15 years ago, my dad died.
He was in California at the time, engaged to a woman who wasn't my mother, although my parents' divorce was not yet final. He'd gone out for a run and then back to her house to take a shower. Her then-six-year-old son heard the thump-bang of him collapsing in the stall when the heart attack overtook him.
I'd met them all--Ginny, his attempted-fiance, Jake, the aforementioned six-year-old, and Bill, her 10-year-old son who had explained to my very ignorant question, "Skaters DON'T surf and surfers DON'T skate,"--during my rather unhappy trip to Cali in April of that year. They were the bright spots of my few days in father hell.
(Lest you think I jest, I'll make a long story short. It was during that time that I discovered my father was a pathological liar with two secret ex-wives and a son he'd never bothered to mention to those of us playing along at home. And that was just the first night of the trip. There were no illusions left by the time I boarded that plane bound back to Boston. He was a troubled, screwy liar of a man whose heart gave out at the sheer weight of having to keep his stories straight. But I digress...)
In the four months between my return from the West Coast and the phone call that ended it all, Dad and I spoke just a handful of times. Each conversation was harder than the last and left me reeling for days. The night before he died, he called and left a message on the machine, telling me he loved me and reminding me that I had a father. I chose not to call him back when I got home, not ready to deal with the bonus round of "how do I make it through this conversation without telling this man that I know his life's a lie?" He died not knowing I knew about Ron (my big brother) and his family, or the family before that one. In all honesty, I think it was better that way.
The next 15 years passed. In that time, I spent whatever fragments of time I allowed myself to think about him truly, truly believing that, somehow, somewhere, he wasn't really dead. A man with a history like that, with the ability to con his way out of just about anything and a poker face that would win any Texas Hold'em tournament, and the brain to figure out a plan, and the contacts to pull it off, well--he was just the kind of man who could fake his own death.
I wasn't the only person who questioned every telephone hang up, either. I wasn't the only one looking around out of the corner of my eye at my wedding, wondering if the shadows held a surprise. My mom insisted he was really dead, but everyone else who knew him...Well, we weren't so sure.
15 years is a long time to carry that around.
Last Friday, October 19th, was the 65th anniversary of my father's birth. I spent most of the day avoiding thinking about it, but when the late night rolled around, with the absence of the Red Sox to distract me, the brain started to work. And didn't stop. And let me just say that another round of "what if Roy isn't really dead?" Not a great way to get to sleep. The last time I looked at the clock it read just before 4 am. I was up again at 7, at my computer, Googling Ginny's name.
It stood to reason--if he wasn't dead, he was with her, or, at the very least, had been when he faked it. If he was dead, she should be able to tell me.
I found her right where I'd left her, a minister at a church in the town they'd both lived in. Her photo's on their website, as is her email address. In the no-sleep fog I was sporting, I pasted her address into my gmail account and had at it. Then I shut down the computer and left for the rest of the weekend. It was closing time in New Hampshire, and there was nothing I could do about it until Sunday night except hold my breath.
It took her until Monday afternoon to respond. And it was the perfect response.
"How wonderful to hear from you..I have wondered about you often!!!! Yes your
father is dead...and the one thing that I know was real about him was his love for you...A family!!!!! you don't seem to be old enough in my mind...Jake is a senior at XXX in XXX, and Bill is in grad school at XXX in XXX...in fact he just called to say hi and I told him I was writing you...he said great, that he was thinking of you last week
and would like your email.....I never told my two boys the full story of
your father's previous lives....I really don't know the full story myself,
but they were well loved by him at a time no other male did...I guess I just
want to keep your fathers memory untarnished.....How is your mother.... How are those sweet neighbors that visited here? I can't quite remember their names....You don't have to keep looking over your shoulder honey...Roy is gone.....and he really loved you and was very proud of you...Let's keep in
Something inside me clicked as I read her words. She was right. He was gone, and I'd been fooling myself to think anything else. For the first time in 15 years, I cried for my father.
It's hard. Processing that grief after such a delayed amount of time. As long as I didn't accept that he was dead, I didn't have to deal with it. I could just be angry with him. But now...Now I am empty and sad and hollow. Not mad anymore.
Will crawled into my lap late Monday afternoon and put his little arms around my neck. "Mummy, why are you crying? Don't be sad! I love you!"
How does one even begin to explain those tears, especially to a four-year-old? I didn't find an answer. I just wiped my eyes and tried to confine my breakdowns to the kitchen until he went to bed.
My father was cremated. His ashes have been in storage for the past decade and a half. I think it's finally time to remedy that.
Stay safe, all.