Everett Hafner 1920 - 1998

Scenic Flights

June 28, 1993

I'm trying to decide what to wear tonight. A skirt, I think--with a pretty blouse. Which shoes? What kind of perfume? Chanel Number 5 or Shalimar? I can't decide. It's been humid, and my hair is slightly frizzy. I'd like to do something about that, but I don't think I can. I'd like to look stunning. I wonder if I will. I wonder if it matters. Of course it does. Today is my father's birthday, and tonight we (my stepmother and I) are taking him, the mad scientist, the genius-- out for dinner.

My father will be charming tonight--my stepmother will be striking and tall--she will say, "Oh, Everett darling," at least three times and will laugh out loud--will be excited about the cake we have told the waitress--a secret-- to bring. My father will bum a cigarette from me--will hold it between his thumb and forefinger, the way Robert Oppenheimer did. And his wine glass. I can hear it now, he will begin rubbing the rim, producing a note, and we will have to tell him to stop. He may lecture us on the impossible drift of sound, or the way light travels through water, the way it bends--the way it bends is exactly the way a lifeguard should be taught to save people. He will not be surprised about his presents--I have told him I am buying him a copy of a book he has coveted, taken out of the library, a book about people he has known. He also knows about the good scotch. But does he know how much I love him?

My father is not an emotional man. He skims over emotion the way skaters glide over ice. He has three sisters--has had his fill of women weeping--two daughters--he has had enough problems with our boyfriends, our husbands, our sex--drinking and a rehab center he took me to--with Pamela, my stepmother.

But tonight someone will bring up an emotional issue and we will all defend our positions. My stepmother will be very sad, I will notice again that she is the most beautiful woman I have ever met. I will be too intense--I will emphasize my affection for my sister who is five months pregnant. I love her so much it hurts. I will say that too many times, and then apologize for my emotions and my father will look down at the table--he will say, "This reminds me," and it will be a joke, probably a terrible one, as I mop up my black mascara tears with the cloth napkin.

My father escapes into humor, books, and math problems--holograms and magic, dinner parties, physics, beautiful women and the Encyclopedia Britannica--and if nothing is close by, he will work on an article he is writing--he will review a movie, a concert--and people will call me and ask, "Did you read he's an atheist? Did you know?" "You must have read it wrong--" or, "He doesn't know any better," I say. "Don't believe everything you read. He's going through a phase."

But that day, the day he took me to the drying out clinic, he had tears, half sorrow, half relief. I was very very drunk all morning--he'd been giving me shots of vodka, until we were both drinking too much. Drinking in the morning. Really. I loved him more than usual that day. And on all days, I suspect I love him too much. Does he love me as much. Does it matter?

I left therapy three months ago with that on my mind. Apparently the question-- But what will I do when my father dies--is normal, there is no quick fix for that one. You have memories. Card tricks, a little physics and the fastest way to save a drowning man. The man who was your father will live on forever, he will never be gone, and I will never drink again--he would be watching.

I can picture him up in heaven. First he'll find a girl, then a good library. He'll introduce himself to Einstein--pass out his business card. His business card reads, Everett Hafner, Ph.D. Physicist, Musician. Floating around in the upper right hand corner is a drawing of a piano and on the bottom, an airplane. Math tutoring, it says. Scenic flights, magic, bed and breakfast. He will pass out his cards and say, "We were wrong about God, Bert." Then he'll reintroduce himself to Richard Feynan, Leonard Bernstein, and yards of physicists, a big bunch of men. He will see his mother and she will tell him what tie to wear all over again, and he will play his violin and it will be the best he ever played. He'll be such a hit up there, I know it. My stepmother and I, and my sister and her daughter--we will all wave to him. See you soon, we'll say. But that is a long time off I think. His curious nature will take him way beyond his years, his athletic ability--something he has always been--a very athletic man--will ward off a heart attack.

Still, he is alarmed at his age. Not because he is afraid of dying--rather because he has not yet learned how to play the piano perfectly, has not had enough letters from his friend Leonard--letters about integrals and cosines, or X as positive in the first example. He has not decided on the best way, the most delicious Bearnaise, and the most unfortunate, he has not finished reading all of the books written in the nineteenth century. That is his fear.

And I am alarmed at his lack of faith. I secretly hope he might start reading the Bible-- for practice, for loopholes--and he will understand why I am not an atheist-- he will finally agree. "There is a God, with a baby coming, after all," he might say.

Yes, this is a big birthday. But I know the truth. My father will live to be a hundred and twenty at least. He is too stubborn, he will scream: "I haven't fixed that yet--" And he loves everyone. He will take Death aside, bum a few cigarettes from him, Death has a pack handy--he lives on them--and they will have a drink together, tell some jokes. My father will ask, "Do you know the one about the dead ringer? His brother took his place and his face rang a bell." He'll tell Death, in a very convincing way, after all, it's the truth, "You see, it is not a good time, I have a lot to do. Are you aware of the fact that the musical scale is over two hundred years old? It's a mess. Let me show you." "Fine by me," Death will say. "I've got a long list. Anyone you know?" Of course my father, very politely--will decline. "What a terrible job you have, Death. Tell me, what was Mozart like? Mark Twain, Noel Coward, oh, that must have been a very sad day for you," he'll remark. Then he'll point to my stepmother and me, and my sister and his sisters and say, "Leave them alone too, if you could." And that will be that. Death will be charmed, may become an occasional dinner guest. "Don't be afraid," my father will tell us, "he's a lovely man, very understanding, trust me--he's met some fascinating people." My father and his friends.

He is an essential man, my father--that's what will keep him going. But what about his airplanes? He knows I hate his flying. But today and tonight?-- a mild mid life crisis at best. My father was too busy to have a midlife crisis at fifty, and has waited until seventy-three to consider it.

After dinner we will all, the three of us, hug. We will say we ate too much, but once a year--why not? We will say we are a good family--that we take care of each other. My father will thank us. He will take his gifts, get into his small car and he will be off, his mind on important matters. Birthdays he understands. Nothing new in them. He'll go home to a mystery that he, no one, has yet mastered. I'm going with Chanel Number 5.

Sarah Hafner