I cannot help but share my father’s memory without adding the middle and the end. It does not cloud my love and affection towards him. He was a great dad, he really was. But I must add, as Paul Harvey used to say, “… the rest of the story.”
I still remember like it was yesterday. He had just told me he was leaving to Hawaii. He wanted to know if I wanted to go with him. What fourteen year old boy would not? Of course I would go! We were sitting at the kitchen table, it was late. All the lights in the house were blazing; with his next words it suddenly felt dark and empty. I was in shock.
“We will be going with someone else, another woman. We are leaving and moving to Hawaii, I can’t stay here.”
Wait, I thought to myself, Hawaii? He had never mentioned Hawaii before. These were not our plans. “I can’t leave my mom.” Suddenly I felt guilty for saying I would go.
The divorce ended as well as divorce can. There was no fighting, no anger. There was no, who did what to whom. My parents never spoke ill of each other. Not once, at least in front of us children. Their personal issues where their issues not ours. My mother told me recently that he offered to stay but she told him to go and be happy, and my mom meant it. She wanted to be happy too. I doubt she understood how hard it would be.
When he left, he was gone. It was best he thought. The years between his first and last goodbye held many questions. Where was he? What was he doing? Was he happy? Did he find what he was looking for? Did he ever think about me? Did he worry or how wonder how I was doing? They hung over me like morning fog in June. Especially while I drove these long roads, long, narrow roads that seemed to hypnotize you as the scenery passed you by. The sun beats down on the front windshield causing your eyes to squint. My Father always told me, never frown or make your eyes squint; it will give you deep wrinkles in your face, you will regret it later. He was right. He was always right, but I had lost my sunglasses at the last rest stop and this was a long drive.
My Father and I had made this same drive through the California desert together so many times in better days. He certainly made plans with me, but that was all they were, plans. We sat at that same kitchen table where he had told me he was leaving, with road maps, planning our next adventure. They are some of my happiest memories of him. Mexico would be great. We could go fishing or just sit on a balcony and stare at the sea. One day we would go to the Grand Canyon and the next it was camping in Yosemite. We were always making plans. It was going to be great.
A favorite plan of ours was to drive an RV across the country. Grab an odd job in some small town for a while and then off we would go to the next place on the map. This was what I was thinking about as I arrived in that same town, the one he said he had to leave. That was nineteen years before. I know now he was an alcoholic. I never realized this as a child. Many things become clear in the rear view mirror. I have no bad memories of him as a child. I only have positive memories mixed with some sadness of loss at his first goodbye. Never anger, never judgment, but I cannot escape the obvious hole he left. I did not walk in his shoes, but his memory did cast a long shadow.
As I arrived at the hospital none of it mattered to me. My mother had called me and told me to come quick, my father was dying. We, all of us children, my mother, his new wife, and my step brother gathered together and took turns visiting him at his bedside.
When I saw him in the ICU, I could see he was fighting for every breath. It was clear, this fight, he would not win. This was not my father; the big, strong man so full of life and adventure. This was an empty shell of that man. My mother mentioned that his feet needed to be attended to, adding he was very particular about his feet and how they looked. I found it amazing she was still concerned about something no one else noticed.
When my Father and I spoke, I should say, I spoke to him; he no longer bore enough strength but to listen. I told him of all the things I had done in my life to that point. My first car, a Jeep CJ 5 - the military, trips to Mexico. The drive across Arizona – I shared the purples, reds, and blues of the sky as the suns rays lay upon its topography and evoked its beauty. I described Sedona to him. He would love to have seen her red rocks glow in the afternoon light. I had seen thirty six states and three countries so far. I told him of my children and how we sit at the kitchen table planning each trip we make, just as he and I had done.
I told him I missed him, I prayed he would not to leave me again. This time it was not his choice. I understood. I told him I loved him. A tear ran from the corner of his eye down to the side of his temple as he squeezed my hand with the little strength he could muster, we expressed our final goodbye.