I have the phone tucked in the crook of my shoulder as I listen to him from the seat of my desk in my dorm room. Dad is trying to talk me out of quitting my music minor. “It’s too hard,” I protest. “Most of the other students have dropped out.” Somehow, in his quiet, coaxing way, he is bringing me back around. It’s been 14 years since then. With “music minor” scrawled securely on my diploma, I am glad he did.
Fast forward from that phone call. We stand in the dealership as I look around. “Which is it?” I can’t stop smiling. Dad points. There in the center of the floor is a cherry red Chevy with a gigantic bow on the top of its roof. It is so perfect — unscathed, unscratched. It has 18 miles on it. It is mine. A few months later, I pack it up and drive to California. It has been 10 years since then. It is now scathed and scratched with the paint peeling back from its roof where the bow was and 92,000 miles on its odometer. It is at mile 91,254 I find out how Dad really felt when we hugged goodbye. “It was really hard for him when you left,” mom tells me.
Fast forward from the day in the dealership. I am sitting next to my sister on her wedding day, wearing a maroon taffeta dress. She is glowing. I think she is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen in that moment. My dad stands in front of a crop of round tables, as people in dresses and suits look on, their chins on their fists or tucked in their laps. In the midst of his speech, he sings brokenly the song he used to sing my sister when colic kept her restless through long nights, “Amanda, the love of my life, you will make a gentleman’s wife.” I am overcome. I absently wonder what he will say at my wedding. Six years have passed since then, and he still hasn’t had the chance.
These are the things that wash over my mind tonight — all those little memories that sum up my picture of him: wise, supportive, loving. I’m sitting on the laminate floor of my hallway, a passage way too narrow to sit with my legs outstretched. “Please God, don’t take my dad.” I’m crying. Not the pretty, subdued kind. The sobbing, gut-wrenching, begging kind. Like somehow, if I cry the hardest I have ever cried in my life, God will take mercy on me and answer my prayer. “Don’t take my dad, or I will walk away and never look back.”
The threat scares me a little. Do I mean it? I wonder. I don’t know.
I have lived life believing a fallacy: That there is some sort of quota on hardships. Once someone has reached that magic mark, they are done. But I am learning that past losses don’t exclude you from the present ones. Sometimes the inverse is true. For some people, it’s as if one begets another, like a snowball tucking in more snow to its girth as it gains speed downhill. I thought once my mom was diagnosed with cancer, that meant my family was done. I feel silly for believing that now.
My dad told me about her diagnosis while I was driving my car on the highway. “I have some bad news…” he started and I started sobbing. He has always been uneasy with tears.
That was four years ago. Tonight I was in my car again when he tells me about his own. “I have some bad news …” he starts. This time I hold back so he can’t hear me. But the tears come and don’t stop long past when I am sitting on the floor in my hallway. Long past after I go to bed. Long past the treatments are over and the tests come back clear.
Part of me is waiting for the next phone call as I’m driving , as if my mind is walking on the eggshells that are my family’s health and happiness. I can’t stop thinking about the advice and the wedding and the other big life events I need him for. So the pleading doesn’t stop with the good news.
“Please God, don’t take my dad.”