Before I begin this extremely difficult post in honor of the first anniversary of losing my father, I’d like to direct you all to my sister’s most recent blog post. She’s done a wonderful job in remembering and describing exactly what my dad was like, and reading it was like lifting a veil that’s been obscuring my view of him for the past year. (Perhaps I could only see the sick version of him and/or the romanticized notion of him I created after he died, but this post is really, really him.) Those of you who knew him will make you laugh at his familiar behavior; those of you who did not know him, well, now you might understand me and this blog a whole lot better. I also want to direct you to other people’s remembrances of him on a website attached to his obituary that I discovered recently.
Okay, here goes.
Hello. I miss you.
I surprised Mom for Mother’s Day with tickets to a new Broadway show, Baby It’s You, and it was equally wonderful and awful. It was wonderful because it’s basically the same as Jersey Boys, only with The Shirelles instead of The Four Seasons, so the music was fantastic. It was awful because I could not stop thinking about how you should’ve been sitting on the other side of Mom. When I heard the first three notes of Duke Of Earl and imagined your voice singing along, off-key, I started crying and didn’t stop for the rest of the show.
I am reminded of you, of something you would say, something you would hate, something you would find hilarious, about once a minute. When this happens I can’t just think of you and smile quietly to myself; I think of you and wonder why the hell you aren’t here anymore to speak, hate, laugh. The instant you died it was like I accidentally stumbled into some alternate universe, like I left The Universe In Which You Exist and entered The Universe In Which You Do Not Exist. I gotta tell you Dad, I hate this universe. It sucks. Sometimes it’s like you never existed at all because your face and your voice are so very far away. I still can’t look at a picture of you without crying, it just makes no sense to me that the face of the person I’m looking at can now only be found in pictures. I recently opened that downstairs coat closet, which I guess I hadn’t done in a while because I was immediately whacked in the face with your scent from all your old coats and hats. So now I know can stick my head in there and breathe you in, just for a couple of seconds. It doesn’t really make me feel better, but it’s something.
Since The Universe In Which You Do Not Exist began I have talked to a therapist about all these horrible feelings. She’s been suggesting for some time now that I write you a goodbye letter of all the things I wish I’d had the chance to tell you, and she’s been pushing it even more now that the anniversary is here. The thing is though, I feel like I’ve been writing this letter in my head every day since you left this world. Maybe since you got sick. Maybe even my whole life, in one way or another. I’m pretty sure our last conversation was when I was trying to leave the hospital to get my eyebrows done and you were chatting away, making me very late (some things never change even in the face of a deadly illness, eh?) so yes, there are many things I wish I’d had the chance to tell you, and many things I’ve wished I could tell you since.
(1) I’m sorry you were sick. And I’m sorry I was mad at you for it. When we first found out about the cancer I kept thinking, ‘This must be a joke’. I had just started to accept that Mom would actually be okay after the brain surgery and bad reaction to treatment and everything, then BOOM. You get sick too. Then I started thinking, because like you I am pessimistic at heart and couldn’t help but assume the worst, “There’s no way I’ll be lucky enough to have both parents survive this. Certainly not one as well as the other’. I was incapable of comprehending how much physical pain you were in then, kind of like how most people are incapable of comprehending how much emotional pain I’m in now, but I was so angry at you for your attitude about the whole thing. Especially toward the end. You got so impatient with Mom, you wouldn’t eat a damn thing despite us trying to give you your favorite foods, you even said some pretty awful things at my graduation. I was so mad at you that weekend—looks like I still am a little bit—and mad at myself for being mad at you, and I’m sorry. I am so, so sorry.
(2) My car accident was not your fault. I know you always blamed yourself, but seriously Dad how could you have known they changed the road signage on 195 leading to the Atlantic City Expressway? You were the only person I could have called that night, stuck in the middle of central Jersey at night during a huge thunderstorm, who knew exactly where I was and how to get back on the right route to our beach house. Your mind was like, as well as a database of every obscure music fact under the sun, a mental map of the entire state of New Jersey. You were also the only person I wanted to call/see/talk to that night, remember? I was in complete shock until you guys found me on 539 and when you ran over and hugged me I knew everything would be okay and you would take care of me. Can’t you just do that again, please? Can’t you just find some way to let me know that everything will be okay?
(3) When I broke my foot freshman year at Loyola it was not a dance injury. It is truly amazing that you guys actually believed that story, or maybe you didn’t and you just wanted to pretend that was how I did it, but here’s what really happened: My roommates and I were at an on-campus party when the RAs and Baltimore police (supposedly) came to break it up. I was told that getting written up would be very, very bad so when someone informed me that people were escaping through the kitchen window, I, in a Jungle Juice stupor, thought that sounded like a swell idea. I convinced my friends to join (for the record they told me it was a bad idea), swung one leg out the window, lost my grip and fell right-foot-first on the grass 2 stories below. As if hearing and feeling the crunch of several bones in my foot wasn’t enough I proceeded to get up and run to the closest room of people I knew. I went to the ER the next morning and the rest, as you know, is history. Now, wouldn’t you have killed me if I’d told you the real story 5 years ago? I know Mom would have. (She still might, which is why I’m still not telling her.) I hope that you can appreciate the story now, Mr. Seton Hall Frat Boy. Don’t think for a minute your old college buddies didn’t show up to the wake and tell me stories of your glory days.
(4) I am exactly, precisely like you in almost every personality characteristic. I am stubborn as all get-out, which you already knew, and my temper is almost as short as yours was. I often catch myself thinking and saying things that are so you; I even sit in the recliner and futz around with the newspaper and the mail on the table next to it, just like you did, and I listen to oldies radio stations. On purpose. I found your photo albums from all the traveling you did before you married Mom, and some of your pictures from Europe are EXACTLY the same as mine. These pictures made me feel very close to you, they made me remember how much I admire you for visiting so many places and how grateful I am to have inherited your passion for travel. The thing I love most about these photos is that they are so essentially you, but not necessarily the you I knew. Perhaps that’s why they don’t make me quite as sad as other pictures of you. (I actually took one of your Greece pictures out of the album to keep in my room—it’s a profile shot of you resting your chin on your arms and looking at some ruins. You’re wearing those old-school glasses and a yellow t-shirt, most likely tucked in to khaki shorts with white socks rolled up to mid-calf and some ugly white velcro sneakers, and you appear to be deep in thought while smirking ever-so-slightly. I don’t think I’ve ever loved a picture more.)
(5) You used to joke that all I needed you for was money and a ride, and then when I got my license just for the money. I know I was/am a brat sometimes, but I hope that’s not really what you thought of me Dad. Maybe I couldn’t fully realize it until you were gone, but I needed you for so much more than money and a ride. I need you now more than ever. I need you to listen to me rave about this new job in the city, I need you to panic on an hourly basis about my commute to the fabulous new job, I need you to be watching TV in the den right now, I need you to threaten to toss your newspapers all over Erica’s house just to drive Jason crazy when we go to Chicago, I need you to see how amazingly smart Zoe has become, I need your corny jokes (“We are not to be held responsible for lost articles.” “What about nouns? Prepositions? Verbs?”) and your coupons and your old movies and your laugh and your yawn and I NEED YOU. Period.
I miss you so much sometimes I can barely stand up. It’s not fair, all this missing and not being able to do a damn thing about it. I won’t even go into how much Mom misses you; I know it’s not a competition but I think she may be in even more pain than I. I also think a part of me may always be waiting for The Universe In Which You Exist to start back up again, like this can’t possibly be how it’s going to be for the rest of my life, but I am slowly getting used to it. As frightening as that is. I hope with all my heart that some day I will be able to think of you and smile quietly to myself, but for now I’m just going to continue to miss you and try to remember you in every way I can. And I will never really say goodbye to you.
I love you.
Your darling daughter,