Respond. There has to be an appropriate response. There’s no thinking, just action. There’s something missing and it’s as vague as that. Everything was in balance just minutes ago, and now there’s an indescribable nothing, and the only way to counteract it is to respond. Get in the car. Drive as fast as you can. You must get there. Go to the people you love. Tell them you love them. Go back to 6 hours ago when you were asleep in bed, completely unaware of the messages on the answering machine. Go back to that moment and wake up. You can’t. You must deal with this moment instead.
You’ll probably wonder why you uncontrollably sobbed, gasping for air, melted on the floor, overcome with despair, and now 15 minutes later, feel absolutely nothing. There’s no answer. Feel guilty for feeling nothing. Make yourself remember something. Remember his favorite music. Remember vacations with him on his boat. Remember the place he sat in the captain’s chair, looking over the GPS, and listening to Peter Mulvey. Remember the boat surrounded by ocean in all directions. That’s too much. Don’t think about that, not yet. You were supposed to get in the car. Go to your car.
Wait, you’re wearing pajamas. Those are not appropriate. Find the appropriate thing to wear. Whatever shirt you wear, you will remember forever as the shirt you wore on this day in this moment. Why are you thinking about that? That’s not important. Everything has changed. Don’t give a shit about the shirt. Just pick something and go to the car. That one, you have to wear that one. Their family got you that shirt for Christmas last year, and you love it, and you love them. They have to know you love them. Now grab Kitchen Radio and get in the car. Good.
Now drive. It’s a 20-minute drive; you can do it in 15, maybe even 10. Wait — stay calm. You just talked to your mom on the phone. She had a good day. She told you about the rubber cement, magazine cutouts, stickers, and other craft supplies she got to decorate letters with. She told you her mother came over to visit her that morning and they had a nice time sitting together drinking coffee, chatting, and laughing about little things. You asked her what kind of stickers she bought. They were a circus theme with all sorts of deep red and yellow colors, with tents and balloons, and a big Ferris wheel. You imagined that Ferris wheel spinning round and round with people getting on and off. Then she told you what she planned on making for dinner — spaghetti, her favorite — but you stopped listening. You started thinking about the poetry class you had last semester. What was that poem by W.H. Auden? Musee De Beaux Arts, that was it. You had liked the first stanza so much.
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along.
Then your mom noticed you weren’t listening. She asked you about your day. You told her about the messages on the answering machine. You told her as mechanically, structured, and to the point, as a machine would. Then her tone changed. She was so sorry for going on about nothing. She wanted to know why you didn’t tell her right away. She told you she loved you and would be there for you. She asked if you were okay. You had said yes. Was that a lie? Then she asked you where everyone was, and you told her. They were all gathered together at his house. She told you not to drive, but you told her you were fine. So she made you promise to drive carefully.
Okay, now you can go. Drive. Buckle your seat belt. Put the key in the ignition. Turn the key. Put your foot on the break and switch from park to reverse. Good job. Look in the rearview mirror. Make sure to be careful backing into traffic. Think about how your mother loves you. Think about how in this moment you’re not alone. Be grateful you are loved. Think about how much you needed that phone call. Think about how you need your parents. Now think about his sons. Think about how they need their dad too. Don’t Cry. Stop Crying. You’re in the middle of the road. If you’re going to do anything, get angry. Get mad because this isn’t fair. Now the rearview mirror is out of focus. You have to refocus. Switch from reverse to drive. Now accelerate. The speed limit is 50. You have driven this route a thousand times. You can go 60. You could even go 70. At the straight-aways you could probably get up to 100. Don’t do that. Drive 60.
On your way, notice everything you have never noticed before. Magnify and zero in on everything. You’ve heard people describe this feeling, read about it a thousand times, and thought you understood. Realize, until now, you did not understand. Notice that woman walking along the street with her chocolate lab, khaki shorts, and light blue polo shirt. Suddenly understand she’s amazing. Observe how she even smiles when her dog jolts to a stop and sniffs something in the grass, yanking her slightly off balance. Feel how far away she seems. Think about how her world isn’t turned over today. Wonder if it ever has been, or when it will be.
Drive along this road with that familiar river on the left side. Remember being a child in the backseat of your dad’s car on this same road. Remember your dad asking you to recite the things you needed to stop at the grocery store to get. Limes, for medicinal margaritas, were always what you listed first. Remember how much your dad, him, the families, and their friends enjoyed those margaritas. Remember all the other things you ate at their house. Think of the things you listed: maybe an avocado for guacamole or some vegetables to go with steak. Think about how there was almost always steak, or spare ribs, or some red meat. Try to make things better by vowing to eat red meat today, even though you never would before. Want to eat steak. Want to eat steak more than anything you have ever wanted. Know it won’t help, but have faith it might. Convince yourself this is all a joke. Tell yourself this drive is just like any of the others. Tell yourself you’re on your way over to dinner. Believe you’ll get there and you’ll smell the steak, and you’ll eat it with them, and everyone will be happy. There’s still hope. This is just a joke. This is all just a joke.
Think about arriving. Intend to tell him all the things you never have, but should. Plan for when you get there, after this scare, and how everyone will laugh. Expect everything to go back to normal. Think about how the adults will talk about the things they used to, like how to solve the problems of the world. Believe they will stay at the dinner table long after appetizers, dinner, and dessert. Believe they’ll talk and drink red wine late into the night, like they always have. Think you’ll quietly sit there with them, like you always did. Tell yourself you’re going to be okay. Tell yourself everything is okay. This is just a scare.
Drive believing the world hasn’t changed. The grocery store is still the grocery store. The turn left onto a gravel road is still a turn left onto a gravel road. The gardens and houses along this road are all still there, and the families in their houses are going about their daily lives, just like they always have, and you are too. Feel relief. Remember how upset you were earlier today. Think about how silly that was. Decide to call your mom back later and apologize for worrying her. Think about how she must be worried even though everything is fine.
Pull into their driveway. See the familiar house. Find comfort is the site of their home. Think about how full and happy their family is. Appreciate how happy you are that your family has bonded, molded, and become an extension of theirs, and theirs an extension of yours. See all the cars in the driveway. Get excited to see everyone. Park your car at the end of the line. Walk up the driveway and through their garage, like you always have. Go to the mudroom door. Open the door. Enter the empty mudroom. Greet the dogs as they come running, barking, and tail wagging. Happily pet them and say:
“Hello puppies! Hello! You’re good dogs, yes you are.”
Take off your shoes. Be happy to be home. Walk into the kitchen with a smile on your face. See everyone else. Stand their just seeing them for a moment, and then really look. They are frozen, heads bent to the ground with strained eyes. Think it’s weird that all of their eyes are irritated. Become irritated that they’re just standing there. Notice one person is missing. Tell yourself he’s just upstairs. Walk to your dad. Hug your dad because he looks so sad, but it’s okay, your dad’s friend is just upstairs. Hug your dad. Listen to your dad cry for the first time in your life. Remember the message on the family answering machine from that morning:
“Doug, Thatcher, Margaux, anyone. This is Debbie. Pick up the phone. If you’re there, pick up the phone right now. I’m at the VonRoth’s and Dick is having a heart attack. Call me right when you get this.”
Remember the second message from your dad:
“Margaux, Dick had a heart attack this morning. He might not make it.”
Then the third:
“Margaux, he didn’t make it. I’m going over to their house now. Come when you get this.”