There are moments in time that you will never forget. The older you get, your life becomes a flipbook of highlights. Certain memories stand out while others have faded away into an area our brains can no longer access…which is where most of my college memories have gone. It actually makes me crazy that I’ve forgotten so much of my life. I can only sit here with a bewildered scrunch face and crossed fingers that I’ve managed to hold on to the right moments. And of course there are the memories I’d rather forget…like that time I tried to be brunette again (gross), the time I drank too much Corona and woke up in the basement with a ferret, or the time I watched Human Centipede. Whyyyyyyyy?!
For me, one of those unforgettable moments was in the wee hours of the morning on January 2, 2008. When I saw my mom’s name on my phone my heart did that thing where it tries to escape your chest but can’t so instead it looks for a hiding spot in complete panic. Every single beat seems harder than the last and there is a definitive point when you’re sure your heart is trying to pickaxe its way out of your own throat. That feeling when your heart is pumping so hard you can’t hear anything but the ominous beats pounding and upstaging the rest of your senses. I knew something was terribly wrong.
When I got off of the phone, I sat there in a daze. In that moment, my life had changed forever. My mom’s voice echoed in my head. She kept asking if I understood what she was saying. I had even nodded my head as if she could see me. I’ll never forget how calm her voice had been. I watched Prisonbreak for three hours, completely numb and processing. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Prisonbreak was on and while my eyes may have been looking in the direction of the television, my mind was scattered like a thesis paper in 60mph winds. I was trying to pick up all of the pieces but couldn’t quite grasp anything.
My mind felt like a hyperspace tunnel and hanging on to any one thought was impossible. Why didn’t I call him on New Year’s Day? Is he an angel or is that something people say because it makes it easier? Was there something I could have done? Was there something I didn’t notice? Did it hurt? Was there really nothing else they could have done? Why did I get so annoyed with his driving? I even selfishly thought – now who’s going to walk me down the aisle?
The last conversation I had with my dad had been on NYE just after midnight. The music was so loud I couldn’t really make out anything he was saying. I know we ended it saying I love you. I just didn’t know it would be the last conversation I would ever have with him.
Monday was nine years and some days that seems right and other days I can’t possibly believe that’s true. When I’m home for the holidays, there’s a part of me that still waits for him to walk through the door. He never will, but his absence does. I miss him. In a world of gray areas, he saw everything clearly and I miss his advice. He would have simple and quick answers for things that I’d been toiling over for weeks. I miss the way he said my name. I miss having a dad. I miss him.
When you lose someone so close to you, priorities and perspective are put into place real quick. I also learned that there are certain things you can’t comprehend until you’ve been through it. I had been to fathers’ funerals before and I thought I got it. I thought I could empathize with what they were going through. I had no idea. Not even a clue.
Even through grief, I find laughter at times. We sat around a giant oval table planning his funeral like we were in the situation room. It was only a few minutes before we were yelling and screaming at each other. Some things never change. I learned the hard way that death is, in fact, a business. Who knew graves were 2 for 1!? Is there a Groupon for that? My family was grieving and we were being upsold as if we were at a steakhouse. Some of the gravestones they were trying to sell us on were so ornate and ridiculous, I wanted to be like – do you even know who my father was? He wore the same overalls and white t-shirt my entire life. He never wanted anything but a good football game and a donut. My mom had looked at me and my four siblings and asked us if we wanted a mausoleum and I only wish someone would have taken a picture of our faces.
Now my dad lies in a cemetery in Cincinnati which I get lost in pretty much every time I visit. I wish I could just put DAD into the GPS system. Instead I have to look for landmarks, which are usually peculiar monuments that guide me as if I’m on a life-sized Candyland board. My dad is just up the hill from Chen, which is engraved into a giant sphere that sits on a pillar about five feet high. The Chen family is clearly much wealthier than mine because all I could think was how much was that thing? On one of my visits, I was brushing old dried leaves off of my dad’s gravestone and I looked over to see a full-sized Christmas tree by a grave not far from dad’s-lights, ornaments, the works. My dad’s lack of decor suddenly felt extremely inadequate. That stupid tree was screaming WE LOVE OUR LOVED ONE MORE!! I contemplated kicking it over. Then I decided that was just rude, so then I thought about moving it to my dad’s grave because sharing is caring, right? I mean, they’re basically neighbors-it would be like a cup of sugar right? And finally I concluded it was too flashy for him anyway. So I finished my beer and left. (Sigh) Ah, cemetery games.
I will never get used to him being gone and while the grief still comes in waves, they are smaller and more intermittent. At the visitation, my cousin A.J. whose father had also passed hugged me the way only a Kodros can and I said, “tell me it gets better”. I’ll never forget his response: “I wish I could”. So now I’m a nine year alum of the Dead Father’s Club. A club I have no joy being a part of, yet a club that understands what it’s like to carry on a little less together, a little more fragile, and a little less whole. XX