by Risa Green
My life changed on a Saturday morning with a phone call. My father …. hospital…heart attack….ventilator. It was Halloween. I was three thousand miles away. I booked a plane ticket for a red eye that night; I had already missed the only other flight of the day. More phone calls. My brother, my uncle, my mom, the doctor. I found a hotel near the hospital and called to make a reservation. How many days? I didn’t know. I couldn’t think. My husband took the phone away from me. Three days, he told the agent. Maybe longer, but let’s book three for now. More phone calls. Not looking good…not optimistic…still not stabilized. I tried to pack, but what? His birthday – his birthday is in four days. I cried violently; a wild, primal, shaking cry, like no cry I’d ever experienced before. My children were terrified. It’s Halloween, they whispered to my husband. Are we still allowed to have fun? More phone calls. Nothing else we can do…we want to make him comfortable…let him go in peace. By four-thirty, my father was gone.
Somehow, I pasted a smile on my face and went to a Halloween party. Somehow, I took my children trick-or-treating. Somehow, I walked through the airport and found my brother in the waiting area. Somehow, we boarded the plane. I barely remember any of it. I must have been giving off an aura of vulnerability, because I remember thinking that strangers – the TSA inspector, the guy I bought a water from at the airport, the flight attendant – were being unusually gentle with me. On the plane, I listened to my iPod and cried in the dark. I must have slept a little, because my neck hurt when the captain started his descent into Philadelphia.
At five am, my brother, his wife and I rented a car and drove to our hotel. We ate breakfast at a diner. At nine, we went to the funeral home. The director had been our next-door neighbor for twenty years. I used to go swimming in his pool. I used to flirt with his son. He looked exactly the same. He said that we did, too. We picked out a coffin. Dark wood with a Star of David on top.
We drove to my father’s apartment. He moved a few years ago, and neither I nor my brother had ever visited him there. It was small and sad. I hadn’t talked to him since Father’s Day in June. I hadn’t seen him since May. We met him at a children’s museum in Philly. My son refused to give him a kiss. He hadn’t looked good then; puffy face and shaking hands. He said he wasn’t drinking anymore. I knew he was lying. I would have called him on his birthday. I almost called him the week before, but I knew he wouldn’t answer. He only answered on his birthday, and on Father’s Day. His birthday was in three days. I had been waiting for it. I still loved him so much.
I barely knew him the last fifteen years. Friends appeared whom I hadn’t known existed. Clothes I didn’t recognize were in his drawers. An email account I thought he never checked was active. He’d saved the ticket from the children’s museum. He had a picture of my kids from last year’s holiday card in his wallet. He loved you so much, said a woman I’d never met before. She had been the last one to see him alive.