It's still quite difficult to read this today as I submit it, how many years later, yet a story so definite needs telling. It is my most personal story, as well.
My father was a practical man. He dealt with life as it came, did the best with what came about, or worked very hard to change it to his liking. When he died, he moved on immediately. He was not present at the funeral, the wake at his home, or even the site where he died.
I called Dad every weekend or he called me. We had become extremely close after I grew up and spent as much time together as we could, best friends.
I have a friend, Jeff, who lived next door as I grew up. He taught me to drink and swear, but he adopted the role of my big brother and protector as well. If I was stressed or something was wrong, he would know it and come over, even years later when we grew up and out of our parents' houses.
It's the first Thursday in April, 1986. I have never known the date, and still don't want to. I am sewing the last stitches on the blue and pink flowered blouse I will wear to go up to Dad's ranch on the weekend. It's about one in the afternoon and my husband is at work.
For some unknown reason, I got up from the kitchen table and called Dad. I don't call Dad on Thursdays. His wife answered the phone. She said he was down in the lower pasture on the tractor and should be up for lunch soon since he was already late. Unheard of. Then she said, "Oh, I heard the tractor stop, do you want to wait?" I said, "No, just tell him I love him and I will talk to him later..." As I hung up, I thought that was odd thing for me to say. I would have normally never told her this, as she seemed to resent our closeness.
Three special knocks on the door and in walks Jeff. What's up? Not much, what are you doing? Dunno, just had a feeling I should come over.
We sat down at the kitchen table and chatted. I sewed. An hour or so passes. Time is distorted now. In walks Dan, my husband. I look up at the clock, back at Dan, wondering why he is home so early? He doesn't speak, goes to the phone, calls a number. He can't remember any number without looking it up and I am amazed by this, jaw still on my chest. He says, "I'm home, yeah, ok" and hangs up. I am still with my hand in mid air, wondering what the heck. He got FIRED?
Dan turns to me, and it hits me, out of the blue. I can see it in Dan's face. No words have been said. I felt like I started screaming, and probably did. Dan had to hold me and keep me still. It was sinking in faster than I had felt anything in my life, and I didn't want any of it, not one single solitary part of it. This was NOT happening. I turned to the wall where a picture hung, a yellow house surrounded by the most peaceful river, an oasis of dreams, a picture my dad saw and immediately commented, "That is where I want to retire..." Nothing was real.
It took me six months. Six months to realize Daddy had come to say goodbye and I didn't recognize it. I felt it, but I didn't get it at the time.
The last time we were together, he was telling me where the combination to the safe was, all that sort of stuff. I stopped the conversation to tell him that I just didn't want to go here, that losing him was just not an option. I wanted to go first. I got the standard 'it isn't natural for parents to lose their children, so I have to go first' talk. We fought in our joking fashion about who would win this one, and ended it by making a deal. Who ever went first would come say goodbye to the other one.
He held up his end of the deal.
However, he was heard from again. A few times.
My birthday was tough. For the first time in my life he was not there to wish me a happy day, something he never ever forgot. No funny, carefully selected birthday card arrived in the mail precisely on my birthday. No special, perfect, silly, charming present.
Cheryl was one of my bridesmaids at my wedding and my Dad fell head over heels in love with her. Not really, but he was really charmed. The next year, after my birthday, Cheryl called and said she had to see me. Now. Weird. Okay. She drives over, and doesn't even get out of the car. She and her husband were at Laguna Seca for the weekend races. The crowd was enormous, the area they were in was for the drivers and pit crew, wall to wall people. She sees my Dad, working his way through the crowd, struggling to get to her. She is just standing there, almost in shock. He finally makes it, takes her aside a bit (guiding her upper arm) and says that he needed her to tell me, "Everything was all right and that none of it mattered..." His death and will started a great deal of unease and inter-family dissension regarding his estate. I asked her, insisted, what day was this, Saturday or Sunday? She thinks carefully. Saturday. My birthday.
Once, I woke to see Daddy standing in my bedroom, holding Kiki, and then he was gone. Poof. Kiki, our family cat had been missing for a few days and we were tearful without him. I bolted out of bed, so sure we would locate Kiki. We did.
I wandered outside to an area I rarely go, for no apparent reason, where there were screened crawl space openings to our basement storage area. I heard Kiki's meow! He had gotten locked in that area, and for the first time we were able to hear him.
My younger sister has seen him since, although I have not. He will rush into my thoughts out of the blue, and I wonder.
To add one more occurrence will make this quite long, but it's a trippy, significant part. After twenty years, I finally worked up the courage to go see Dad's marker, placed between his parents and previous generations. After a five hour drive, we are there. We know we are in the right area of the cemetery, but we can't find the family plot. We are running out of time. I whisper to the winds, please, please direct me. I beg my husband, one more time, drive down that road, I know we have been there before. Suddenly, I yelled, "Stop!" hopped out of the car, and without hesitation, walked down an adjoining path to the right. Sure enough, three plots down is the family plot, and there is Daddy.
I sit, brush off my grandparents' stones, say hello to my great-grandma, and simply rest for a bit, actually quite peacefully under the tall pine that shades the plot. A smooth, brief wind comes up the hill and brushes my hair back, bringing with it the thought, "This is a perfect place for me to be," along with an incredible rush of warmth and love.
Once home, I called to relay the visit to my mother, who did not say much, but you could almost hear the, "Sure, dear," in her voice. She called back that evening, almost laughing. My older, solidly skeptic sister listened to our mother tell my tale. Sue said she would normally have never, ever believed my story, except for one thing. She had finally managed to visit Dad's grave site as well, and her entire trip, down to every single detail, literally, had been absolutely identical.
I miss him still, horrifically, after all these years, but am very content knowing he, or his spirit, is around and just might be forever. When it is my turn, I know, beyond an ounce of doubt, that Daddy will be there.