Yesterday was hot but beautiful here in the San Fernando Valley. The sky was a brilliant blue, my garden had nooks of deep shade under a pergola draped with the cool green leaves of still-blossoming wisteria.
But I spent most of the day inside. I had a vague sense of unease coupled with an overpowering ennui. At first I thought I was just tired. We had a busy day the day before, entertaining family. But that really hadn't worn me out. We kept it simple, people brought things to eat and drink, and the afternoon was full of lively talk and a lot of laughter.
So why was I feeling so glum? I moved through the day listlessly, trying to motivate myself to at least clean up the remaining dishes, make the bed, fold some clothes. All I could manage was a half-hearted attempt to finish a book I'd started, and that didn't hold my attention for long.
Sometime after we normally have lunch, I realized I was hungry. So my husband and I went to a favorite eatery where I had a turkey burger and a few french fries -- and a couple of glasses of wine. We talked about this and that -- nothing much, really.
Things were going well for the family, our health was good - mostly - and no one seemed to be suffering from workplace conflicts or other daily challenges that can drag us down. We sat there for about two hours before finally making our way home.
Still, my energy level was low, especially my spirit. We watched some old reruns on TV, finally going to bed when we lost interest. My sleep was pretty good, some weird dreams about tasks assigned that I couldn't complete which took odd forms. In one I was trying to sell hair dye for animals -- but was too inexperienced to demonstrate or actually use it to any good effect. In another I was trying to get my granddaughter to school with all of her homework appropriately labeled and packaged, and things wouldn't stay where they were put. We were late, and after we got there I had to take her back home again to get something we'd forgotten.
When I woke up I realized that the date today is August 5. And then I knew why yesterday had been pretty much lost to me. On August 5, 2009, I spent the day trying to reach my dad by phone. Now that he was alone in the house, I called him every day just to check up on him and see how he was doing. He'd told me the previous day that he was looking forward to breakfast the following morning because it was the day of the week he allowed himself all the things he wasn't supposed to eat. He had sausages and eggs waiting in the refrigerator.
But on that day, the sausage and egg day, I couldn't reach him. I started calling in the morning. I figured he'd gone to visit his wife who was in a dementia care home. She wouldn't know who he was, or if she did wouldn't be able to communicate with him, but he went almost every day anyway. My mother died in 1985 and he had remarried that same year. He and his new wife travelled often, and she had no interest in keeping up with his 'old' family. We talked when we could on the phone over those years, but he had pretty much removed himself from our lives. Then when she was finally consigned to a care home in 2008, he gradually came back into our lives. It was such a gift to have him back. We loved talking with him and seeing him -- loved that he could spend some time with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He had been missed, and he had been missing out on a big piece of his own life.
He lived over two hours away, so I continued to call throughout the day, but there was never a response. I left message after message -- called whoever I could think of to see if they had heard from him or seen him. Someone finally suggested I call the police and have them do a health and safety check. Apparently that was something they were called upon to do on a regular basis in a town that was primarily full of retirees. By now the sun had set, and it was starting to get dark. I called again. Still no answer. I couldn't wait any longer. I got in the car and drove there.
When I was about a half-hour out from his house, my cell phone rang. It was my husband. He had heard from the police. "Pull the car over."
"Why? You can tell me what's happened -- I'm almost there -- why do I have to pull over?"
"Just pull over. I'm not telling you anything until you are off the road." He didn't need to tell me, I knew. But I pulled over, off the freeway and into a dark residential neighborhood I didn't know.
"OK -- I'm off the freeway."
"Your dad is gone, honey. The police found him in the back yard, sitting in one of the garden chairs. The coroner will wait for you if you want. I told them you were on the way and should be there soon. I'm coming down. I'll be there as soon as I can."
"Yes, please ask them to wait!"
Somehow I found my way back to the freeway, somehow I drove the last half-hour, somehow I managed to see through my grief and stayed on the road. When I pulled up to the house, the coroner's van was in the driveway. The lights in the living room seemed brighter than they ever had before, and everything limed with a kind of white light, vivid but distant, surreal. Dad's little dog was barking, manic, running everywhere. I picked her up to quiet her, but she wouldn't be calmed. She scratched my arms with her sharp nails while she tried to climb up my shoulder to lick my face. I had to put her down.
My dad lay in a body bag on a guerney that seemed to fill the room.. And there were three officers, larger than life, larger than death, standing by.
I know they gave me the details of where they had found him, and I remember being asked questions about why he was alone. I told them his situation. "I called several times today to see how he was -- when I couldn't get him, I just got in the car and drove here after I contacted the police." "Yes," the coroner said. "We listened to your messages." And then they were silent. I didn't know what to do next. Finally one of the them said "Would you like to see him?" ........"Yes."
Inside I was thinking, would I be up to it? Did I want to, really, see him dead? No. But I needed to see him whether I wanted to or not. I needed to say goodbye.
They unzipped the bag, exposing his head and shoulders. He was lying on his side, eyes wide open. "You can touch him if you want." I put my hand on his forehead, brushed his hair with my fingers. "He's warm!" He had been sitting outside since the night before, where he always sat just before bed, watching the stars in that garden chair. Of course he was warm. It was the desert, it had been over 100 degrees all day long.
"We'll take him now. We will let you know when you can collect the body. I don't think we will need to do an autopsy, based on what you've told us. But we need to take him now." And that was August 5, 2009.
And this is August 5, 2019. Ten years, and yet the details are so real in my mind it could have been yesterday. Yes, it could have been -- and I guess it was.
I miss you dad--yesterday, today, and all the tomorrows.