My father died when I was eight. It was August 1, 1978 and I had long brown hair and bright blue little girl eyes. My sister Siobhan and I woke early that morning, we’d shared my twin bed the night before, and he’d slept in her twin bed across the room, maybe he and mom had had a fight the night before. I don’t know. He was propped up beside the bed, as if he’d tried to sit up and had fallen backwards against the wall. He was a funny bluish color. We laughed at the look of him, maybe we’d even tried to wake him. He must have been unresponsive so we left to go watch cartoons with our brother James.
A short while later after mom had gotten up, I think she was going to work and tried to wake him to take care of us, but I’m not sure, I can’t remember exactly, the paramedics came along with my dad’s best friend Chris Manos. Chris had long sad eyes when he got there.
Then all of the sudden it was mid-day and the three of us were sitting outside eating dry baloney sandwiches and sitting on a swing set. I think. I can’t remember. I remember the sandwiches, and I remember that it was hot outside. And I don’t remember anything before that.
Then all of the sudden it was days later and I was standing grave side. I don’t remember anything in between. A trumpet blared Pachabel’s Canon in D. There was a huge tree. It wasn’t especially tall but it was fat and had a million branches spread out creating a shady spot. But I think we were standing mostly in the sun. I remembered this tree and this big plot of green land with all of the graves and the wall up the hill when I tried this summer to go and find the gravesite. Only now I’m 42. And I can’t find it. I walk around for a long time staring at the ground. I walk in circles looking for my father. There’s no one there to help me. And I can’t find it. So I lay the wildflowers that I’d cut from my garden down on the base of the big tree. I’d wanted to show him the flowers I’d grown and to tell him about Sophie and my life and to tell him my heart was breaking and that I missed him. But I can’t find him. And I leave.
When he died my Aunt Patty had come for the funeral and to stay with us for a little while and she was happy and friendly and had big beautiful teeth and wonderful white hair. She was pretty. She knelt down and asked us if we knew who she was. She said in a big voice “I’m your Aunt Patty.” She made it feel better for a minute while she was there.
I don’t remember shedding a single tear when he died. I don’t even remember being told he was dead, although I’m sure they must have told us. I wonder why I can’t remember so much of it. I remember being sad. I remember feeling lost, like everything had changed and there was a hole inside of me. I remember how hot it was and I remember that a kind of despair had settled over our lives. I remember from before those days how much he loved me. He made frozen pizza on Friday night and we watched scary Boris Karloff movies together. He told me I was special and I believed him. I loved him. We watched the Creature from the Black Lagoon too. Once, after my mom got cancer and wasn’t at home, maybe she had her surgery, I’m not sure except she wasn’t there, I got sick and threw up. He sent me to school the next day and I remember smelling a little section of my hair that had vomit in it. I wondered why he didn’t clean me, why we didn’t wash my hair after I’d thrown up in it, and why I had to go to school sick. I wished someone was taking care of me. And so I smelled the vomit in my hair and shrugged a little girl silent shrug.
And so when he left us, an air of hopelessness settled over our lives. I don’t remember my mom crying, although I’m sure now that she must have shed a million tears. She must have fallen apart completely. We were living in poverty, she was dying of cancer, she had three small kids, she was estranged from most of her family.
And so life just went on this way for four years. With a sadness and hopelessness that feels like an un-ending summer.
Until she finally left us too. It was July 15, 1982. I was 12. She was 41.
And she was gone.