The sixth day of February in 2005 was the first Sunday in the month, Super Bowl Sunday. I don't remember what my plans were, where I was going to watch the game. I had brunch at a friend's that morning, not sure how long I'd been home when the phone rang. It was Catherine, my niece. Her voice was panicked, her words were choking, I knew there were tears. She told me that he'd fallen down in the closet and he wasn't moving, that Eddie, my nephew, was calling 9-1-1, that my mother, very confused at that time in her life, did not think anything was wrong.
For a brief moment, as I grabbed my purse and keys and was running down my stairs, there was silence over the phone between us because we were both crying. We both knew. I wished I could reach through the phone and gather her into my arms.
I felt it deep in my tissues but we both didn't know what to do at that minute, her calling me for help and me being on my way but the clock, the damn clock ticking faster than I could shorten the distance between us. I pressed the palm of my hand to my mouth to make the tears stop, to make the fear stop, but they did not stop. They didn't stop for a long time.
The moments are clear in my memory. The day is blurry.
I always loved him. From my first memory of him, from running to him when he returned from work, jumping into his arms and holding onto his neck, feeling the cool air from the car still in the collar of his shirt. From the hours I spent with him watching him work on his boat, and the walks along the beach singing Puff the Magic Dragon. I was six? He was my father; he was my friend.
These thoughts scramble through my mind as I drive.
Oh Dad, I gasp out loud on the drive there because I don't know what else to say or how to say it with the distance between him there in the closet and me there in the car.
Death is not something you expect to hear on a Sunday afternoon. Not on a sunny day when life is already out of balance with Mom. Death is something that creeps into a man so alive, so good at taking care of himself, a man who stood tall with shoulders strong for the children to jump from at the community pool all those years ago. A man who taught his young daughter to waltz by imploring her to dance with him and calming her nerves by whispering to put her feet on his, and gliding the two of them across the floor as if they had been dancing together for years.
My father can't die. Not today. Not tomorrow, and not today.
Not when I just saw him Friday and cancelled dinner plans for Saturday because my mother was out of control and angry.
I love you, I say into the silence around him. They all leave the room, giving me my own time with him. I gather him in my arms, put my cheek against his, his hand in my own. I wish he could open his eyes, that he could hold me, that we could go back as we used to be, in black and white, smiles and innocence as captured in our photos, before life and growing up got in the way. I hold his hand, look at his manicured nails, curl his fingers around mine, pretend that we are holding hands together, not that I am holding his. I breathe him into my lungs, touch his soft hair.
The day is blurry. Somehow I'm walking through the house, heading towards the phone. Someone hands me a rose. There are people to call, family, friends. Somehow I call my friend to come pick up Cheyenne. Somehow life requires that I be organized in this moment, at any moment I am crying. Suddenly, life requires that I have a notebook and pen in my hand for hours and days. Sometimes life simply requires too much.
At any moment, I am crying. The details are there, but the day is blurry.
Looking back now, four long years without him, my love casts a widening pool of light around him still. His death did not change that; grief did not change that. The darkness is now gone and my love for him is sharp and sparkling, it's winter air and springtime hope, and it begins every morning, every sentence. It's always there, in the way I can feel his hands on my shoulders, in the way I search for the color blue that was his eyes in the light. Always the light. The light of love, it shines so bright.