Friday, June 12, 2009

Happy Father's Day

The title of the book was "Day of the Dead."

Calling it ironic didn't begin to describe it.

It lay sprawled across the arm of the overstuffed and worn brown leather chair in which my dad liked to read. The book was face down, the pages not quite split in half. He'd been on page 249.

A quick look at the lines etched across the book's spine explained it had been read before. It must have been a favorite of his.

I picked it up and flipped it over to read the title.

"Day of the Dead."

Mom cannot see this.

So I hid it. A desperate act of protection.

For her. And for me.

My suitcase lay open on the bed from where I'd left it earlier. We hadn't been home very long. Just a couple of hours. My father's fatal heart attack took place just that morning, but it already seemed like a lifetime ago.

I shoved the book beneath an old sweatshirt. Then I sat down to cry.

***

This will be my first Father's Day without the man who was half responsible for my existence on the planet.

I've dreamed about him in the months since he died. Unlike other relatives who have passed from this life but frequently inhabit my dreams in a living form, my dad is always, always absent in that murky world of sleep.

Dreaming of family gatherings, noticing he's not there.

Dreaming of packing his belongings, wondering where they'll end up.

Dreaming of memories he was present for, puzzled at how he's suddenly been wiped from the scene as easily as someone taking an eraser to a chalkboard.

It's like living the same nightmare over and over and over until finally my subconscious lets me go to return to the world of the awake and the living.

There are nights I don't want to go to sleep but know I must.

There's nowhere to run when you dream.

***

I placed the book on the table beside the bed when I returned home after the funeral. Not on the bookshelf in the family room with all the others.

No. It belonged closer to me, in my inner sanctum. A tangible reminder - something real - that had once belonged to my dad. Like a relic of some lost civilization, it needed its own dedicated space to exist without risk of interference from others.

I realize it's probably that last thing he ever touched...except for the telephone he used to dial 911 that terrible morning.

There the book stayed - unread and untouched - for months. I didn't even take it out to dust around it, just moving the rag around its edges. Touching it would mean I'd have to deal with it. And I just wasn't ready.

Until today. Like a grieving widow who suddenly decides its time to throw off the black and pull a daring red shirt from her closet, I knew it was time to take that first step.

I picked the book off the table and gently ran my hand down its cover.

"Day of the Dead."

Immediately I saw the image of my father - knowing something was terribly wrong - dropping the book onto the chair and reaching for the phone.

Did he feel much pain?

Did he know he was going to die on that hot August morning?

Did he realize he had only a few more moments to live?

Did he remember how much we loved him?

They are questions to which I'll never know the answers. I'm not meant to, and I understand that.

Now.

I opened the book and began to read.

Page 1.
(originally published June 4, 2008)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Driving Mr. Daisy makes me crazy

Our two-car family was suddenly down to one vehicle.

One car. Two spouses.

Humans just weren’t meant to live this way. At least not peacefully.

“What’s that smell?” my husband asked, wrinkling his nose in disgust from his position in the passenger seat beside me. He turned around to glance at the backseat and added, “Did the dog throw up in here?”

I rolled my eyes and caught the reflection in the rearview mirror. In the very next instant the whole thing fell down onto the console between our seats then bounced off to land on the floor by my husband’s feet.

He reached down, picked it up and waved it in front of my face. “Are you ever gonna get this thing fixed? Doesn’t it fall off, like, once a month?”

I bit out, “I can’t help it if the glue doesn’t seem to hold.” Then added under my breath, maybe I should try to glue your mouth shut instead. I said aloud, “As for the smell, you try driving with a messy toddler and a golden retriever the size of a small puma on a daily basis and see what your car smells like.”

His only response was the rapid clicking of the button on the door handle. “Why isn’t the window working?” he snapped.

“Because that’s the door lock,” I answered, wondering how high his body would bounce if I pushed him out of the car while speeding down Main Street. If only he wasn’t wearing his stupid seatbelt, I’d have a clean shot.

“Oh,” he said, “that’s right. You don’t have power windows.”

“Nope,” I said, “you have to roll it down with your very own arm. See that little handle there? With the knob? You have to turn it. Do you think you can manage that?”

His response was a certain obscene hand gesture.

“No, honey,” I said sweetly and smiled, “you’ll have to use more than one finger to turn it.”

Sure, my modest sedan had seen better days and didn’t have many of the perks his new SUV had. But it was paid for.

And my car wasn’t the one in the shop that day.

“When did the mechanic say your car would be fixed?” I asked even though I already knew the answer. I had asked it at least once every half hour over the past two days.

I was tired of playing chauffer and well on my way to searching for the nearest cliff to drive the car off of. With his body safely stowed in the trunk and me on a plane to Bora Bora.

“Man, I can’t wait to get my car back,” he whined to no one in particular. I had stopped listening about three stoplights ago.

We live in a small town, so why – for the love of God – was it taking three days to drive exactly six-tenths of a freakin’ mile to drop him off at work?!

My husband sighed loudly and hit the door lock button again. Click. Click. Click.

Oh, yeah. I remember now. I gripped the steering wheel harder.

“I hate riding in little cars,” he complained. glaring through the windshield at the larger cars around us. “I can’t see anything down here. How do you stand it?”

I started singing the theme song to “The Brady Bunch” in my head to tune him out. When that didn’t work, I tried dividing 1,547 by 136.

Sure, like I could really do that.

I finally spotted his building in the distance and hit the gas hard. The tires squealed as I spun into the driveway. I hit the brakes and the car screeched to a halt outside the front door.

“Hey, we’re here!” I shouted with relief. “Bye. Love you. Have a great day. See you tonight. Adios. Vaya con Dios.” I reached over, opened his door and said, “OK, get out.”

“Thanks for the ride,” he said, unbuckling his seat belt. “But you’re picking me up for lunch, right? Then you’ll have to bring me back to work after I eat. Then pick me up tonight.”

Silence.

“Right?” he asked again, looking over to see a blank expression on my face.

I was already gone. On a plane to Bora Bora. Where people probably don’t even need cars. Or husbands.

Just a lounge chair and a pool boy named Pablo.
(originally published August 15, 2008)