I got the call from Lesley this morning at 6:00am. I can’t even imagine the strength it took for her to make that call – having to somehow find the words to tell me that my Dad had passed away last night. She did the best she could…. tried so hard to be gentle. I lost my shit anyway. I didn’t hear anything she said beyond, “He’s gone.” I couldn’t hear anything over the sound of my own screaming and wailing.
There were no questions at that moment – Why? When? How? It didn’t matter. All that mattered was that yesterday you were here, and now you’re gone. And with you, all the memories we had yet to create.
You just retired a week ago. You were counting down the days until retirement for the last few years – couldn’t wait to practice your golf swing, and start racking up the miles on your bicycle. You spent the last fifty years busting your ass, and you were finally going to enjoy some well-deserved rest and relaxation. I could practically hear the smile in your voice over the phone as you told me about how you were going to sleep in as late as you wanted on your first day of freedom.
I should have called you to find out how it felt to not have to wake up to an alarm clock that morning. I thought of calling you a dozen times this past week, but when I finally dialed your number, it was too late.
I got your answering machine….
“Hey Dad, it’s Linda. I’m calling you in the middle of the day just because I can now – we’re finally on the same schedule. How cool is that?! I hope you’re out playing golf or doing something fun. Give me a call back when you can. Love you.”
But that’s not all I wanted to say…..
Had you been there to pick up the phone, I would have told you that I had thought a lot about our birthdays coming up – you were turning 70 and I was turning 40 this summer. I wanted to say that I didn’t want anything from you that came in a box. That suggestion I made about the diamond earrings was just a joke. We both know I’m not the diamonds-are-a-girl’s-best-friend type. They would go horribly with my converse sneakers.
What I wanted more than anything was a memory. Growing up with hundreds of miles between us, we didn’t have much opportunity to create memories together. Jobs, kids, crazy schedules, and the physical distance always seemed to get in the way. I think we were both counting on your retirement clearing away some of those obstacles, and finally allowing us some time to get to know one another better. I know I was counting on it. I didn’t realize just how much until that time was taken away from me with one phone call.
I feel grief-stricken. Robbed. Angry. Regretful.
I’m mad at myself for taking so much for granted. Even though your health wasn’t the best these past few years, I still stupidly thought you would be there to create all the memories I had only dreamt about. I was going to share one of those dreams with you over the phone that day….
I imagined us going on one of your 30-mile bike rides together this summer; both to commemorate our milestone birthdays and to stubbornly prove that age is just a meaningless number. I thought one or two days of pedaling together, bitching about the hot Florida heat, and laughing at all the old-timers in spandex bike shorts, sounded like the perfect birthday present. Then at the end of the day we’d compare sore muscles to see whose ass hurt more, and you’d attempt to teach me how to cook one of your signature dishes – all the while I’d be nodding my head, but hopelessly lost. After dinner you’d insist on topping off the meal with dessert – who am I to argue with homemade strawberry shortcake? But it would taste extra sweet that night because we’d know that we earned every one of those delicious calories.
That’s just one of a thousand would-be memories I have swimming around in my head right now. I’m trying desperately to hang on to the happy memories we did manage to create and let go of the rest, but I have to admit that right now I’m not having much luck.
I can’t promise that the sting of regret won’t taint those happy memories, but here’s what I can promise:
I promise to take that 30-mile bike ride this year, even though I won’t have you pedaling by my side.
I promise to honor both of our weight loss efforts, and pass up on more donuts than I eat…. I can’t promise the same about coffee cake – but I know you’ll understand.
I promise to make the most out of the gifts you gave me: your sarcastic sense of humor, your love and talent for the written word, and your immense capacity to love anything on four furry-feet.
I promise not to complain too much about some of the physical traits I inherited from you: the odd long torso/short legs combo, the ability to gain weight when even pondering a trip to Dunkin’ Donuts, and that deep crease I get in between my eyes when I’m looking at someone like they’re nuts.
I’d like to ask you to promise me something in return. Promise me that there is something beyond this crazy, fucked up world where nobody seems to ever get what they deserve. Promise me that you’ll do your best to protect and comfort those of us who are still stuck down here, missing you. And promise me that when it’s my time to go, you’ll be waiting there for me.
I hope there are bicycles in heaven….