Seven laps around the Son.

Adrian de León
5 min readMar 5, 2024
Photo by David Peters on Unsplash

It has been almost seven years since I lost my father. It had been almost seven years since I had last been to Guatemala. Today, I can now say it has been less than seven days since I have been to Guatemala. I was there for two weeks, and in that short amount of time, I wrestled with the past and the present with the future in mind.

When I got off the plane, I was brought back to the first time I visited Guatemala. I was 14 and I’d walked down the steps of the plane and felt the hot air on my skin, and within me a sensation was building; it felt like a revelation. Or maybe it was relief as I had just spent close to 16h with my father, who had decided to cure his fear of flying by consuming alcohol. It could also have been the fear of being back home, but I couldn’t possibly know, because this wouldn’t be something he would have shared with me.

Nor was I inclined to ask, I was too busy being overwhelmed by the significance of being in this country, the home to half of my genetics, for the very first time. Of course, this is something I only realise with hindsight. It is a curse of the human psyche that the most significant feelings often manifest with retrospect. It’s a frustrating lacking of the human ability, like the inability to imagine a new colour or the inability to fly.

When I walked into the airport, my mind was busy trying to associate what I was seeing with memories in my head. What had been fragments of thought for so long were now being tasked with associating themselves to concrete experience. I couldn’t tell if the airport looked exactly the same, or completely different. This was no doubt a reflective thought of my inner-self: had I changed or was I completely the same?

As time went by during the trip, where I reacquainted myself with family and friends, it became clear that I had changed, physically at least. A bald head and a few extra kilos signalled the transition from a 25 year old self to a man almost a couple years into his thirties. Internally, I had also changed, I felt more confident about myself, I felt more certain about my inner monologue, especially when it came to interacting with my family. My father’s sisters, his aunts, his cousins, his nieces. Or were they finally now my aunt’s, my great aunts, and my cousins?

It has been almost seven laps around the sun since I have called myself his son to people who knew him. Back home, no one knew him, no one ever asked about him because he has always been just a tattoo on my ribs, or a fragment of the part that people could tell was missing from me.

In this trip, he was a present ghost, a kind spirit watching over me, watching over his family, our family. I could imagine him there as we reminisced about his life, and particularly the way he lived his life. I heard new stories but these released feelings that were familiar. Pride, disbelief, laughter, joy, sadness, regret. All of the elements I am told are normal when grieving.

Every sip of wine, every toke of a cigarette reminded me of him. My aunts’ story telling and mannerisms made him reappear in front of me. In their mannerisms, I did not recognise myself, and in the life he led I could not project myself. I always had the idea that I subconsciously wanted to be like him, I wanted to adopt his mannerisms, I wanted to have the effect that he had on others. The charm, the wit, the entertainment, the stories, the singularity of his being. In practice though, I was always in his shadow, close enough to feel his presence but far enough to never see beyond the pretence.

I never got to know the real him. From the stories I heard from others, I could sense a different man, not a father but a character from a story book. My cousin’s husband shared the story of when he had first met my dad after him and my cousin became a serious item. It was on the farm, our family farm, and my aunts and cousin had gone to bed. Just the men: my father and this man who was interested in his niece. In the dimly lit kitchen of a century old farm, my father asked him what his intentions vis-a-vis my cousins were? Then, my father pulled a whiskey bottle and placed it on the table. Next to the glass bottle, he placed a revolver. It was an old hunting gun, but it still worked. How does my cousin’s husband know this? Well, when dogs began to bark incessantly in the background, my father stormed out of the kitchen, onto the patio and shot two rounds into the sky. He had scared the living shit out of everybody present, and in our present, in my cousin’s kitchen, everyone laughed at this story.

My laugh was a subdued one; I couldn’t recognise this man, I couldn’t recognise the details, the description and the actions of a man I should have known. But then I realised, I never experienced the man that others had. I wasn’t privy to the man freed from pressure, freed from the burden of parenthood. Burden feels like a strong word, but whether empirical or not, a rejected child cannot help but feel like a burden. I felt grief; grief for a man I would never meet.

It felt hard to accept the notion that others had a more vivid, more positive image of the man who had been supposed to raise me. Why couldn’t I hold these memories? Did they exist and my brain chose to simply discard them? For moments in time, I resented others for having this advantage and it felt as if they were holding it over me. The road to nostalgia was full of taunting and withholding.

Then I thought about if a week is seven days, then maybe our lives are also divided in trenches of seven, and if this is the case, it means that I am currently living through the Sunday evening of the seven laps since my father passed away. A new week is approaching, a new Monday, with all of its promises and all of its unknowns.

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