Just Listen

The answering machine at my shore house broke.

The answering machine at my shore house broke and now I will never, ever hear my father’s voice again. The machine up north with his voice on the recording broke a while ago; my sister was so upset when she called one day and got a robot instead of my dad’s familiar formal monotone message, but I knew we still had the other answering machine. When I recently called my mom at the shore house the phone kept ringing and ringing and I remembered she had told me the answering machine broke, and it dawned on me that that was our last truly tangible piece of him.

We are not home-video-type people, so that’s out. Neither I nor my mom have cell phone voicemails saved from him. One night fairly recently I was so sad and so desperate to hear his voice I tried calling his old cell phone number, which I still haven’t been able to delete from my contacts, but it was disconnected. Then I tried his old office line but that didn’t work either. (I wonder who is in his office now, or if they are still just as weirded out by the lack of his presence as I am that they just can’t bring themselves to do anything with it. That was the case several months ago when we finally picked up the boxes of his stuff from one of the secretaries, but maybe they’ve put someone in there and just changed the number. They too know he is not one to be replaced.)

So I can no longer hear him. I can no longer feel his hairy old arms wrapped around me in an annoying hug I am pretending I don’t want. I can no longer see him, at least not in 3-D. I am getting better at the photos though—the one of him, my mom, my sister, Zoe, and I from the last time we all went to Chicago is still sitting on my desk, so I’ve gotten used to his amused, trying-not-to-smile face in that one. A new picture has made its way to my desk, one I found when cleaning out Aunt Mary’s house: He and my mom are sitting on the old couch in our den with my sister, about age 5 maybe. My mom (when she had square hair) is leaning over and looking at my sister while touching her arm, and my dad has his arms softly but protectively around my sister. His eyes are closed under thick brown glasses taking over 1/3 of his face, he still has all of his wavy light brown hair, and he is ever-so-slightly smirking at this silly little girl in his lap. There are no words to describe how much I adore this picture.

I still have one other semi-tangible piece of my dad, but I can’t tell if it’s all that comforting: I can smell him. Opening the coat closet in the hallway by the front door of my house is like opening a door into 5 years ago. It’s very overpowering, but also slightly strange because my mom’s jackets are in there too and all I can smell is him. That same smell is also all over his clothes upstairs in his and my mom’s room, clothes which I recently had to go through in my search for a Giants t-shirt to wear to a game. Going through his precious t-shirts, which were always very carefully selected based on what event he was attending that day, was like sticking tiny knives into my soul. During my search I found an argyle sweater with the tags still on, something my mom must have purchased as a Christmas present just months before his diagnosis. I also found his short-sleeved fraternity sweater from Seton Hall, an item I know he was saving for me, and I found many fancy watches that also must have been recent gifts. Seeing this stuff was so painful not just because he is gone, but because he really had no idea he was going anywhere. That is still extremely difficult to accept.

Maybe it’s sort of a blessing in disguise that the answering machine broke, because it was painful to listen to. Maybe not, I don’t know. What I do know is that one year, 3 months and 29 days after he left this world, I fear I am losing too much of my father. And it’s only going to get worse.

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