I haven’t written in months. From an emotional and prosaic standpoint, I feel paralyzed.
This is not a shock to most who know me but, I like to plan. Everything. And right now I have no plan. However, in an attempt to move forward I will post again, fearing that my words will fight against me and that authenticity won’t seep through the figuring out as it happens out loud. I am not a fan of external processing. I am not a fan of rambling. Yet here I begin to do both. Please bear with me.
I remember only fragments of the rest of that first day. When I think back its like the dreams you have where you are aware of the general mood and activities in a room but you can’t identify everyone around you. I remember pulling into the driveway of my parents’ house, and walking up the sidewalk, past the oil stains left from the old crappy pickup I had in high school, noticing that the sprinklers had been left on for too long because there was standing water in the flower beds despite the summer heat. I remember walking into the living room to faces that were friends of my parents but simply people I knew peripherally and the simultaneous irritation, uneasiness and strange comfort I felt that they were there. Walking back to the master bedroom with Mandy and Ana, I remember thinking that maybe, somehow, somebody had really screwed up their information, that my Dad was still at the hospital, simply needing surgery for a broken leg or needing observation because of a bad concussion. Sure, it would be inconvenient to fix the truck and my parents’ insurance premiums would go up but they’d be able to handle it. I even hoped that maybe it was someone else.
I’m not proud to write that. But I did. In my confusion and frustration I hoped that it was one of the asshole firemen that worked overtime to pay for a boat instead of coaching Little League, or a prisoner from one of the fire work camps. Who cares if the world is short one more absent father, rapist or tweaker I wondered until I opened the door and realized that this wasn’t collateral damage as my immature brain had rationalized in the twenty or so steps it took to get down the dark, carpeted hallway.
As concretely as I can describe the sidewalk and my thoughts leading up to my mother’s room that had previously been my parents’ room I can’t adequately describe the grief, the absolute gut-wrenching realization and subsequent weeping that we shared as a family minus one. My description wouldn’t convey the true weight of the situation. It’d be like an actress crying on a Showtime movie, cheap and unconvincing. I’d probably use clichéd phrases like gut-wrenching.
Within an hour of arriving I remember my mom asking me if I wanted to see him. I did. So we slumped into another company car and drove past the strip malls of my hometown to the one hospital that served the entire valley. I remember walking past someone sitting on the dirty concrete steps and somehow smoking in the heat and wind outside before I entered the somewhat antiseptic, somewhat sick smell of the facility. We shuffled into the ER quietly, through a side door past the overcrowded waiting room. A nurse raised her eyebrows in objection at first, opening her mouth to speak until she saw the firefighter uniform behind me and the slow shuffle of my mom, who’d been there earlier in the day.
I paused and the chaplain led us to a back room, motioning for me to stand in a hallway. I could hear some low voices and what sounded like a dentist’s drill coming from behind a thick metal door. After knocking politely once and then a bit more forcefully a second time, the voices stopped. A young woman poked her head out, wearing a rushed, slightly irritated expression which also eroded quickly when she realized who we were. She mumbled to us that she needed a minute and turned back into the room. I could hear several curtains opening and closing and when she returned she forced a smile before quickly darting past us down the hall.
I don’t know what I expected, but on the ride over we hadn’t exactly discussed the logistics of what would occur when we arrived. It suddenly became apparent though that if I was going in I was going it alone. So I stepped inside and closed the door behind me, quickly walked down a dimly lit area between two hospital beds to avoid the option of changing my mind and suddenly there I was. Suddenly, there he was.
For anyone reading this hoping for salacious details or for anyone reading it starting to feel uneasy and nervous, you can both feel disappointed and relieved respectively, because all I will say is that my Dad looked like he had died in a car accident.
I spent only a few moments standing there actually. I tried to say something meaningful but it felt forced and strange, so I tried to think something meaningful instead. But in trying to comprehend and process the day’s events I felt utterly confused and drained. I simply muttered, “thanks Dad,” and left hurriedly.
Looking back I don’t know what I gained from seeing my Dad, the guy who was the best man at my wedding, in a state that none of us would ever hope to see a loved one, but I don’t think I lost anything either.
I certainly didn’t gain any closure. Someone talks about closure and I want to punch them in the face. For me, people who gain closure are extremely intelligent and emotionally advanced, people I’d like to be more like someday. But I also fear that they might just be really adept at hiding their brokeness, resolving to push on with life despite feeling shitty most days. Maybe they just drink more than I do. Either way, I still feel like I’m “closing” so to speak, so seeing my Dad certainly didn’t achieve that.
I also didn’t gain any peace, to be sure. If anything, that was a moment when my eyes were as opened to reality and the harshness of said reality, as they’ll ever be. I love my life right now. I love that I have a beautiful wife who loves me despite my flaws, a little girl who cracks me up and forces me to try and act like an adult as I raise and nurture her. I love that I have a son coming any day now, someone to carry on my family name and get bloody and/or dirty with. I feel fulfilled in my work. I am grateful to have a roof over my head in a place where I get to do the things I love to do year-round. But I don’t rest in these things and while I enjoy them, I can’t say that I feel peaceful in the midst of them, because I wonder not if, but when, the carpet gets yanked out from underneath us again. (Does anyone want to jump off a bridge yet?)
If anything was lost, maybe it was my illusion of innocence. But in losing that much was also gained. Being blessed with a stable family growing up, and a father who took his responsibility to equip me to be a man someday, I felt confident in who I was. At the time of his death, I was a college grad. I was also already a husband who had worked two or three jobs at once in an effort to support my new family and now had aspirations of a bright future in medicine ahead. I don’t want to appear as though I was cocky because that wouldn’t be accurate, but I had reached the point where I was coming into my own. I had taken what I’d learned through observation and direct instruction from my parents and then tried to act like an adult and somehow, it was working.
But suddenly, painfully, my safety net was gone. I didn’t get to call my Dad and talk about the Dodger game for a few minutes before I asked if I really needed to bleed the brake line if I was just changing the pads. I didn’t get to go snowboarding with him and tell him right before we got off the chairlift how glad I was that he told me to avoid a high maintenance woman. I couldn’t ask him about budgeting or investing. I couldn’t observe how he mentored others or led in a church setting. If I wanted to build another piece of furniture , like when we’d built a bed for Ana and I as a wedding present, I could follow plans, but I couldn’t expect him show me how to fix the mistakes.
But in looking back, five years, removed, I see his imprint in what has transpired in my life even though he hasn’t been around. The safety net was never gone because he showed me how to be the person who could find an answer, or be a leader, or fix the mistakes I’ll inevitably make. And so for that, Dad, I still say thank you.