Mylena’s passing at such a young age was a complete accident. It was well past midnight when the driver fell asleep at the wheel, losing both his sister and father in the same night. Once again, a complete accident that could happen to anybody. Perhaps if they hadn’t driven home through Beaumont, Texas they would have missed that section of the road altogether. Perhaps if they had one more cup of coffee or just pulled over before falling asleep. There are so many what-if’s that should never be dwelled upon.
I shifted my pain into the things that were present, establishing weekly phone calls with my dad to talk about life, ask him questions and lean on him. His father left him at an early age and he felt equipped to relate. The Christmas right after her passing I flew down to Texas, where I was able to have one of the best holidays of my life. December was always so depressing because it was a reminder of how I had to step up the year my mother left; cooking, helping buy gifts for everyone, someone had to help my poor old man pretend life was worth living after the news. Those may have been estranged years, however this year felt different. This year was simply full of laughter, and I even saw my dad smile. He had started dating again and I had never seen him so carefree, loving and silly. It was like the real man was buried all these years.
I will never understand why life threw me a serious curve ball as I was barely standing up again. His birthday rolled around in early February and I had this sense that I should be there. Caught up in finding another job before my contract ended, I decided to save the money, make him a birthday card and call him instead. He sounded distracted and I later figured why. He dreaded that year: it was the age in which his father passed. Two short weeks later, he would too.
I will spare the details of his death – the moment leading up to the heart attack was subtle and I feel remorse for not seeing the red flags in those final text messages. Each of us played a part, and all of his children carry the weight of wondering if they could have saved him. There are so many what-if’s that I can’t help but dwell on. What if I just flew down to see him one last time? What if my phone wasn’t on silent and I answered his last call? What if he was in pain and didn’t want to be alone?
Nobody tells you exactly how much you’re going to miss someone until they leave. I immediately canceled the rest of my contract and flew down to Texas. The four of were all dealing with it in our own way, and we were incredibly grateful that we at least had each other. I buried myself in sorting out his accounts and researching funeral homes to provide to the group. I can’t tell you how many homes cared more about profits and actually tried to take advantage of the grieving family. His brother, our uncle, was so kind during the process to step in and help the four of us, who were clearly not prepared for this sudden responsibility. When we finally found the right location, I met the funeral director in person, he claimed he was shocked to realize I was just a kid. The woman he spoke to on the phone was pictured to be in her brittle, cold fifties. I guess nobody tells you how grief ages the soul of those left behind.
I was no longer the same when I flew back to NYC. Everything was pointless and I lost my way again. I’m not sure how those months would have unraveled if it weren’t for the kindness of an old friend. He had personally reached out to all my friends, new and old, and asked them to mail a coin to my apartment in Harlem. This may sound silly, however he knew this was the conversation my father and I last had, about coins, and he also knew I had been collecting them from all the countries I visited. My heart filled with hope as random little coins flowed through my mailbox. It was a constant reminder of the people we touch and the memories forever carried with us.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my father. It will be over a decade soon. Hard to imagine I haven’t heard his voice for several years. Aside from the few live acoustic nights out in San Antonio. I regret never saving the voicemails on my old phone. I even picked up lucid dreaming to sneak conversations with him but can never form the sentences when I finally see him. Yet sometimes, when I listen carefully, I’ll hear a train whistle or see a big black bird, and hope it’s him.
I don’t care what the calendar says, Spring immediately follows February 27th. The sorrow of his life blooms into celebration of new life. My brother had a son recently, and man, Caden Scott is the spiting image of him. Throughout the years I’ve made a promise to myself to leave the decay in February; after paying him tribute I must soak up every minute of life. That is what he would want.
However it has taken me a long time to get to this place of peace. I couldn’t understand why life was so harsh as to give me the false hope of a fresh start. I was just getting to know my dad, and while the last six months of his life were spent in appreciation and humility, I was angry that it was cut so short. He had set each of us up to be frustratingly, independent people, yet we still had so much to learn from him. I finally understood why he was always teaching us to do it ourselves, because his father left him the same way.
It was this moment in my life in which my insides turned cold. Perhaps the city, with all the constant career and housing hurdles, was pushing me in this direction. I embraced the single-serving friends that came in and out of my life during this time, yet always kept a distance. We needed each other to distract ourselves from what really lied beneath. I’ll admit, there are a few close friends to this day that stuck with me, and I am grateful for the many happy memories. Yet there was a growing, unsettling pit in my stomach that infrequently woke me in the middle of the night.
Nobody tells you how grief changes the core of your being. I watched each of us children go through different stages and have noticed one thing in common. We don’t like to talk about it. It was too hard for me to just let go and accept he was gone. I was afraid to feel the raw emotions of love and couldn’t bear the idea of losing anyone again. Nobody was going to be let in.
Thanks for sticking to the story – here is the last piece of the trilogy.