Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Woman in her Thirties Remembers

When I was twelve, my Dad was diagnosed with cancer. He was given six months to live, and fought hard during all six of those months. Today marks 20 years since he died.

Writing that down, that very life-changing truth of my life, is very strange for me. Firstly, I can't wrap my head around the fact that I am old enough now to say, 'twenty years ago...' anything. And secondly, I really don't talk much about my Dad. Something happens when a girl in her teens and a woman in her twenties and thirties shares with others that she lost a parent at a young age. People get uncomfortable, they offer awkward condolences, and change the subject. I got used to it after awhile, and my Dad has lived in quiet recesses of my mind for a long time now. It has been easier that way.

Twenty anniversaries of a death don't all come and go the same. The first few were hard. I remember my teachers being very concerned about me during the holidays the first couple of years. I remember being very angry on the fifth anniversary-- for some reason five years seemed eternal. But after the seventh, eighth, tenth, fifteenth passed, I noticed that December 4th came and went the same-- always cold, always blue-skied, almost always solitary (except for K, who always remembers). It's only been in the last few years of reflection that I've come to think of today as a 'good' day-- a day of release from pain.

But it is more than that, isn't it? My Dad was so much more than his six months of suffering, yet this day is the one carved out as the day to remember him. I don't want to remember him on December 1st or 3rd of his final year; I don't want to define him by the illness that took him. A woman in her thirties remembers the whole person, and here are some of my favorite memories:
  • My Dad and I had a song. 'Kokomo', from the Cocktail soundtrack. I had that tape and played that song over and over in my Dad's orange truck. We sang it at the top of our lungs. Today, if I hear that song, I smile and think of him.
  • My Dad was a sucker for his girls. Mom was constantly pinching pennies and would never look past K-Mart or Mervyns for our school clothes, but Dad could be talked into anything. Case in point: My white and pink LA Gear sneakers, the ones with the flowers on them. Dad got a stern talking to for that one, but did I ever love those shoes. Thanks, Dad.
  • I loved laying under the piano when my Dad played. He pounded on the keys fiercely, almost angrily, and the echo from under the piano was somehow very comforting to me. It still is, though I haven't napped under a piano in a long time.
  • Dad knew the streets of San Francisco like the back of his hand. We went every weekend to see our Grandparents, and he would always take us the hilliest ways and speed up so we'd get 'funny tummies'.
  • When Dad came home from work he would sit on the orange chair in the living room and let us slide down his legs. I can still smell the starch from his work shirts as I climbed on him, still feel his cold badge pressed against my back as I slid down his long legs to the floor.
  • Dad loved to laugh. When my brother and I giggle for hours over the same Airplane! jokes, I think of how we both got our love of slap-stick from him.
  • Dad helped me practice basketball. This picture is my favorite of the two of us. I'm sure he knew that I was hardly the next Michael Jordan, but I couldn't tell it by the way he would sit on the sidelines at my games and cheer me on.
I don't think of my Dad the way you might imagine I would. I didn't get sad at my wedding (my brother was the perfect escort down the aisle). I don't need a few minutes alone to compose myself before speaking of him. I don't spend every December 4th in mourning. It's the small things that throw me; the unexpected moments. I thought of him a lot in China, and wondered how he would have taken that life adventure of mine. I thought of him during my pregnancy, comparing L to him in the most subconscious ways. And I'll admit it-- I think of him when I'm making what I know is a bad decision. There have been times when I have thought, 'Dad, if you're watching me now... don't.' It is in those ways that my Dad has lived past his 49 years.

A woman in her thirties has had her share of loss, and if she hasn't she is the luckiest schmuck in the whole wide world. But for those of us who have lost and will eventually lose people we love, we prioritize the remembering. Not the pain, not the suffering, and definitely not the death. The spirit. It is of utmost importance for a woman in her thirties who, unexpectedly and blessedly, has been charged with the task of living. It's the final gift we give to those who've gone before.

8 comments:

  1. That's a wonderful tribute to Dad. I can't believe it's been 20 years. I think about him a lot too.

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  2. Beautifully written. And that picture is priceless. Thank you for sharing those memories, L.

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  3. Thank your for posting your wonderful memories! I too can't believe it's been 20 years. Dad is surely smiling down on you and Anna today.

    Love,
    Jeanne

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  4. Such a wonderful post. You bring tears to my eyes.

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  5. This is one of the most moving pieces of writing I've ever had the pleasure of reading. Thank you for sharing it with us.

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  6. Thank you for sharing your memories, L. I wish, so much, that I had met your dad.

    P.S. I love that it looks like that photo could have been taken yesterday... your street looks exactly the same!

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  7. Even though we lived together for years, I only knew bits and pieces and had to hold onto those. Thanks for sharing more with me.

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  8. I still can remember your dad driving that orange pickup truck and the hats he always wore! I too can't believe it's been 20 years! This was such a moving post... I loved every word.

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