This Time Last Year

Having never been a blogger or even really kept a diary (I lost the key to my sparkly unicorn one when I was 7 and never quite recovered …) I’m often completely unsure hesitant about what to post on this site. In a perfect world, I’d have killer parenting tips or funny stories accompanied by even funnier drawings or something that would benefit the web community as a whole. But lacking that, I always wonder is anyone going to read this? Would it be a waste of their valuable time if they did? And lastly, is this too personal? The answers to those questions tonight are maybe, probably, and yes. But writing is cheaper than therapy and you’re not required to keep reading, so here we go.

One night around this time last year, I had just gone to sleep, when I realized my phone was buzzing and I actually answered it. (Anyone who’s ever tried to call me, especially before the twins’ first birthday, should know what a miracle this sequence of events actually was. Seriously, it’s up there with the fish and loaves.)

My aunt was on the other end.

“Baby, I’m calling about your Daddy. He’s in the hospital and … it’s not good.” She always calls me baby, no matter how many years it’s been since we spoke. Normally I get warm fuzzies with a hint of longing that lingers from my childhood. My aunt had a wonderful family, and as a little girl, I always wanted to be part of it. But that night, I just felt cold dread.

I’d received variations of this call for over a decade. When my father first started having heart trouble, I still lived close enough to sit in the hard backed chairs of the waiting room all night to hear word. Over the years we’d been gone, I’ve made trips back when he had a bad attack or it seemed more serious. But there’s also been times when his significant other (whoever that happened to be at the time) didn’t call, so I’d find out too late to even worry.

In fact, when my father’s father died, no one told me until a week after the funeral, because we lived 900 miles away and they just assumed I couldn’t make it. I always feared the same would happen with Daddy.

He’d been driving his latest girlfriend and her kids out of town for dinner when it happened. The details were sketchy but his heart stopped, his pace maker fired once, twice, three times, and 911 was called. He’d been airlifted back to our local hospital by then and was in the ICU. It’s not good was an understatement.

For once, I didn’t ask if I needed to come home. I knew I did.

I rushed downstairs to tell my husband but all I accomplished was a sobbing babble. After a few minutes, he simply handed me my phone and told me to call my mother. After all, if she can understand my never-ending voicemails, she might be able to crack this code as well.

My mother and my father were teenagers when she got pregnant and they got hitched. But they were young, and he was a bit wild. They divorced not much later and he drove a truck nearly all of my life. I’d see him maybe once a year with few exceptions. They tried to give it another go when I was about 6, but that time was shorter and more painful and thankfully ended real quick. So you’ll understand when I say, my mother (and her family) were the only constants in my life until I started a family of my own.

I calmed down as we talked and made a rough plan to go south as soon as possible, crash with my grandmother who had more room available, and felt like it was all going to be okay by the time I ended the call. I just needed to get back home.

Since my husband is USAF and I was in no condition to drive 22 hours with five kids by myself, we contacted the Red Cross as he called his superior officer. They were incredible and we were on our way about 3 hours after my Aunt’s first call.

The drive was miserable. I swung between anger at myself for not making more of an effort to keep in touch with Daddy and old bitterness that he didn’t either, which then left guilt for being so petty when he could be dying. Then I’d think I was being silly for rushing down, putting my family through the physical and financial stress when he’d probably be in step-down by the time we hit the city limits.

We’d only been in New Jersey about 3 months, so I worried about my husband’s job. What if he used all of his emergency leave? What happened next time? But eventually we made it. I got a quick shower, because I always feel nasty after a long car trip, and then went straight to the hospital, leaving my tired kids and exhausted husband to fend for themselves.

Over the next 3 weeks, I sat by his bed for hours, switching out with my aunt or his girlfriend. I didn’t do anything. I was just there. But most days, I’m thankful I was.

There were many times I asked myself how long we could stay. My boys were missing school. My twins were off their schedule and beyond fussy. My milk supply dropped. We were broke; we’d have to borrow money to even get home. The doctors wouldn’t give firm answers, just “we hope” and “if this works, then we’ll-”. But I just couldn’t seem to leave.

Finally, my husband had to go back to work. So we planned to leave in 5 days with only hours to spare for him to get back to report to duty. My grandmother said she didn’t think I needed to return for the funeral, if there was to be one. I’d done enough. I didn’t think there was such a thing, but I held my tongue. She meant well, after all.

That night when I was cooking supper for my people, my aunt called. She said it was time to take him off everything but the pain meds. We weren’t sure how long it’d take but if I wanted to be there tonight, they were letting all of the family in.

I stood by his bedside until he passed away that night surrounded by his family and his friends and bandmates, and I tried to be happy he’d had such a full life. I tried to be thankful I’d gotten the time I did−my half brothers and sisters scattered all over the continental US weren’t able to be there at all. I tried to be strong as cousins, who knew him better and had claimed more of his time and heart, sobbed when his breathing stuttered, pausing for so long we thought he was gone, only to draw yet another rattling breath. And ever since this time last year, I’ve tried to forget his desperate, panicked gaze when he knew the end was near. But I failed then and I fail tonight as I type this … whatever this is supposed to be.

I wish he had been a better father and that I had been a better daughter. I wish that he was able to keep all of those well-meaning promises over the years and that I’d stopped believing everything he said at a much younger age. But mostly, I wish it didn’t still hurt to think about him, but then sometimes I feel guilty that it doesn’t hurt more−that his loss didn’t make more of an impact on my day-to-day.

It sneaks up on me at the strangest times though.

On my way to Walmart in the middle of a Wednesday, I picked up my phone to call because everyone else I know was either busy or working and then I remembered he’s not there anymore.

Daddy never remembered my birthday. Sometimes he’d forget altogether or get it confused with my mother’s, but usually I’d get a call sometime in November. I waited for that random call last year, and I’m afraid this year will be no different.

I forgot his birthday this summer−I never really knew it or was able to celebrate it with him− but Father’s Day was rough. Even more so because my husband doesn’t understand how I can mourn a man I didn’t really know, one who hurt me time and time again through his unintentional neglect and thoughtlessness. On the way home from the emotionally disastrous funeral, my husband said to just forget my father and all of those people, their opinions don’t matter anymore. So how could I possibly explain that to me they do and probably always will?

So I hope you’ll forgive me for oversharing, for expressing my grief rather plainly here, and for the next time I’m in a maudlin mood and repeat the offense. I guess I just need someone to talk to tonight and congratulations, internet peeps, you’re it.

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