. Dark. Dad cringed, winced with a clenched jaw.
That was the first fishing trip. The annual event soon had merchandise—wide-brimmed tan canvas hats, matching t-shirts “I’d rather be fishing with my dad/little buddy.” For some reason we wore the shirts fishing.
We took our last trip ten years ago. My dad got us new hats. I wouldn’t wear mine, said something about the style and fit. Navy blue. Avid Angler Fly Fishing Outfitters logo with ruddy streamer. I couldn’t bring myself to wear it. Wearing it would have said we were ok. By that time, we were not ok.
Every year after, my dad would ask about a fishing trip. And I was busy. The thought of days alone, hours in the car, with him—made me cringe.
When I found his hat amongst all the stuff, I bit my lip, clenched jaw. Remembered all those conversations, busy schedules. Denied requests. His persistence. Ignoring the broke us. His thumb bleeding into the creek, face wincing in pain.
I wear that hat everyday. The crown is fading towards tan. If it still fit, I’d wear the t-shirt too.
My mom sold the house earlier this summer. I drove down to help her move. We slept in the living room after the move. A slumber party with sleeping bags and movies. The house was empty. I took the chance to remember. All the mixed feelings I had were in a quiet mood, tamed by acceptance, nothing to be scared of.
I investigated the scene. The scars on the fir trees that held the tree house dad and I built. The outline of tiny hands in the concrete. The crawl space that kept my dad’s secrets. The lawn swallowed up by moss. This was pilgrimage—following the steps of my dad. His miracles and the stations of his cross.