I will type this date over and over again today.
It is a normal Monday around here, there is nothing particularly notable happening. I will go to work, I will see some friends. I will hit the gym and cook dinner. I will take a long hot shower at the end of a full and productive day and although it will certainly feel relaxing it will never wash away the memory of this day 12 years ago.
The memory of my father sitting outside by the pool in his blue t-shirt and shorts, breathing in the fresh air pondering why he felt under the weather. The way he walked into the house with a look of fear on his face. The way his 6’4 frame crumpled to the ground quicker than my brain could process what was going on, the way the hue of his lips and face changed almost instantly and began to match his clothing.
Panic in the abstract it seems like it would be this quick heart palpitating adrenaline rush, but in real life, though panic does lights the fire, it is a slow, steady and painful burn. Time stops when you evaluate the fact that there is a person at your feet who isn’t breathing. The seconds tick by as your protector becomes the person who needs to be protected. You assume this new role with every fearful breath your own body takes. Emergency calls are placed but it’s like talking underwater — these words that are coming out of your mouth are unrecognizable, you hear them, but they can’t be yours. This can’t actually be happening. In seconds there are strangers in your home, someone else is in charge. There are needles on the ground, sinking into the carpet. There is nothing quick about panic — time actually seems to be moving in slow motion, so much so that you become aware of everything. The smells and the thickness of the air become overwhelming, but the more you breathe, the more you are reminded that not everyone is so lucky.
Being told my father was gone in a bright white hospital that had sunshine busting through every single window was like a joke with the most offensive punch line. His heart stopped, there was nothing else we could do. They call Time of Death and it feels like a bad television show. I look at the clock and recognize it as the same clocks from elementary school. I wonder if they all order from the same catalog. I am clinging to anything familiar. We sat side by side, my mom and I, in a sad little office in leathery uncomfortable chairs as we listened to the doctor. Here is a pamphlet that explains what happens next. I feel sad for whoever has to write those pamphlets. Knowing their work is going to reach people when they are at their worst. It’s thankless. The hospital will store the body until you can make funeral arrangements, do you know who you are going to call?
I wonder how they can call him a body while my mom crumples beside me, the second crumpling parent I’ve seen today. It is freezing and I am overwhelmed by the smell of chemicals. I am 19 with my whole life ahead of me, yet I can’t even fathom what life will look like anymore in this moment. Do people often know who they are going to call in these situations? I can’t imagine people carrying around funeral home information in their purse, but maybe I am wrong.
Though I would like to believe I am, and have spent hours trying to convince others, I am not an adult. And today, I finally realize that. Today I woke up as a child, but that chapter has been slammed shut without my consent and all of that is now changing. You cannot remain a child when you have to leave one third of your family in this cold, dead environment, knowing that you will never see him again. You cannot remain a child once you have experienced this kind of loss.
How do you go back to the house that is filled with him – with his warmth and his laughter, with his hamper full of just worn clothes and his pillow that still smelling like him? What do you do with his cologne on the bathroom counter, the one’s he let you pick out because you were his little girl and he always wanted your opinion? How do you look at his handwriting all over notes that he has left to you and left to himself? Notes that were once reminders and are now some of the only reminders left.
How does one do this at the age of 19?
For starters she puts her mother back in the car and drives her back home to the house. She puts one foot in front of the other and picks up the one remaining needle on the living room floor. She stops to laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation and to cry at the devastation. She gives hugs and gets angry. She protects her memories as she falls off to sleep each night. She sees family and sees friends. Eventually she goes back to work. She hits the gym and she cooks dinner. She takes long, hot showers at the end of productive days.
But twelve years later, she still wakes up and can’t believe that he is gone.