At about 5:30 pm… yesterday… while Colin and I were just starting to make dinner, my brother called. This is a very rare thing. Before talking to him, I made a joke like “Adrian’s calling me? Must be a disaster or something.” Pretty sure I won’t be making that joke ever again.
“Hi, Christine… Uh… I don’t know how else to tell you this so I’m just going to say it: Papi murio.”
My brain couldn’t quite get a handle on this and I had to ask him “Sorry, who? What was that? Who did you say died?”
“Dad…. He’s dead.”
“Dad! Oh! Oh I thought I heard that wrong… Dad’s dead… What do you mean Dad’s dead? How? What?”
Adrian could offer little information as he’d just found him, called the police and a bunch of the family in Miami, and was still waiting for the police to arrive. He told me that Dad had been to the hospital the day before for very low blood pressure. At one point his heart had stopped and they revived him. They released him very late that night though, and as far as Adrian knew, he was still ok in the morning.
That’s all he or I know at the moment.
I have spent several hours, off and on, with a leaky face. Not sobbing crying, but the tears keep coming, and my nose keeps needing to be blown, and I don’t really know exactly which of the many thoughts that occur to me are to blame for the drippy face. My father and I were not very close. In fact, I spent the larger portion of my life loathing him. There was definitely a time when this news would have brought on a victory jig. But we were on the mend recently. His last words to me were “Bye, sweetie. I love you.” Thankfully, my last words to him were “Bye, Dad. I love you too.”
I had been thinking about him today and yesterday. Thinking I should call him just to say Hi, since I’d been avoiding it, and thought that wasn’t nice. I didn’t want to hear any more tales of woe. I didn’t want to discuss for hours either of our political views (mostly similar, but with a few sticky subjects), but I still wanted to know if his latest surgery (on his back again, to fix something that previous surgery had actually messed up) was still on and if he was still doing well-ish and to talk about whatever else we might come up with. You really never knew what kind of conversation it would be with him. But I didn’t call. Probably wouldn’t have gotten him on the phone anyway, now that I know what was going on the last 2 days. But I didn’t even try! I had talked myself out of it by thinking: What if he talked and talked for hours? What if he went on and on about something we disagreed about and I didn’t care to talk about anyway and it just went all icky? Our last conversation had been short but very nice. I was not guaranteed that again, so… it would have to wait for another time. Just another day or 2… When I’m not sad about not having a job yet or not being at all where I wanted to be in my life and when I’m not trying so hard to seem like I have at least something in my life figured out. That’s one of the things about life, though; You always think there’s another time… unless you’re my Dad and therefore a bit morbid and prone to being slightly theatrical and in this case correct.
Even for minor surgeries, he would call me beforehand and either tell me, or leave me messages, that if anything went wrong he just wanted to make sure he got to say goodbye and make sure that I knew that he loved me. To this I would always respond by taking a breath, thinking “Que exagerado!” but saying “Thanks, Dad. I love you too… but you know you’re not gonna die right? You’re gonna be the world’s oldest living tissue… a damn big toe in a jar, alive, tapping out Morse code for the rest of forever. You’re gonna outlive us all!” And he’d laugh and say something like “Well… Maybe… but just in case.”
The man had been hit by lightening (when it wasn’t even raining) my senior year of high school and came out of it fine! (Except for being a bit jumpy whenever the sky became overcast. The hairs on his arms would stand on end… But physically, fine!) He’d never had great luck with doctors in Miami, but he always came out alive and relatively ok. Lately, as he would count his miseries, I would try to point out his blessings. He seemed both amused and relieved by this most of the time… the rest of the time he’d kind of ignore me and go on to another topic.
My Dad was a great big ham and a bit of an overreacter. Anything he did, good or bad, he did big. He talked loud and A LOT. He laughed loud and at things that weren’t really that funny… even jokes he’d already heard that weren’t that funny… even his own jokes that he’d said before that weren’t that funny the first time. He listened to music at full volume no matter how close his proximity to the speakers. He ate a lot… especially if he liked something, he could eat absurd amounts in one sitting. 1/4 of a pie? No problem! A whole pizza? Bring it on! A dozen donuts? Hell, yeah! (Honestly, that one I could do when I was younger too. Now, not so much. Ick. He also seemed to be taking it easier in the eating department of late… at least that’s what he told me.) He watched a lot of TV and movies. When he couldn’t sleep, he could not sleep for days. When he could sleep, he could sleep for days. Once, when my brother and I were both little (me 8 or 9, him… two-ish?), he slept through an entire weekend. No lie. He went to bed on Friday night and he didn’t fully awake again until Sunday evening. He got up to go to the bathroom a few times, but he went straight back to sleep. And, man, could he SNORE!! You could hear him from outside even with all the windows and doors shut.
There were a lot of bad things between us in the past. It took him a long time to apologize and it took me even longer to truly forgive him. There are a few things that I still haven’t fully forgiven, if I’m honest. But lately, we were ok. There are things I wish we could have talked more about and things I wish we had talked much less about and things that I will wonder for the rest of my life. There’s a lot unresolved there.
I’m not one to want to paint anyone and everyone in my life who has died as a saint. If they were good, good. If they were not good, be honest and don’t drone on about how they were so great and wonderful and it’s so so sad that they’re gone and you’ll love and cherish your time with them forever… blahblah blahblah. NO. Lying is so unbecoming. I’d rather remember people for who they really were, not who I wish they were. It’s a bit insulting to their memory to put them on a pedestal after their death if they weren’t up there while they lived. What if they didn’t want to be on your stupid pedestal anyway? But I digress… As flawed as he was, and as much as he tried to redeem himself, what I want to remember is the truth of him. The truth I know of him and whatever anyone may want to tell me now. (Though, honestly, the more I learned about his past while he was alive, the more trouble I had trying to like him.) With all that said, I may have plenty of awful things to say about my Dad, many of which I’ve said to his face, however unwise it may have been to do so at the time, some I never got around to, but I’m not going to demonize him either.
Colin asked me to tell him a good story about my father. I had been trying to think of one for a bit and been having trouble. Time has a way of making things get all fuzzy. I told one of the ones about Hurricane Andrew:
We heard about Hurricane Andrew’s imminent arrival less than 24 hours before it happened. (We had been busy building a kitchen, not bothering with weather reports. That was the last time we ever overlooked the beginning of hurricane season.) My father volunteered with the Red Cross and helped out at the shelter at Miami-Dade (then) Community College, Kendall Campus. The Red Cross folks had decided that the gymnasium would be the safest building. Dad had gone there before, and been a swimmer, so he knew that below the gym were the locker rooms for the pool. He also knew that the locker rooms were all concrete like a bunker. When the roof started coming off of the gym, he and a policeman tethered themselves together so that they could go outside and see if there was a safe way into the locker rooms. They found a door… that was chained and padlocked shut. The policeman asked if they should find a janitor. Dad asked where the fuck he thought they would find a janitor at that moment. The policeman started to panic that they had no key. How could they get in there without a key? They needed to find a janitor! How could they find a janitor?! Which janitor had the key?! Dad pointed out that the policeman had a gun strapped to him and he could just shoot the fucking lock off. The policeman did that and they went back and got the 2000+ people to move downstairs through the wind and rain and flying debris. Everyone eventually got down safely. All of them. Including some of my classmates. Maybe 5 to 10 minutes after everyone settled in down there, the roof of the gymnasium partly flew away but mostly collapsed down onto where they had all just been. It was reported on the radio that everyone at the shelter had been killed. Furious, everyone took turns with the few working cellphones and started calling their families to assure them that no one had died.
Thanks to my Dad.
Well… that’s sort of it. Dad’s telling was better, of course. His telling included impersonations of the one Red Cross lady who was completely useless once the wind picked up, the policemen, and acting out walking in the hurricane winds. His version was also more emphasizing his incredulity of the ineptitude and chaos of the whole Red Cross situation there. His stories always included lots of gesticulation and pauses for dramatic and/or comedic effect… and more swearing. I could hold my own well enough, but he was always going to be better at the swearing than me. In English and Spanish. I can’t swear worth a damn in Spanish.
I know I’ve lost my biggest fan, and my one-time arch-nemesis, in one fell and completely unexpected swoop. I owe him a lot. So many lessons learned from both his good and bad behavior. What I should do and what I will never allow myself to do. So many shared quirks and habits (*ahem* insomnia). Even if I still remember things about him that were terrible, I happen to know that no one will ever love me as much as my Dad did. Not Colin. Not Mom. Not Adrian. (None of them are that unbalanced.) I know that all the healing that still needed to be done, all of the things left unsaid, all of the genuine hopes I had for him for the future that will not come to pass, and all of the unanswered questions, have left a big empty space in me that I will have to learn to live with. I’ll try to do that by remembering, as best I can, the good things, the bad things that we resolved, the bad things I’ll probably talk to him about if there is an afterlife, and the fact that, no matter what I may feel about how it came to be, he is not worrying or hurting or lonely or bored anymore, and that’s a good thing.
Bye, Dad. I love you too.