Hurtling through space, high above the earth, I felt like the tiniest speck of a pebble floating in a powerful, cold and heartless river. Aimless. Helpless. Lost in the water’s mighty force and silently drowning. I peered out the tiny window to see the twinkling lights of the city below; soothing, somehow comforting. I felt vast and empty, but at the same time full of the universe and the indescribable low hum behind It All softly whispering in my ear: It will be all right.
Yet everything had changed. Even the sky, the clouds and the mountains would never be the same.
“Are you sure you’re okay, miss?” the flight attendant asked again as she smiled and rested her hand on my armrest.
I snapped out of my reverie only to notice my neck cold and dripping wet, my face covered with tears. My hands shook as I carefully wiped my eyes with a napkin.
“No.” I croaked and gasped for air. “No, I’m not.” The tears continued to spill like a leaky faucet despite my attempts to stem them.
I turned to press my face into the small window, the plastic separating me—from what? Certain death? Endless space? For a moment I imagined myself outside of the plane, plummeting into an unknown abyss, screaming voiceless into the deafening silence. “Where is he?” I pleaded into the darkening skies and the lights below, glittering like jewels in dark velvet. “Dad? Where are you now?” I frantically searched for him in the sky. “Please, dad. Tell me.”
Only the steady drone of the airplane answered back.
Alone on that flight from Seattle to Portland, Maine, only one thought sliced through my mind. “Dad is dead.” I was 21 years old. I had just settled into college when the phone rang earlier that morning, jarring me out of a restless sleep. My mother’s voice on the machine, a flat monotone, bordering on frantic. “Please, Darla. You need to call me. Now.” Hours later as I boarded the plane, my roommate hugged me and said, “Well, I’d tell you to enjoy the trip, but funerals are no fun…” I laughed, and then began to cry.
Back at my childhood home, everything was cast in a suffocating gray color. My brothers and I sat at the kitchen table, the clock on the wall relentlessly ticking away above us. Stone-faced, my 18-year-old brother informed me that our father had suffered a massive heart attack the night before. “He said his stomach hurt and he couldn’t breathe.” He and my mother followed the ambulance to the hospital, where doctors and nurses stabilized him long enough for my dad to smile weakly and mumble, “I’m okay. Go home and sleep.” A few hours later, at around seven in the morning, while my mom made a pot of coffee as they prepared to return to the hospital, the doctor called to say Dad was gone.
Gone. I refused to believe it. How could he be gone? How could he leave us just like that? Traces of him were everywhere. His TV remote still waiting for him perched on the couch’s armrest. His office football pool sheet, with a list of the teams he predicted to win that Sunday highlighted in yellow the night before, still lying on the coffee table. His L.L. Bean chamois shirts still hanging in his closet, his watch still on his night stand, his Chevy Blazer still parked outside.
For days after his death, every time the back porch door creaked open, I fully expected my dad to walk in wearing his Patriots cap, his blue eyes twinkling. He’d laugh and say, “Hey Punky! It was all a big misunderstanding! I’m here!” I waited, but it never happened.
Even now, nearly twenty years later, part of me is still waiting.
This post edited by Charles of Mostly Bright Ideas. I would like to thank him, Priya of Partial View and Lenore of Lenore Diane’s Thoughts Exactly for encouraging me to not be afraid to let those words out that have been buried for so long. This is the first post of many about my dad, the amazing, loving man he was and how much he’s shaped my life and the person I am today.