This personal essay was originally published in Chicken Soup for the Recovering Soul (2004). I realize that it is more than a blog post, but I am publishing it today as a token of my friendship to three of my friends who each lost someone special to their hearts lately. So, this one is for you, Jennie, Janie and Kim!
Torrential rains soaked me to the bone. I stood watching as somber people threw flowers on the wooden coffin barely visible at the bottom of a cold, wet hole. I wondered if my heart would drown in the rain.
I followed the slow parade of black-clad people out of the dreary cemetery into the noisy restaurant. The room was damp, the kind that seeps though your skin, creeping to the very core of you. Self-conscious about my dainty high-heeled shoes heavy with mud, I sipped on hot, strong coffee, hoping for a jolt of energy deep down in my soul. With a smile only as deep as my lips, I listened in on conversations about the weather and the upcoming elections.
My wet feet were very much on my mind, and I wished for fluffy slippers that would make me feel warm all over. And cozy. Because there is nothing cozy about burying the man who gave you life, no matter what kind of man he had been.
As far back in my childhood as I can remember, I had understood that my father wasn’t ‘nice.’ To all who knew him, he was clueless at his best, purposefully cruel at his worst. Absolutely self-centered, he did exactly what pleased him and nothing more, nothing less. He was a genius professionally, but a failure at home, unable to successfully relate even to his own children—we were a distraction, mostly unwelcome. There was a time when I thought that the man had no heart.
After dutifully paying their respects, the people left one by one, drifting back to their own lives. I took my mother home and tucked her into bed with loads of feathery blankets; maybe that would make her feel warm all over. And cozy.
I discarded the dainty, muddy shoes and put on my faithful old sneakers. I grabbed my father’s woolen checkered shirt hanging there by the door and slipped out for a walk—comfort food for my soul.
I moved quickly until I was out of the village. When the horizon was filled with an expanse of fields, I stopped. The sky had poured out its anger and seemed appeased now, having replaced darkness with fluffy clouds and a few rays of sun peeking through. I closed my eyes, marveling at the peaceful quiet. I breathed deeply. Beginning to walk again, I let my slower steps lead me back to the cemetery. It was deserted by now, heaps of flowers covering the freshly filled hole. I picked up a single yellow rose that had fallen out of a bouquet.
Hugging myself in his checkered shirt, I reveled in the smell of it—cold cigarette smoke with a nauseating tinge of alcohol. And I let my heart remember. I must have been eleven, and he waltzed with me to a tune of Schubert. We bumped into furniture and I giggled and giggled.
My mind understands now that there is a strong possibility he had been drunk, but that isn’t what my soul recollects—it senses the joy of being twirled around in my daddy’s arms.
And my memory goes back to the day I woke up from surgery to a huge basket of fruits–which I couldn’t eat of course, yet the message was clear: my dad had been there.
I let myself relive the day he walked me down the aisle some twenty-two years ago. He wore his starched dress-uniform, all the decorations pinned perfectly on his shoulder and breast pocket. I chose to lean on him as we began our long walk to the altar. They buried his rigid body in the same starched dress-uniform–quite a dignified look.
My father surely gave my life an edge. How many daughters have the privilege of learning love when there seems to be nothing lovely? I was forced to read my father with the eyes of my heart.
“I love you, Daddy,” I whispered. Oh! For one more eccentric waltz, one more useless fruit basket, one more walk with him. But his baby-blue eyes were forever closed.
I brushed my lips to the yellow rose and gently laid it on top of the many flowers. It stood out . And at that moment I knew deep within my soul that a fraction of me would forever stand out because of who he had made me to be.
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