I met Phil when I was five. He was eight but that didn't stop my beating heart from making him my first love. He wasn't much intersted in me then but I loved him just the same. I met Jacqui when I was 25. She was my first true challenge. I worked hard for her, and she me. We stumbled several times but came out on top. Time and experience took me down a path that had me loving, truly loving both. As much as they meant to me, I don't think they would have met each other, had my father not died. Funny how that is. She was the first one I called when my father died. He was the second. He couldn't breathe when I told him; she came running.
On the night of my father's service, a friend gave me the Peter Paul and Mary Greatest Hits CD. There was one song for me on there and she wanted me to have it that night.
CD in my hand, Phil, Jacqui and I snuck away from all the noise and sympathy at the party at my parents house following the memorial service. We slipped out the back door and across the driveway. I needed to escape, they needed to escape. I needed to be with them and the song. We walked across the driveway and to my father's new suburban. Without a word, we knew our places. Me in the driver's seat, her on the middle console and he in the passenger seat. I turned the key, Jacqui put the CD in. We listened to Puff the Magic Dragon on the CD player. On Repeat. Over and over again. Very loud. We didn't talk, we sang. Tears fell from our eyes, for different reasons. He had his, she had hers, of course I had mine. We sang and cried and sipped champagne. Together. We held hands, leaned on each other. Three heavy hearts.
I remember that night as a party my father would have loved, had he only been there as a host and not a reason. Such adoration, such love. Such loss and sadness. My mother holding court as best as she could, broken and lost as she was. I walked through that house, looking at all the sad faces and missing my lifelong friend. I knew we would never be there again, not all of us. I knew every face in that house, knew that every heart was heavy. I saw every eye on my mother, felt their worry, their compassion.
It would be a long journey after that night, helping mom through her days of loss and confusion, her anger and dementia, stumbling through strange days without him, through the deep waters of grief and mourning. It would prove to be my darkest hours and best of my abilities. Sometimes it still does.
That night though, that night there was no time beyond my father, no future beyond the loss. In those minutes in my father's suburban with my two friends, everything hung in a timeless pause, every firework was frozen in burst, every dimming memory still in its glow. We sang, my two friends and I, we sang out loud. In a bubble of time that we stole. We sang of strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff. We sang of painted wings and giant rings. We sang of Autumn mist and Honah Lee, of traveling on a boat with billowed sail. We sang of that rascal, Puff, the mighty dragon who ceased his fearless roar.
My eyes are not dry, my heart is not put back together. They never will be, never can be. It's been eight years (Wednesday) that I lost my father. Tonight, I listen to Puff the Magic Dragon. On repeat. Over and over again. Loud. Tonight I remember two friends, Jacqui and Phil, holding all my broken pieces together and singing out loud with me.
Tonight I remember the last time I saw my father alive. I was walking out the front door after a Saturday afternoon spent together. I stopped and took a step back to look at him sitting in the kitchen.
I told him, "I love you, Dad."
"I love you too, Cat."