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.”
I probably could have found justifications for not being happy if I had wanted to. Parents who were divorced when I was young. Some pretty messy heartbreaks. Some of those insolvable family tensions.
But to me happiness was always a given. Those things were just bumps in the road of a pretty great life.
It’s only relatively recently that mentality has taken more convincing. Somewhere along the line, those things I thought I always would have never came. Those things I took for granted went away. But most disconcertingly, the faith I had securely renewed began taking a beating. It’s like someone began pushing back my fingers one by one from the grip I had on it.
And so my soul slid into this melancholy. I feel like I have been fighting off the black tar of self pity. Sometimes I let it linger before shaking it. Sometimes I reel back from it, but it still crouches in a corner of my mind. It brings a numbing lethargy.
Still, there are these moments of reprieve.
I am sitting beside a fire in the mountains of a far off place. The flames lap at the cold air. A friend stands at a make-shift table nearby, pouring me a glass of wine. We swing between goofy and thoughtful. In this moment, I am happy, I think.
Later, I lay in a tent with the doughy material of my sleeping bag pulled in around my face. Our words float up around us as we lay there, shrinking from the bite of the cold. This is nice, I think.
In the days after, I hold to the handlebars of my bike, letting it glide on the ups and downs and sways of a powdery trail. The movement feels exhilarating, refreshing.
Tonight, I am sitting in a wooden pew, letting the mellow sounds of blues wash over me. I tilt my head back on my seat and watch as the singer’s hands weave up the stem of his guitar. Something about his voice, his music, is like a balm to those parts of me that have felt a bit tender.
Sitting here, I don’t want to go back to the dim light of my present outlook. I want to bathe in the respite that moments like this bring. They are like bread crumbs God has doled out in the midst of a season of bare cupboards.
Some say happiness is based on events. It is joy you should seek, which doesn’t come on the tides of circumstance.
To me, they have always felt like the same thing. Because I knew how to be happy about the good things that often come side-by-side with the bad. I hope this deviation from my norm is a momentary detour back to a road I’ve paved.
In the meantime, I relish these reprieves.
Dear tendons and joints of my shoulder,
Could you please get it together? I got stuff to do and you are really killing my vibe.
It’s 7:30 p.m. and I am sitting in my car outside my gym after my work out, trying to decide if I can put off going to the store for one more day.
I talk myself into thinking I don’t need milk.
It’s almost 8 by the time I weave through traffic and climb the steep stairs to my house. It doesn’t take long to regret my decision.
I stare at my open cupboards. They are a smorgasbord of snacks: popcorn, chips, trail mix … marshmallows. It’s like storage space for an upcoming Girls Scouts camping trip. There is nothing in there of substance.
I squat in front of my fridge.
I really don’t want eggs again tonight, I think.
I stand up and survey my cupboards.
I squat and peer into my fridge.
This goes on for several rounds, as if I am on a teeter-totter by myself.
I do this little exercise more frequently than I would like to admit. I don’t enjoy grocery shopping. And even when I do it I never know the right collection of items to buy for a week’s worth of full-course meals. That requires forethought and looking up recipes and, of course, money.
But this time, I can’t even eat cereal, the ultimate dinner cop-out, because I don’t have milk.
This is unglamorous side of living alone .
The doctor’s, chiropractic and physical therapy offices must have all bought their ceiling tiles from the same place.