Death,” she said, “is a great teacher. It reminds you, almost mockingly, that everyone is stamped with an expiration date.”
One year ago today, I got a phone call that I’d been expecting. It’s a strange thing, expecting a phone call like that, expecting death. You can feel it, its been hovering around and you think about it constantly. You try and fight thru it; smile even but there’s no escaping it. One year ago today, I sat in a classroom bored out of my mind until I looked at my phone and I knew. It was the third phone call I’d received like that in three years.
My dad was a vivacious man, stuck in his ways; some would even label him inflexible. But I understood him. I feel like I understood him in a way that often no one else did. He was stubborn and he expected a lot, but he laughed too, and he danced, and he listened and understood. He never told me what to do, not as an adult anyway. He simply made his suggestions and it was up to me if I decided to go along with them. He always allowed me to make my own decisions, to be grown up. He expected nothing less.
I’ve always thought it was interesting how we don’t see our parents as people. During our childhoods they are these powers at be, not really human much more like superheroes than anything else. As you get older you begin to see the chinks in their armor. The cracks, the mistakes, the experiences that have exposed them, and that have worn them down. My dad wasn’t easily worn down. (Years ago his doctor informed him that at some point in his life he had a heart attack. He hadn’t even realized he’d had one. He probably just felt a pain and decided to sit down and listen to NPR instead of carrying on with whatever he was doing.)
Growing up my dad worked a lot. It was very rare that we got to spend the day with him. There were special occasions, Christmas Eve, New Years, anytime something related to Harry Potter came out. And then there was the summer I graduated from college, the most time I can ever remember spending with my dad.
He came to NYC for my graduation; we talked a lot, laughed a ton and walked around what is now my neighborhood. I take comfort in knowing that he’s been here, in the area that I now call my home.
Last winter I was visiting him in the hospital, he liked to joke and laugh and keep things light despite what was occurring. And he told me two things, two things I’ll remember forever. My dad told me about the day his father died. He was leaving for the States and he had gone around the neighborhood to say goodbye to his friends and relatives. By the time he returned home, his father had passed. A couple of days later he got on that plane and came to America. (That tells you a little bit about the stuff I’m made off).
And then he told me something else, something that broke my heart. He said, “Just continue to be a good girl, that’s all I ask.”
I have been a good girl, for the most part… I hope. I’ve made some really big grown up decisions lately and I hope that he would be proud. Or, he would suggest otherwise and then leave me to my own devices.
Its been one whole year since I received that phone call, and I’m very different and also very much the same. Death has been a great teacher, but so was my dad, I wish now more than anything that he was here to give his two cents.
Chocolate Girl In the City