(Disclaimer: sorry if I reiterate the same ol’ stuff I’ve talked about in posts before; it’s hard to keep up with what I’ve said about him and what I haven’t.)
Today marks five years since I’ve talked to my dad, since I’ve heard his voice in person in this house, not just through recordings. Technically, it will be as of around 6:30 a.m. (my memory’s fuzzy on the exact time I went to bed), but it doesn’t matter. October 6 will always be a day I solemnly remember, a day that will never go by unnoticed.
And so much about my life has changed. The pre-October 6, 2007 Christina’s life seems like a dream sometimes rather than memories. Or like a really elaborate movie I’ve had in my head all these years. If six-year-old, even sixteen-year-old me looked at my life right now, she wouldn’t recognize much at all. She probably wouldn’t believe it. How could things be this different? How could dark wood paneling become bright pastel walls? How could the machine shop and wood shop in the backyard not produce the sound of hammering or bandsaws or the hiss of the air compressor anymore, but the former stand as a storage unit, yet both tombs of their own? How could the sound of heavy footfalls in boots not echo through this old house anymore? It’s unfathomable to the past-me, but it’s my present-me’s…well, present. I can fathom it now because I had to. Cancer doesn’t care. It’s a learn-by-experience kind of thing; you can’t possibly know, really know–understand, comprehend, etc.–until you’ve been there.
I definitely think my dad would be proud of the woman I’ve become. He would understand the mistakes I’ve made. He would probably be surprised (along with a lot of other people who’ve expressed such) that I “kept on truckin'” as he often said–complete with silly motions–through college after he died, graduating in the projected four years, and with honors. He would be happy I chose a field of study that makes me happy, odds of finding a job in that field just after graduating with just a bachelor’s be damned.
Sometimes I think his death even helped me blossom as a young woman, made me let go of stuff I realized doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things (though I am always still learning with this, too). I’ve made the steps to mend friendships I thought forever broken because his death made me realize life is too short to hold grudges.
And he left me–us–in good hands. Mom and I have such a strong safety net of family and friends, and we have each other. I hope I help her as much as she helps me. And our family and friends are wonderful to us. I know without a doubt I could not have made it through college without their help and love and support and care packages and exam-o-grams and encouraging words (and I didn’t say all this when we were gathered in the Oak Mountain cabin on the lake the day of my graduation because I was so overwhelmed by it all–in a good way–but here it is now, and I hope they read this and know how much I appreciate them and all they did for me–us–over the years, and continue to do for me–us–now).
He was not overly-religious, never attended church in the years I knew him, at least that I remember, but he knew the Bible more than most Christians I know. He always quoted and stressed the Golden Rule, and often bent over backwards for people who probably didn’t deserve it. I probably didn’t deserve it at times, but he was always there. He led by doing instead of telling.
But I think it’s wrong to leave out people’s faults when talking about them or thinking about them. It isn’t doing their memory justice, because it isn’t the whole picture of that person. He had a short temper and would complain about Mom and me taking a long time to get ready and then make us late because he’d take so long getting ready when we were done and ready to go! He fell asleep during NASCAR races, but when we changed the channel he’d wake up and gripe because “he was watching that.” I guess snoring was just part of his Watching NASCAR Routine. When he was working on one of our many used cars, he’d cuss and yell and get mad about the stupidest, littlest things (a trait I must have inherited).
But he was–is–my dad, and I feel his absence almost everyday. It’s hard when I realize I haven’t thought about him in a day or two, like a fresh punch to the gut after the last punch’s wounds began to heal. Sometimes I don’t think I’ll ever fully accept that he’s gone. One night recently Mom and I were laughing loudly in the living room late at night, and as I got up and walked to the bathroom–walking by Mom’s bedroom–I thought, Crap, we’ve gotta be quiet or Dad’s gonna wake up and be pissed. And the second I thought it, I realized it didn’t matter how loud we got, because we only had each other to answer to. It was a jarring and upsetting thought and brought me, face-planting and bruised, to the floor of fresh grief.
But, I’m dealing. I have a nice little routine that doesn’t change too much day-to-day, trivia every week with few exceptions, and Limbo when I can get my lazy butt up early enough (it’s not my fault Sundays are supposed to be ‘lazy Sundays’, okay?), and writing stories, and watching lots of TV and anime and movies, and working somewhere in between all that. It helped to have college to take my mind off it all sometimes, too; instead of crying and moping about Dad, I could cry and mope about papers due, or tear my hair out over lack of ideas for said papers, or worry about being late to a presentation in a class I loved, or making it to College Night Purple Orchestra rehearsals late at night. It was a way to be stressed out about something other than something I could never change. I had some control over school.
So many times I’ve needed to ask him a question only he would know the answer to, and so many times I’ve wanted his advice as I cried to him about whatever was ailing me at the time. But I can’t have that, and I can’t have him back, and I have learned to let go of so many regrets and grudges and negativity I was holding onto because that’s no way to live one’s life. He taught me so many valuable things; both my parents did (but one is still teaching me valuable things).
He encouraged reading and learning, soaking up as much knowledge as you can, and he and Mom both taught me the value of hard work and diligence and putting the best effort forward more often than not (of course, everyone has off-days, and I’m no exception). Mom shares many of these good qualities, and I know she has just as much to do with how well I turned out as he did. But she’s still here, I’m able to still learn from her; I don’t have that advantage with him. Mom’s stress manifested itself differently and she and I are so much alike that we butted heads all the time when I was younger. He always seemed to get me, even if he went and told Mom later.
The things he taught me are invaluable, and as much as I constantly wish he were still here, I’m so grateful I got to know the Dad I knew, and that I had so much time to do so. Eighteen years is a long time, and I was able to say all the things I wanted to say (except ‘goodbye’) to him, apologize for how I acted in the past, share my early college experiences with him through photos and stories. I’ll never forget texting him the grade I’d gotten on my German test, an A, and his silly response: “Guten Grade!” even while sick and feeling miserable, I’m sure.
Today, Mom and I plan on doing stuff he loved or would love, because what better way is there to celebrate the life of a loved one? I’ve already cried many times writing this post, and I know I will cry more today, but that’s okay. He’s still very much alive in memories, home movies, recordings on old cell phones, the smell of the inside of his tall rolling toolbox standing in our living room, my bed and dresser and ceiling-high bookshelf he made me, the computer desks he made my mom, the hardwood floor he laid in the living room, his favorite songs and records and CDs, and everything that makes up the remnants of my dad’s time here on earth.
Isn’t that all you can ask for when you can’t cheat death?
Here’s to five years, some of which felt like forever ago, some of which feels like just yesterday. Everything changed five years ago today, but doesn’t everything change at some point?
Goodbye, Dad. I don’t know if I’ll ever say it enough. Thanks for being there and for being you and for not hating me for being a little twerp when I was a teenager and for everything you taught me, from how to hammer a nail correctly to how to treat people with respect.
And thanks to you, reader, for letting me share my experiences with and stories about my dad, for helping me to keep him alive. I appreciate it more than you can imagine.
“We’re meant to lose the people we love. How else would we know how important they are to us?” -The Curious Case of Benjamin Button