I must be an excellent actor.
The other day, one of my best friends remarked that I was unnervingly cavalier about my father’s death.
It’s been one year, five months and twenty-nine days. Or, if you’re the sort that crosses off calendar boxes each day, that’s five hundred and forty-seven boxes. If you really like numbers, as much as my dad did, it’s been 47,260,280 seconds.
I guess it’s been a while since my old man’s been buried six feet under. I’d like to think I’ve behaved fairly rationally since then, emotionally detaching myself from his death in efforts to minimize the impact of grief as much as possible. I kept my father’s death to myself, confiding in only a few almost as a formality, in as few words as possible with as little emotion as possible. After all, the world kept spinning, and wrangling with emotions the size and force of tsunamis made it difficult to go about daily life. Instead of dealing with them and the unpredictability they brought, I filed these feelings away in a commercial-grade, heavy duty safe box with two padlocks and the keys thrown away for good measure.
Although I’ll never admit it out loud, I’m pretty sure I’m a textbook example of denial. (The irony of this public post on a very public forum has not escaped me.) Despite telling myself thousands of times that he’s dead as a doorknob, I just can’t seem to grasp the fact that he’s currently rotting away under some stupid tree on some stupid hill all by himself. My dad, the Superman of my childhood, the man who climbed Mt. Whitney (several times, I might add) and went spear-fishing in the ocean and went skiing every weekend and coached me to Master’s in golf, dead? The possibility of death was in every corner of his life that it seemed he had made a deal with death itself, to wait on him until he did every single dangerous and thrilling adventure life had to offer him. He couldn’t have died skiing, because we went every weekend for almost two years, and then he went every weekend for another to-be-two years with my brother, and he didn’t die any of those times. What made this last time so damn special?
I can still see him, almost. I have hundreds of pictures, hundreds of videos, hundreds of memories still. I remember how excited he was when I told him I had gotten first at the Woodcreek golf tournament in my senior year. I remember how loudly he used to snore during my violin lessons, because he’d have to drive me 40 minutes one way and sit for an hour and then 40 minutes back, despite his full work day. I can still feel the warmth of his face mask that he put on me while we were on the ski lift during that blizzard when I was seven.
He was there for almost everything that’s ever happened in my life. And it kills me that he’ll never walk me down the aisle or hold his first grandchild. He’s never been to Hawaii and he’s never gone on a cruise, and he’ll never have a chance. He’s still so real and so whole and so recent that I can’t even begin to wrap my head around the fact that I’m never going to see him again.
Near the end, I didn’t really get to see him much. He kept to himself in his room and ate dinners in front of his computer screen. I guess that’s why I tell most others that he’s on a vacation somewhere, indefinitely. No need to make conversations awkward with the “oh, he’s actually dead” comment, and no one wants to deal with emotional baggage anyway.
I jokingly tell others that I could just be an emotionally dysfunctional robot in disguise, but there’s a pile of wet crumpled of tissues next to my laptop right now, so I s’pose I’m not emotionally dead yet, for better or for worse.