Wednesday, November 26, 2014

It doesn't get easier, it just gets different

Hey Dad. It's me.

It's that time of year again. You know, the one that I dread.

You and The Oldest.
Thanksgiving weekend, 2001.
This will be the fourth Thanksgiving without you, the fourth year you aren't around to lie about how old you are on your birthday with a grin on your face.

The years tick by. It doesn't seem like it's been so long that you've been gone.

It doesn't get easier. It just gets different.

This time of year has driven me a little bit crazy for as long as I can remember. The hours spent in the car, going back and forth between grandparents' houses as a kid for the holidays.

The predictable chaos that was your family, with the house full of people, the scent of chocolate chip cookies always hanging in the air. The long afternoons spent in the backyard until someone dared someone else to climb the pole. The nights of challenges around the pool table, of old bowling team stories, of that time someone ended up on the roof. Trying to figure out how many soccer balls and basketballs and tennis balls and baseballs the ivy on the side yard had swallowed and digested over the years. The recollection of the trips you all took as kids, of the famous dinner guests, the stories always interrupted by the doorbell telling us someone else was there. All the times we took turns sliding down the wooden stairs, sneaking away to do it so we wouldn't get in trouble. The way that the cabinet doors refused to shut anymore unless you leaned into them just so after years and years of Grandma coating them with the same white high gloss paint. The drawer that always held the same toys that we never outgrew and the huge tub that got smaller with each visit. The scent of Listerine that always reminded us that Grandpa was there, even after he wasn't anymore. 

So many memories in that house. Each time we'd make the trek down, it was emotionally charged. It always was. With so many people in house, even a house that size, it's no wonder. Whenever it was time to leave, you'd just announce loudly that we were leaving. We'd hide, or we'd try to because we knew that once you said it was time to go, you meant business.

We could stay only as long as it took you to find us.

You didn't linger.

You hated long goodbyes.

You were more of a rip the bandage off kind of a guy.

You left us the last time that way too. You didn't want to make any of it harder than it already was, and you were more worried about us than yourself. You didn't want to be a burden, and when you said that, you meant it all the way down to your core.

Just before you left, there was that night with your sisters, my aunts. Two of them had come to stay, knowing the end was near, sensing it, and wanting to squeeze out what they could of what time was left. That night is one I am so very grateful for. I saw a side of you that I hadn't seen in so many years before, one that I only caught passing glimpses of back in those days in the house you grew up in on the rare occasions when everyone was home. You teased them, they teased back. We all drank and laughed.

God, did we laugh.

You died on a Thursday morning, swept away by the roaring winds outside. They calmed as soon as you were gone, you know. It's like they were there for a purpose, with intention that day, and once they'd done what they came to do, their work was complete. They left as abruptly as you did.

Tomorrow is a Thursday. Thanksgiving. The first time that it will share your birthday since you died. It happened often enough that I've just always associated Thanksgiving with you, but this is the first time that the two dates are overlapping since you left.

I guess it's more efficient. (That is supposed to be a joke. I know. I know...it's a terrible one.)

We aren't going anywhere. We aren't doing anything. We're just going to be home.

And by we, I'm including a little boy that you never had a chance to meet. We named him after you.

I so wish you could be here right now to see his first smiles.

We don't have plans tomorrow, and I'm grateful for that. We're having dinner Friday with the family that is here these days. I need the break, and you know how I am. I'll be more upset than I'm letting on. I'll act like I'm fine, but I'll be fighting back tears most of the day. I'll instinctively be waiting for the phone call that doesn't come anymore, the one I was programmed for once we moved away.

I know that if you could, you'd tell me not to do all that. You'd tell me to hugs the babies and give them a kiss for you.

I know that. I do.

And I will do those things.

We'll watch the parade, bitch about the awful television coverage like you always did. We'll watch the dog show, argue about which breed is the best like you always did. We'll watch some football game, not really caring who wins or loses, but be grateful for the background noise and the distraction, like you always were.

I'll call my brother, your son, and tell him I love him. I'll check on him, like I always do on this day and he'll tell me that he's fine, like he always does on this day.

If nothing else, we're predictable.

I'll defrost the cheesecake that snuck into my cart at the store and pour the cherries on top and fight back the tears when the kids ask me why we are eating it on a night that is Thanksgiving but isn't, on a night when we are having pizza instead of a fancy dinner. I'll remind them that it isn't just Thanksgiving, that it's your birthday too, and that even though you never did want a big fuss over your birthday, you never met a piece of cherry cheesecake you didn't love.

Happy birthday, Dad.

I miss you.

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