My Father’s Hands

by Callie Warner

The hands that saved me from choking to death on a chicken bone when I was six years old later raised the pistol to his head when I was twenty-one. One moment his hands appear to me like plane vapors, the next they spread through my memory, solid and strong, like tree roots. His hands cooked tamale pie and cow’s tongue and seafood bisque. They organized a wall of cut-off milk jugs, one filled with “I” bolts, another with screws, on and on in the basement shop where frames were built for ancient tiles and furniture he made for the house. Just a hobby, not a job. It was the creative release after corporate time, driving in the car an hour each way and the eight hours in the office doing little that gave him pleasure.

During the thirty days it took to find his body, I couldn’t stop moving. Day after day I searched for him, speeding down narrow river roads or along the Blue Ridge Parkway, both hands gripping the wheel. After his body was found, I dreamt it wasn’t his. I didn’t identify it. Couldn’t it have been a mistake?

I open my grandfather’s war documents. Notebooks filled with tactics for killing the enemy. “Battle Strategies,” “Winning an Argument,” “Knowing When to Fire,” “Understanding Your Enemy,” “Learning to Map the Course,” “Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back.” Before court or depositions or meetings with my ex-husband concerning our child, I would read these papers and envision armor protecting my third chakra, and a mirror looking out, hoping his angry hands could not reach me as easily.

I travelled as the USO girl long before I learned my father fought in the war. I sang through Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Okinawa, Diego Garcia, Germany, Egypt, the Sinai Desert, but nowhere did I see his hands. Nowhere did I find those square nails and thick fingers. Nowhere did I find my father. A psychic in Los Angeles told me I’d meet my husband in a foreign land. I know on some unconscious level he would have to have the hands of my father. I didn’t find them on any soil and came home to marry hands that had some of his qualities, some of his talents for cooking and gardening. But they had other motives too. They signed papers to try to take my child. They signed illegal deals and wrote checks to the cult therapists who pushed our marriage into a seventeen-year court battle. That same psychic told me my husband killed me in my last life and was back to try again in this life.

At six, I watched my grandfather try to shave with his paralyzed left hand, a result of a bullet to his shoulder from a German soldier. Its permanent outstretch was haunting, and I sat on the sink in his bathroom mesmerized by his ability to hold the knife and not cut his neck. That same focus and precision I noted as he taught me to shoot a gun at seven. When a major general shows you how to hold a gun, with his right hand cupping your small right hand and his left stiff hand barely able to touch your left hand, you follow directions, even when fear resembles that stiffness of hand. When my son was born, his tiny hands were so small they fit exactly in my palm. They were perfect and delicate, with square nails. I wondered if my father’s looked the same at birth?

Callie Warner, a writer and artistic welder, recently moved back to her hometown of Asheville, North Carolina.

About My Father’s Hands—This piece will be included in a larger memoir about my father.

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