Today would have been my father’s 65th birthday.
On his last birthday, he was too sick to want to go into Baltimore to his favorite restaurant, the Helmand, so we went elsewhere. On my previous visit, a couple of months earlier, he’d wondered about going to the Helmand, but I had to get back to Florida. To work.
To work work work.
I remember: I was standing in the kitchen, and he was sitting in the living room. And he mentioned it, off-handedly, the way you do when you know it’s not going to happen but a part of you thinks just maybe it might. A casual mention, an equally casual negation. “How about going to the Helmand before you leave?” No of course not. It would be nice, though, wouldn’t it? A voice in my heart whispered: stay. Stay. Take him to the Helmand, while you still have the chance.
Of course I didn’t.
Until February 23, 2014, I felt an obligatory compassion when someone talked about losing a parent. I knew it must be sad. I thought I could imagine it. Although when someone would wax eloquent about how terrible it was, how they still couldn’t believe it, I might tune out a little. Eventually you get over it, I thought.
I just didn’t know; because how could you?
If you know, you know; if you don’t, you don’t. Here’s what it is: it’s a cracked twig in your left ventricle. It’s a grain of sand in your eye, never to be flushed out. It’s a shadow in your vision; sudden turns in traffic will forever be tricky.
It’s a blade taped to your arm. Move carefully lest you slice skin from bone.
And here’s what it is: when you get that job, the one you can’t believe, the one where you’re excited to get up in the morning because you get to go to work, you’ll ache and ache and ache because you can’t tell him about it. He who taught you math, who gave you a book on BASIC programming when you were in elementary school, who taught you DOS, who gently guided your entire career path. He who would have been so delighted for you.
And here’s what it is: you sometimes think it’s just as well if you don’t find love, because they’ll never meet him.
And here’s what it is: you’ll always favor REI because he was a proud member since they were a little shop in Seattle.
And here’s what it is: nothing left unresolved will ever be resolved.
Oh so many words. Dad was more efficient; he’d have put on the right song, and none of this blathering would have been necessary.
Here you go, Dad. These are for you.