Updated: Dec 27, 2020
….. it had to be the fifth of November. We had just spent a week in Nebraska visiting my wife’s family, in this year where I have basically given up my work to connect more with family. Upon our return, I immediately went back to work, and my wife headed down the hill for an optometry appointment, you know, back to real life stuff. I spent the morning finishing up a brewing course that my boss had enrolled me in, so I was floating on that significant achievement and we planned to celebrate when she got home, then I got a call that someone plowed into her car at a stop light.
Suddenly the significance of the day turned to losing Cricket, the tank of a Subaru that made most of our adventures possible over the last five years. When she finally did make it home safe and was on the phone with insurance, I was contacted by my dad’s boss… in a frighteningly urgent way… a knowingly urgent way. My dad hadn’t shown up for work in a couple days and wasn’t returning phone calls, and anyone who knows my father and his amish work ethic can attest that is painfully obvious evidence that he has either quit or died, and he rarely quits anything. My dad’s boss knew this, so he was at his house, saw his car, heard his phone ringing from the dark inside, and told me I needed to come down. I sat with it for a bit while my wife was on the phone, demanding in my mind that he was just really tired, but I knew that he would wake up from a deep sleep, having not slept for days, to answer a SPAM phone call, mumble that he didn’t want to change his cable service, argue for a little bit with them, then hang up and go back to sleep. Still in denial, I called his phone and his voicemail was full, which also happens never.
I began to realize that he was tired, but nothing sleep could fix, so we packed up and drove the hour to his desert condo, already knowing, and gradually coming to terms with what we would find. Our last significant conversation was after my oldest daughter’s wedding. He missed the ceremony, even though he was informed that it had changed places, and spent the reception primarily blank and staring at the table, then left early after wandering aimlessly around like he was lost. I called him a couple days later to see if he was ok, and he opened up to me like he had never done, ever, as if I was the only person who would understand.
There was a ton of shame, and guilt, and remorse, about how he had lived his life and the choices he made, and I completely understood. I told him he could change that in his immediate life and we invited him to our youngest daughter’s birthday a week later. He sat in the corner and didn’t really interact with anyone, to the point that I had to disengage from the party to talk to him and make him more comfortable, and my wife tried to include him by having him hold the piñata rope. He left pretty blank. Something was definitely missing, and I felt it.
What I found on the floor next to his bed was not, in my mind, the body of someone who had a heart attack, or a stroke, or had even died. I couldn’t help but see someone who laid down on the ground and gave up. I saw a soul who had tried for 70 years and was just done. My wife went and sat with him, and I just stood there. What I felt most was abandonment. I felt left behind. When the only person on the planet you knew would always be there for you, no matter what, is gone, it is pretty difficult to not want to give up, too. When we have little souls who are dependent on us, we can’t do that, though, can we?
We have to find a way to fight through all of the feelings and push forward. My family means far too much to me to leave them feeling the abandonment I’m feeling right now, though it is inevitable. I am also feeling the regret and shame that my father seemed to prepare me for in that last significant conversation. I don’t feel like I was a good son, and I know I wasn’t the best friend I could be. That’s my own stuff to look at. It is strange to think that he was about my age when I was displaced from LA to this little mountain town because his work moved to the ass end of the Coachella Valley.
After 30 years of hearing him complain about how miserable he was in the desert, and trying to talk him into heading back home, or anywhere for that matter, his time is finally up. “One day,” he would always say. One day I’ll get an RV and travel like I always wanted to. One day I’ll go back home. He had so many excuses, and he simply ran out of days. He was eating healthier and putting his life in order, like he was ready to get out of here, or maybe he was just finishing things up the best he could because he was done?
What I do know is that I feel something significant missing from my life, and now I can’t call him to talk about it. I know these little memories are supposed to be all butterflies and rainbows, celebrating someone’s life, but I don’t feel like I need to tell anyone what kind of person he was. Everyone who ever met him loved him. He always went out of his way to help, to a fault, and I don’t feel like he was ever truly appreciated, though I know he was by those closest to him, which were few. He never really accomplished anything significant. He just kept going to work. No matter what happened, he would be there getting things done. That is causing me to look at a lot of things, and it is more difficult than I thought it would be.
What am I actually doing, sitting on this mountain that I’ve been trying to escape since I was a teenager, and why does the universe keep giving me beautiful opportunities to keep me here? I feel like I’ve already wasted 20 years of my life sitting here, waiting… for what? All I ever wanted to do was get in my car and drive, and just keep going. I wonder if that was a seed planted by my father? We used to get in the car when I was a kid and just drive around, but we never really went anywhere? There was always work to do.
That joke I always told about my having the soul of a wandering nomad and the mind of an Amish farmer isn’t really funny anymore, because both of those characters have stopped fighting each other, and are staring at a lifeless body on the floor. One day he’ll get up, crack a joke about how tired he was from working so much, and get mad at me for driving all the way down there to check on him, because he’s fine. Then he’ll leave everything holding him back, get in his car, and drive, until he simply can’t anymore.
Any day now.
I think the fact that it has taken me this long to even recount the events of that night is evidence of how much this has affected me, but I really haven't been able to process any of it. My father never really showed much emotion. He just kept going. When asked about my childhood, my father would always joke that I cried a lot. I've always felt like I needed to be stoic like him in order to survive, but I always felt a lot, and I still feel a lot. Now I'm realizing that no one ever showed me what to do with that.
I am always trying to be better, but I am human and I trip over myself a lot. All this work and this blog and this everything seem so pointless now, but I still feel like I should be doing it, so I don't really now what to do anymore but love my family the best I can, and just keep going. For those of you who don't understand the significance of the 299 pin: my father loved bowling, and a perfect game is 300 points. The closest he ever got to that was 299, a strike in every frame except that last "lousy 10 pin." They gave it to him, and he kept it next to his desk in the office of a lumber yard in Thermal where he worked for 30 years. If that doesn't sum up my father's life, I don't know what does. That was his joke: one pin short of a perfect game. Keep driving, papa bear. I'll pack my beautiful little family up in the car and meet you out there...