Dad (a.k.a. Strachan Donnelley a.k.a. “Potsie”) March 22, 1942- July 12, 2008
It’s 6:34am on Monday, July 12, 2010. I sit here, at my cluttered desk, saddened by reality, soothed by the vigorous hum of the air conditioner. I sit here at the beginning of another day of my life. A day that’s not just another day.
Two years ago today, Dad died. I don’t tell you this to be a downer. I don’t tell you this to garner sympathy or to ensure a slow trickle of sweet comments into my existential orbit. I tell you this because it is true. A fact. One that I can’t change as much as I’d like to.
Sometimes though, I play that game. That game wherein I could trade something in my life, offer up an aspect of my good life to the cosmos, to have him back. It is often in those damp moments before falling asleep at night when I remember Dad in his broad-shouldered fullness, his irreverent and brilliant musings, his dancing mustache and biting wit. It is in those moments that I, unconsciously or no, fight back tears. In those moments, I think, sometimes, of what a kick he would get out of watching me pursue my passion, of how much joy my kids, my rough and tumble and good creatures, would bring him. It is in these outwardly quiet moments when I decide – feverishly and foolishly – that I would give almost anything to bring him back.
And it’s a silly and cruel game because I can’t have him back. This is not the way life works. Or time. I must move forward, treading paths carefully paved and those exquisitely unseen, toward that thing called the future. And Dad? He will never be in that future. And, depending on the minute of the day, this simple reality kills me. Something that helps? Writing about him. Remembering him. Taking stock of my life in his absence. Tracing the contours of the stunning shadow he has cast over my landscape. All of this helps. And so I do it.
I do it today. Because I need to.
Two weeks ago, while spending time at Dad’s childhood home, Husband, the girls, and I drove a short distance to the cemetery where Dad was buried. We did this last year too. Last year, I was scared to go. But then Mom went to the cemetery and though I wanted to go with her and be there for her, I stood there and watched her go, frozen with fear, and cried. But then I bucked up and had my good man drive me there. And last year, upon returning from visiting Dad’s grave, I scribbled the following words I never published (words edited only to keep things about my kids anonymous):
Today was one of the saddest, most magical days of my life. Disorientation. Headache. A baby crying. Pictures of you everywhere. The smell of your past and mine and ours together. The candy green grass and gentle wind. The coy sunshine. Suddenly, I felt it. The “it” I felt? The hole. The hole you have left in my life. In my heart. In my mind. In my future. In my happiness.
Mom said goodbye to go to the cemetery. And the tears came. Furious and fast. My little girl asked if I had a boo-boo. Yes, I told her. A big one.
We piled in the car and there I was trapped between the two creatures I love most in this world: my babies. They laughed and cried and fussed and played with stale French Fries and toy telephones. We all sang Happy Birthday. Husband drove fast, with purpose. That route I traveled almost one year ago, padded and pregnant in the back of a vast limo.
The trees were green. Too green. Mocking green. And then there was the arch, the big Gothic arch I didn’t think I remembered, but I saw it and it all came back. We drove through and parked the car.
I pulled Baby from her seat and walked over the fresh-cut grass shielding her bald head from the impossible sunshine. I looked down and there it was. A small rectangle with your name and the dates. The dates of your beginning. And your end.
And behind my big white sunglasses I cried. And placed Baby down on the grass. She reached for the letters of your name, traced them with her chubby little finger. Crawled toward you, blue eyes squinting, and let out a hearty giggle.
I said: “Hi, Dad. I love you and miss you everyday. Everyday.”
And then I said: “This is Baby.”
And then because I am a coward or because this was too much, I scooped her up. The little girl whom you never met, who slumbered and somersaulted in my belly as you left us.
We walked back toward the car where Bob Marley crooned sweet instructions No Woman, No Cry.
We drove away. We had lunch. We went to a toy store. We went home. To your home. Your childhood home.
I love you and miss you everyday. Everyday.
I read these words from one year ago and, yes, there are tears in my eyes, but more that that, there is realization in my mind. I am, slowly and imperfectly, moving on. This year, Husband drove his three girls to the same candy green, idyllic cemetery. And this time, I plucked Toddler from her car seat. I didn’t tell her where we were (she has plenty of years to learn such things), but we walked over to that plaque. And my girl, my big girl, crouched down and recited the letters of Dad’s name. And this made me smile and cry. And then I said to her something simple and something true.
“It says Donnelley. You are a Donnelley too, you know.”
And she smiled. And said something. Something perfect. “Donnelley. Like Old MacDonald!”
I scooped her up and hugged her tight. Over my little girl’s shoulder, I looked down at that little rectangle of stone and whispered something, Hi Dad. I love you, and told myself that somehow, someway, he saw me there, cradling my growing girl, shaky with sadness and strength, love and longing, moving on.
And then we hopped back in the car, two Donnelley girls, and we drove to the same lunch spot from last year. We sat outside on the patio. We laughed a lot. The girls mashed macaroni and cheese all over their faces and crayons all over their clothes.
And today. I am here. Back here. At my desk where I do so much of my writing. And thinking. And missing. I sit here, hearing the sweet pitter-patter of little feet outside my door, listening to Verdi’s Requiem. Dad’s favorite. An intense and glorious piece of music Dad cherished. An intense and glorious piece of music we played at his funeral a little more than two years ago when we collectively uttered that formal, but incomplete goodbye under the big trees at his childhood home.
Today, I still feel that hole in the linen of my life. Today, I feel it more than most days. But that’s okay. For this hole is one that is now part of me. Of who I am. And I embrace this hole, tiny on some days and vast on others.
Some holes are meant to be acknowledged, not patched.
A tiny girl in watermelon pajamas just burst through the door. “Hi, Mommy!” she crooned. Simple and not so simple words that remind me that there is more than that hole.
So much more.
Thank you all, seasoned readers and newer visitors of this blog, for allowing me to write and feel and heal here. For me, words are the profound means by which I recognize and revere aspects of my life, good and bad an in between, that need recognizing and revering.