My father hated haircuts. Well, not the actual haircut but barber-shop chatter. Usually about sports. He had nothing against sports but he couldn't stand it as a topic of conversation. He preferred talking about the national character and human nature, rare topics at the barber shop. So to avoid this unpleasantness he had his hair cut short, that way he could put off the next visit as long as possible.
I was reminded of this today when, home from a haircut, I saw my father's face in the mirror. Quite short on the side. Longish on top and combed back, or as back as a natural curl would allow. The beard wasn't him, but the face was. Especially if I pointed my eyebrows and rolled up my eyes the way drunks do when they sing. My father didn't drink. This was his expression when he was searching the heavens for what he was about to say about the national character or human nature.
We become our parents: that's a commonplace. As far as I can see we, or at least I, become both parents. I don't think I make my mother's facial expressions, but I certainly do what she does as if following a silent-movie script of domestic rituals. Just a while ago I was unloading the dishwasher and putting things away exactly where she did. In the morning I will follow my father's script and make myself an espresso: the morning's first coffee for a Cuban is black. My sister will come and my mother's script will take over as I make her a black espresso. After she leaves for work I will make myself a cafe con leche and a light breakfast; if oatmeal, I will be following my maternal grandmother's script, which will prompt me two or three hours later to make myself some eggs.
I can feel the dead inhabit my body. Taking over my skeleton and muscles to make those moves. I can hear my father's slippers shuffling toward the coffee pot and wonder if that's the reason why not long ago I bought old-fashioned slippers like he wore that make the right shuffle sound. I can see my grandmother stirring the oatmeal in her small rooftop apartment, feel her wiry body move as I move, her skin tighten on my arms and legs.
Nothing unpleasant about these visitations. I enjoyed the company of these people in life. It's comforting to have them inhabit me now that they're gone. I willingly submit to them. They live, I live. We part company. My father liked to write in the room that I have made my study, but more often I write in one of the big ugly recliners in the living room or here in bed. Something drives me to diverge from his ritual in this. What it is I understand as much as my grandmother's movements as I stir the oatmeal. And I don't question it.
I dance with ghosts. Become one with one of them and then another and then separate from all only to join them again. I don't intend to become my father when I tell the young woman at a place that looks nothing like the barber shops that so vexed him how I want my hair. But that's who appears in the mirror, the mirror that tells me I am a ghost myself. I like it.