My dad died suddenly when I was 13. It was a heart attack. I had been 13 for one week; he, 50 for four days.
I never had the chance to say goodbye or hug him or tell him one more time that I loved him. He was gone. Abruptly and like something out of the worst dream you can fathom.
I honestly don't remember the last thing I ever said to him or the last time I hugged him. I remember he was so happy that morning; we were about to go on a family vacation to San Diego to celebrate our October birthdays. Both libras. Both completely the same person, nearly four decades apart. He was so happy, and I'm pretty sure I brushed him off. Teenagers.
That afternoon, we were driving from our cabin to our home a couple hours southwest in Phoenix. I spent nearly every weekend of my childhood there except during the winters. The next details are foggy in my mind. This happened nearly 17 years ago. I don't remember what he said, but my dad, who was driving, mentioned he was having excruciating pain in his chest. He was the type of person who would never show any sign of pain or worry. He was someone who could lose a limb and brush it off that it wasn't so bad. So, his pain had to be unimaginable.
I remember being so impatient that it was a Sunday afternoon and we were parked in our car on the shoulder of the highway for what felt like forever. I wanted to go home. I wanted to get on the computer and chat with the girls I'd convinced myself were friends but who could not have cared less about me and, frankly, vice versa.
His pain was so intense he didn't want us—my mom, my dog and me—to make any noise, so we sat mostly in silence. Until he died. It was fairly quick but I don't know what he was feeling or thinking and if I had known, I wish I could have held his hand or just told him one last time that I loved him. I generally try not to have regrets, but I still to this day feel so much guilt for being so self-involved and eager to get back on the road.
I don't want this to be some generic Father's Day post about how much I miss my dad (I do) and how weird it is he's gone (it is). I am not even capable of articulating the feeling of having lived the majority of my life fatherless. Or that the part of my life with him has practically become a blurred dream.
I don't remember his voice. Like, truly. I try to play it in my head, and when I think I'm getting close, it washes away. I kind of remember his laugh, but I'm pretty sure it's more a compilation of others' laughs that I've convinced myself was his. I do remember how every morning he sat in our backyard smoking a cigarette in a bathrobe. How he crossed one leg over the other into an L-shape. I remember his workingman's hands that seemed capable of fixing any problem. I remember his tan arms and frighteningly pale legs and if I ever incidentally smell his cologne again I'm pretty sure I'll lose my shit. I remember his eyes, ocean-blue and expressionless. I never stopped wondering what was behind them. What he was thinking.
I am now an adult myself, and in my own way, I think I finally understand. So much of him lives on in me. The angst, the distaste for organized religion and general lack of interest for most people. And yet the simultaneous urge to want to help anyone, particularly those in need. Guided by the principle of always doing the right thing, no matter how difficult.
He was quiet, observant, moody. Among his loved ones, he could be goofy and the life of the party. His presence could fill a room, and he would not even have to utter a word. I carry his spirit, and while I'm sure he wouldn't know what to make of me—a liberal, tattooed radical feminist cat lady who hates shaving and uses patchouli oil for perfume—we are the same. After all, save for 37 years, we were born just three days apart.