a memory in algorithm

Everywhere I look is where I see him.

Downtown city streets awash in morning glow, throng of heads bobbing with the tide of rote obligation. Lives wholly separate but flowing together, a predesigned uniform cause. Thousands of personal histories carrying their preternatural weight, their stories. These are intersecting bloodlines, divergent strains of DNA coiled in distinct splendor, yet each of them anonymous and irrelevant when condensed by the crowd. Personal struggles no longer matter. Children and time and detailed subplots are trampled and forgotten underfoot. Fifteen paces up ahead a man turns his head in profile and the cold sunlight splashes his face, my father’s face, a snapshot frozen in memory long after the man regains his centeredness, facing forward.

I quicken my pace, my eyes stuck on the back of his head. The image remains branded into my mind and my father resurfaces, not just his image or his face the way I remember it but his chided spirit, what it meant to be my father in this world, his burden of strain and deep disconnected habit. In a span of seconds I’m thinking of how my father’s legacy is imbedded in my body and mind. I’m thinking of my commitment to him, of our brief interaction on this planet and its stranglehold on everything I touch. It was just a stranger in a blinking moment of illusion but it was also my father, a careful revelation into my origins, a walking memory of a man that has become so much more than flesh and blood.

The crowd seems to thicken, to intensify in density, a calculated frustration of my pursuit. I move faster, sweating now in the morning frost, hoping he’ll turn again. Next time I’ll get a better look, I’ll prove to myself that it is just a stranger and not my dead father. It couldn’t possibly be him, the man I hated and loved, the man upon whom my own genetic habits and tendencies were patterned. I walk faster still, his steps matching mine. He moves at a rate of imminent escape.

An old man stands against a giant gray building and plays songs on his battered guitar, the case open and virginal in front of him. His face is scrunched into the drawl of a song, a slow expression compressed by years of struggle. He looks nothing like my father. His song is beautiful, a steady weaving lament of molten silk, and in this brief encounter I’m saddened by the way it gets lost in the bawl of activity. The streets throb with the morning crowd, an aura written in plumes of people’s steam, the vehicle exhaust. Paper coffee cups and flickering traffic lights and cellular phones. The history of the city is written in the rebirth of the morning, in the success and toil and steel and glass and concrete of yesterday, the forgetfulness, the failed dreams scrawled in stained sidewalk residue. I look up and the likeness of my father has gone, merged into the confluence of everyone and everything.

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