Author: Siobhan Braun
When I woke up this morning, I had an idea of how I would spend the anniversary of my father’s death. I imagined it to be the kind of day straight out of a movie, as if I should have a voice-over narrating the events.
I imagined Don LaFontaine’s voice booming, “In memory of her father’s passing, she set out for the beach house where he spent his final days on earth.” Only things didn’t go quite the way I imagined.
Today was one of those beautiful San Diego days where I could get away with wearing a light sundress and thin sweater. That’s what I was wearing when I arrived in Mission Beach at 9:45 a.m. When I neared the house, I saw a shirtless guy with a sketchpad sitting on the porch. I paused in front of him, straining to see inside the tiny rental unit. I don’t know what I thought I would see. Maybe a small memento from our time there, the pale pink shovel my daughter used while building her sandcastles or a shell that one of the boys had picked off the beach. Nothing seemed familiar. I looked at the dirty sand bucket inside the gate and remembered vacuuming the endless pebbles of sand that the kids trekked in while my dad was sleeping in the other room.
All at once, I remembered what it felt like during his final days. I recalled the moment he stopped eating altogether and the quiet panic we all felt. I remembered his freshly shaven face the day my brother spent an hour gently applying shaving cream and working a razor across our dad’s unusually stubbled face. I felt the beauty of that moment all over again. I recalled the gentle and cheerful way my children sat with their grandfather, singing songs and laughing, my sister’s warm-hearted humor and the artful way she made my dad feel so at ease. I felt my mom’s strength and beauty, the way she lovingly washed his body after he passed. It all came back heavy and hard like a fresh sadness, not one that I had carried with me for the past 365 days.
Before he died, I had an idea of what it would feel like when he passed. I thought about it. I even imagined it. When it happened, it was nothing like I expected. I felt guilty for being so sad. It must have something to do with my Catholic upbringing. Catholics aren’t one for outward displays of emotion. We are rigid by nature. I felt ashamed by my grief. I didn’t allow myself to mourn. It felt selfish to be upset.
I was robotic in my actions. The day after my dad’s death, I got the kids ready for school as usual. I icily told their teachers that their grandfather had died and we would be leaving for his funeral within a few days. That same day I attended my 9:15 anthropology class and behaved as if it were just another day until my teacher took out the skull of a monkey. She passed it around the room for us to hold. I thought about my dad’s brain and the tumors that spread everywhere. I imagined the size and shape of his tumors. I started feeling woozy. I stumbled out of class and threw up in the bathroom. I sat like a stone on the bench outside of my anthropology room for the next hour, waiting for the students to filter out so I could get my stuff. On the car ride home, I allowed myself to cry. I cried big gulping sobs until my face was red and swollen. I didn’t send my kids to school the following day. I gave myself permission to let the sadness in.
For a while, I dreamt about him nightly. In my sleep, we would spend the day together. We would walk together through the forest preserves outside of Chicago. We would pick shells along Pacific Beach, or he would push my daughter on the swing at the park or play with my boys in the sand. In my dreams, he was healthy. It’s been a while since he has made an appearance. Now when I dream of him, it’s always vague. Recently I dreamt that I was playing softball, and he was in the bleachers way in the back covered up by a blanket. I could only see the dim outline of his profile.
It’s been a year since I have last touched his hand or spoke with him. It’s been a year since I last told him how much I loved him. Today I realized that I don’t remember the sound of his voice. I can picture his face. I know that the lines running across his palms are almost identical to mine, with wide sweeping indents that create an upside-down triangle on the underside of his hands. I can still picture the pink scar running halfway up his leg from a glass window that fell on him in an office building in Chicago. I recall the softness of the gray sweater he often wore and what it felt like to hug him. But I can’t remember the staccato of his voice. For a long time I had a recorded birthday message from him on my phone, but I carelessly erased it one afternoon. The machine was full, and in an effort to get rid of the many voices of telemarketers and dental appointment reminders, I erased the only memento of his voice.
I am uncertain of how long I stood before the beach house, but I think the dude on the porch thought I was flirting with him. He smiled a big toothy smile. I blushed, embarrassed for losing myself in the moment, and walked on.
I decided not to sit on the beach in front of the house, figuring shirtless man may think it was some sort of invitation. Instead, I found a bench nearby and watched the waves. On the balcony behind me was a pasty, pale redhead in a dingy tank top with another shirtless man.