There has to be a better way to do this, smaller baby steps maybe, or ignore it all together. That’s all I could think for the past few day. In about a months time we’ll be putting a box in the ground that used to be my father. Today Melissa said something like, “It doesn’t make any sense that a person with so much life in them could be gone”.. Despite my empirical mind which understands that it not only makes sense, but it’s inevitable, I found myself nodding my head in agreement. Because in some non-scientific yet logical way, she was right.
At first it was to be a family affair. General consensus was moving toward the three of us driving up on Saturday afternoon when the weather was warm and sunny. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wanted to go alone. He and I had come to understand each other alone, I watched them wheel his body down the sidewalk at 5 AM on the morning of the 16th last September. I was going to see his gravestone for the first time, alone.
“No offense to either of you but, maybe I could go with one or the other of you, but not both. I’ll go tomorrow morning”. So they left and I went upstairs to think. And I laid there and thought and laid there and thought. And before I knew it, there they were back like crusaders from the holy land. Talking about robins and going for walks. The best I could do was help my mother wash her car; that and continue thinking.
That evening was occupied by a trip to the mall. A nice symmetrical grouping, mark & Melissa, Mike and Stacey, me sans girlfriend and my mom sans my dad. Us in a giant building full of ‘stuff’ for sale that promised to improve our lives, but coming up completely and utterly short.
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After waking up and eating a breakfast of waffles with the rest of the gang, we parted ways. Melissa and Mark went to work on bridal shower plans for Stacey, my mother went upstairs to paint the ceiling in the bathroom, and I threw on a jacket and walked outside to the car. Very gray, raining slightly. Yes this day was much more fitting.
Turn the ignition on and the radio down. This was a trip for thinking, not listening. The drizzle coming down forced an awkwardly slow windshield wiper timing, to the point that I just manually turned them on when necessary. Clearing the window slate in sync with every extended thought.
On the way up I-84 I was in a forced meditative state, trying to think about the last year, and what I was about to see. But my mind wasn’t having it. It just kept looking for something else to think about. Like “driving must have been a very different experience before radios, quiet but loud.”, that kind of thing. Silly thoughts to break my concentration, to break the emotional desolation in which I find myself. It not that I don’t feel anything, it’s just that my body has for the last 6 months been compensating for the emotional exhaustion, the depression. When you’re teetering at the top of an equilibrium, falling to either side looks pretty scary. About as scary as breaking to take the left-hand exit onto Route 8 on a wet road.
I thought about all the times I’d driven this way with him. On the way to Bacco’s for pizza or to the Kaaban Shrine Club, or the Big W for lumber in the Datsun 310 when I was little. He used to wear a red big W t-shirt that I thought was made just for him. Maybe it should have been.
Exit after exit, through Waterbury, through Watertown, and then I see a sign that says Plymouth Exit 39, but last exit sign before the turn says something else entirely. I pull off quickly because it looks about right despite the confusing signs and continue up the hill. Taking a slow right turn toward West Cemetery. I haven’t been here since we decided on this place, but I know instantly that it was definitely the right choice. Quiet, peaceful, next to his parents, and best of all free (that would be his favorite part). The plot was paid for by a relative 100 years ago.
I pull the car off to the side. One last deep breath as I push down the emergency break with my foot and open the door. Standing up I see it standing out. 40 feet away and very obviously ‘the new one’. Up until now I was actually a little worried that I was so callus that I’d have no reaction, but with each step my eyes began to well up, with each breath my throat constricted just a little more. So that by the time I was face to face with it on was at a full cry for the first time in weeks.
So there it is, quite literally set in stone. As if it were always that way. Like the pyramids or Plymouth rock or something. Ha! Funny thought as I’m staring at this rock in Plymouth CT. No surprises as far as how it looks, as I was the one who put together all the ideas from my mother and sister. Somehow I feel like I’ve seen it before, like it was a friend of mine or something, it’s very familiar and a very odd sensation.
I kneel down and touch the etched ivy in the stone to check the workmanship. “Measure twice and cut once”, he always used to say. I wonder if the people who carved these leaves listened to him, or if they had to start from scratch a few times because they didn’t. Either way the final product is well done, not 1906 Italian stone cutter straight off the boat from Cordona well done, but certainly well done for 2006. Distinct and classy, and most importantly to me, not from a template.
Just then it starts to rain. Large drops, a few a second. And it is dead quiet so I hear the odd one strike dry leaves on the ground making muted pop sounds. Fitting really and in some ways advantageous as the rain stops me from spending too much time getting used to the place and it’s new resident. Getting used to the idea that my father is dead and will never come back. I don’t want to get used to it, I’m not giving fate that pleasure.
What’s left of him is not here yet, of course, that ceremony is going to happen in a few weeks, and it’s amazing that just standing here you can feel that there is no finality, that the puzzle is incomplete.
On the drive home, I come to the realization that the resolution or release that I was looking for didn’t happen. Or worse, may never happen. Perhaps it’ll be slow fade that you try to hold onto like when you close your eye’s after staring at a bright light. There is certainly one thing about all of this talk of death, it certainly makes you feel alive. I may not always feel like taking advantage of it, or getting out of bed at all for that matter. But I do appreciate the fact that I’m here writing this, that I could cry, feel the cold of the stone and the kinetic energy of the raindrops as they fell upon my head.
I might never get over the death of my father; It has certainly drastically changed my life.
No more waiting, no more ‘someday’. No more.