Yesterday I went into my dad’s office at our house to look for a mousepad for my new desk at my new job. It was the second time I’ve gone in there since he died, and upon walking in I remembered why after the first time I swore to myself I would avoid going in there again.
There are of course many reminders of my father in that little room, being his office and all, like his toy truck collection, his piles and piles of magazines and books and brochures, and lots of other Jim paraphernalia. These items are all over our house, particularly the bottom level, and continue to cause me pain and sadness, but there are two items specific to his office that are much more heartbreaking than most of his belongings combined.
On the left side of the cramped room, resting atop one of many heaps of paperwork, is a greeting card. The card is pink and brown with polka dots and bow surrounding the word “Stepdaughter” on the front. It is a birthday card for my sister (we are half sisters with different fathers, hence the “step”). This card made me ache in a way I hadn’t yet, made me sink to entirely new levels of sadness. This card is evidence that my dad was nowhere near ready to leave his girls, not the least bit prepared for such a tragic outcome. He had that card out, ready to sign, stamp and send. It never even crossed his mind that he wouldn’t be around on June 16.
As my tears rapidly fell onto this sweet but corny–much like Jim himself–little card, I remembered when he bought it. I came home from school in between finals and Senior Week to start the moving process, and while I was there he asked if we could go to the Hallmark store to buy Mothers Day cards. He had a coupon, he always did, and thus bought Mothers Day and birthday cards for my mom and sister weeks in advance. While there we ran into a neighbor and old friend of ours, and I was horrified to watch her reaction as she realized that the man standing–barely–before her was, in fact, my dad, at least 50 pounds lighter and several inches shorter. He’d gotten so much worse from when I was home for Easter, resembling to a frightening degree his own father right before he died at the age of 93. (Grandpa Frank died when I was five years old, and apparently I had trouble understanding the concept of death. At the funeral I screamed, “What do you mean he’s in there?” while pointing to his coffin. That phrase echoed in my mind throughout my dad’s wake and funeral, and probably will every time I visit the cemetery.)
The other item in my dad’s office that is excrutiating to look at is his day-to-day calendar, which is sitting in the middle of his desk. It is tradition in our family for everyone–except for me because I don’t have a use for them–to receive day-to-day calendars for Christmas. We usually get the kind with trivia questions or puzzles, and my dad would always present the question or puzzle to my mom and I before revealing the answer and ripping the page off to show the next day’s. The date on the current page of his 2010 calendar is May 13, the day they left for Baltimore to see me graduate from college. Seeing that date makes me think that it was the last day with any shred of normalcy or hope, the last day that my father even had the energy and strength to travel the few yards from his chair in the den to his chair in the office.
Eventually we will have to go through all of my dad’s clothes, books, records, trucks, paperwork, everything. We will likely keep certain clothing items and donate others, sell some valuable records and trucks, and throw out a whole lot of papers. I’d like to think it will be somewhat satisfying to finally clean the house a little because the man rarely threw anything out, but I know it will be excrutiating. In many ways, though, the presence of that little card and that little calendar in his office is more painful than the idea of going through all his other stuff. The card, more so than the calendar, is killing me.