Monday, October 03, 2005

365 days and 365 nights

My friend, D, said to me once: There are two types of people in this world; those who have delivered the eulogy at a parent's funeral, and those who have not.

Sadly, I fall into the former category. One year ago today, my dad passed away rather suddenly, though not unexpectedly. He had been very ill, and we thought on his way to recovery, but I think he just knew that he was ready to go.

I decided to come home to visit my mom; I didn't want her alone on this day. I wasn't sure what she would be feeling, what I would be feeling, what we would be feeling together. She told me that the only thing she had scheduled for today was a dentist appointment. She said (using the type of humor that only recent widows are allowed to use): I figure that I'll be feeling like crap already, so going to the dentist seems like the perfect thing to do.

She took me to dim sum before her appointment, clutching a travel-sized toothbrush and toothpaste in her hand. (Why do we feel the need to brush our teeth before going to the dentist? Do we really think that an after-lunch brush will erase 6 months of neglect?) The restaurant is one that's down by the University, right near where she and my dad first lived after they got married, in the house where my dad lived his bachelor days, the house where they first brought my big brother home from the hospital. They had gone to this restaurant for several decades; it's her absolute favorite treat, and I'd like to think that going there somehow invited his spirit to the table, though my dad was never as adventurous as my mom with his eating habits. But he did it still. Like many things they did together, my dad agreed to go because he loved my mom and he wanted to make her happy.

Today hasn't been as sad as I'd expected it to be. Of course there's an element of sadness beneath the surface of the day. But I feel good. My mom is smiling. She's going bowling tonight with the league that she and my dad bowled on, I think even before they met. I'm going to tag along, to catch up with an old friend (the daughter of my mom and dad's best friends, my best friend from growing up). My mom's still friends with the same circle of friends (a circle that gets smaller through the years but that stays solid, together) that is the circle through which she and my dad met. I take comfort in knowing that she's not alone.

But I miss him. I don't think I'll ever stop missing him. I don't think I'm supposed to stop missing him. An image of ours will always stand in my head, an image I'll share today:

I don't know when it begins, or why it begins, our ritual. Perhaps after watching The Lone Ranger on television; perhaps when listening to my mom's classical music station on the radio. But my father and I invent a dance to "The William Tell Overture." He directs, bobbing his head and waggling his index finger in the air, sometimes ‑- perhaps mosttimes -- not even in rhythm with the beat. (He never could keep the beat, my mother reminds me now.) My dad and I grasp hands and bounce up and down on our woven, Navajo rug.

It's a simple dance. A joyous dance.

The dance doesn't pass with childhood. I grow from child into teenager and leave my parents house for college, graduate school, then adulthood, only returning for vacations. In my 20s, when my body stretches above his, his snow-capped head reaching my nose, I say: "If I ever get married, the only way I'll let you walk me down the aisle and give me away is if we play The Lone Ranger theme song. But you and I won't walk; we have to gallop."

My dad smiles in agreement. He takes my hands in his own.

365 days. 365 nights. Tick tock. Tick. Tock.


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