My bike is a vintage 1973 Raleigh handed down to me by my father. The steel frame I use to bike those 40 miles to and from class every day is the same one he used on his campus, way back in the Bronze Age. Sure, I’ve replaced the brakes, the shifters, the chain, the pedals, the wheels, and about half the rider, but the core of the thing is unchanged.
It’s only natural, then, that I was replacing the brake cable when I discovered them. I’d been inserting a Dremel bit to cut some sheathe when I thought to wear eye protection, and what should I find when rifling through the mess called my father’s garage but a pair of glasses that could have been older than the bike I was repairing. Safety-wear, to be sure; the glasses were un-lensed, but the thick black frames were standard eye-wear right about the time NASA was sending Armstrong to the moon. Instantly recognizable. I used them to finish cutting the sheathe and pocketed them.
Now, here I am, in front of my bathroom mirror, a little afraid of what I’m about to see. Staring back at me in reflection is a twenty-or-so kid with dark hair and a strange expression on his face. He’s vaguely familiar, but not the one I’m here to meet. I put on the glasses and take another look.
It’s him. A little taller, maybe, skinnier in most places, but the face is unmistakable. It’s my father, his signature eyebrows expressing their concern. He’s younger. I shuffle my stance a bit, and he’s become the picture from the hallway in the house where I grew up, a mildly scruffy future figure of authority not quite posing in a Cleveland airport. I take the glasses off, but he doesn’t disappear until I force a blink for the third time. As I open my eyes, the stranger is back.
This is ridiculous. I’m ridiculous.
“You’re ridiculous,” says the stranger. I’m not listening. With slow resolve, I put the glasses back on. My father glares back at me again.
That’s all that comes out. He’s still there, waiting for me, but my words refuse to continue. I want to accuse him. I want to call him out, to prosecute him on a plethora of misguided parental deeds, but I realize that the kid in the mirror hasn’t done any of them; he’s just a kid in college, still waiting to take the E.I.T. and trying to figure out his new TI-30. He’s an ambitious foreigner with a knack for circuit design. If I had met him anywhere else, we might have gotten into a conversation about physics together. We might even have become friends. But we’re not, of course; some 37 years and a pane of reflective glass divide us.
I can offer no questions. I certainly don’t have any advice. “Dad,” I say.
It surprises him, too.
Tevis Arthur Tsai lives in Silver Spring.