Twenty years ago today, I dragged myself out of bed and called my best friend to see if she wanted to go to Walgreens with me. It was Mother's Day, and I wanted to get my mom a card and some candy. She showed up a few minutes later and we headed out. It was only a mile or so to the store, but it was already hot out and I was on crutches.
We bought our cards and candy and headed back home. We hadn't gotten very far when my mom and sister pulled up in our station wagon. We piled into the back and as we drove along, my mom said, "I'm worried about your dad. I haven't seen him yet today."
My dad had been laid off from the trucking company where he worked as a dispatcher, and had been doing odd jobs for friends to make a little extra money. My mom was working in the deli at the local Jewel as well as part time at a nearby print shop.
I don't remember a lot of what happened that afternoon, but when we got back to our house, my mom asked our friend if she would call her father and ask him to come over. They lived two houses down, so he was at our door in less than a minute. Mom sent the three of us (me, Sis and TK) out the back door and told us to wait there.
This is where it gets fuzzy. I remember saying in my head over and over, "I'll do anything, just please don't let him be dead," and I paced around on my crutches. None of us spoke. At some point I remember hearing my mom screaming "No!" over and over and over again. The next thing I remember is TK's mom coming over and walking us over to their house. I remember an ambulance pulling up and the lights weren't flashing. We waited there for what seemed like an eternity, and then my mom was at the front door. Sis and I walked out to the porch and my Auntie Reenie was there, along with several other of my dad's siblings. Deep down, I knew. I saw my sister sit down on the step and start crying, and I still refused to acknowledge it. I looked down at my mom who was standing on the front walk. "What?" I asked her. Her eyes were red. She looked up at me and said, "Your daddy is gone."
The rest of that day is a blur. We went back to the house and Sis and I sat in the kitchen while people poured in. The pastor from our church came to see if we were ok. My Auntie Mickey couldn't stop crying. She just stood there, repeatedly tucking my hair behind my ears and saying, "You girls are so beautiful. Your daddy was so proud of you. So proud." My mom gave us each half a valium, so I wasn't feeling much. I couldn't understand how I was going to go on with my life knowing I'd never see my father again. We went and stayed with my Auntie Sylvia that night. I had a doctors appointment the next day, and after that I think I remember going to pick out a casket.
The wake and funeral were the worst part. I had been to a few funerals in my childhood and though they had been hard, they were nothing compared to attending one for my own father. I didn't want to see him there. I didn't want to remember him that way. I wanted to remember him smiling, the way he would clap his hands when he laughed.
Twenty years is such a long time. I still don't know it's possible. I was 16 years old when he died. He has now been gone from my life longer than he was in it. I sometimes feel like I barely knew him. He was my best friend. He was the one person in my life who was always straight with me, no matter what. He was a quiet man with a wicked sense of humor. All my life, I never heard him say a bad word about anyone (except Molly Ringwald. He hated her.). He was my anchor. Whenever things got bad, he was always there to keep me safe.
For reasons I won't get into here, I stopped talking to my father two weeks before he died. The last conversation I remember having with him was about Star Trek. We were watching a TNG episode in which Data gets shut off (or something) and Brent Spiner fell over without blinking or wincing or anything, and my dad kept going on and on about what a great actor he was for pulling that off. That's all I remember. He was wearing jeans with a hole in the left knee and a light blue shirt with white stripes.
I never went to bed at night without telling my dad I loved him. I stopped when I got mad at him, and sometime in the early morning on Mother's Day in 1990, my dad passed away in his sleep. He died alone, in the dark, thinking I hated him. I never got to say goodbye. I never got to say I'm sorry. He would have wanted me to forgive myself a long time ago, but I can't see that I ever will. I don't deserve forgiveness.
On days like this, I believe I would trade every good thing in my life just to have him here for one minute. That's all I would need to make things right. I'll never get that chance and until the day I die, I'll believe I am owed every shitty thing that happens to me because I turned my back on someone I loved. I haven't gone back home in ten years. Haven't seen his grave. I don't believe in heaven or hell, that there is any part of him left under that cold grey stone. But I still found comfort there. I would sit in the grass with the sun on my face and talk to him. I'd tell him everything I needed to and it would help for a while.
I got a card in the mail yesterday. It was from the mother of a good friend of mine who died six years ago last month. (I send her a card every year on his birthday and for when he died.) Inside the card were two pictures of her son (who was like a brother to me) and a note that said, "Thank you for the lovely card. It's such a comforting feeling that I'm not alone remembering that day."
That's the worst part, I think. Being alone. After my dad died, my mom, sis and I just sort of retreated to our own corners. It was not the right way to deal with what had happened, but that's what we did. I'm still retreating to this day. I have a hard time telling people when something is bothering me, or when I need help. When I break down, I go somewhere where no one will see me. But what I wouldn't give for a card. Just a note that says: You are not alone.
It's hard for me to write all of this and will be even harder to post it. Twenty years is a long time to live with this loss. I guess what I'm trying to say is, it's not worth it. Things can change in the blink of an eye, and you don't get a second chance. If you've got something to say to someone, say it. If you're angry at someone, don't shut them out. The silence is unbearable.