A Day at the Doctor with Dad
He wore a suit. It was gray and a little bigger on him than it should’ve been. He wore dress shoes. The kind that clacked against the floor as he paced the room. He was fidgety. Constantly checking his phone, or his watch, or poking me for fun. He wore his bluetooth ear piece. Answering calls mid-sentence with a swift “Gary D!” He got up and looked out the window, as if to ponder a million thoughts with a single glance. I never understood the depths of what was going on in that head. When the wheels inside of it suddenly stopped on that day in May, and all of the puzzle pieces came slowly floating to the ground, I stood there paralyzed. My father’s life had spilled out before me. His hopes, his dreams, his secrets. Like that he kept an old Christmas card I had got him tucked into his briefcase. Or that he misled us to think he was taking care of his body. But many years before this overflow of emotions that ravaged my mind, body, and soul, I sat quietly with him. Watching and observing him. Memorizing him. It was June of 2015. After an MRI, I was recommended to see a neurosurgeon for a possible slipped disc. He, struggling with back pain his whole life, was the preferred parental candidate to accompany me to this appointment. A small part of me felt bad the doctor was running nearly an hour behind and jamming up his schedule. The larger part of me said, “they all can wait. It’s my turn right now,” reveling in the fact that I had my father’s attention for longer than a 38 second phone call. The doctor came in. Reviewed my chart. Explained it was, in fact, not a slipped disc, and that I would need muscle relaxers and not surgery. No big reveal. No big shock. No big monumental shift in my life. So, why I remember this so clearly, I don’t know. After losing a parent, your mind becomes flooded with moments like this. You don’t know why you remember it. You’re glad that you do. But you also destroy yourself over what you did and did not do in that moment. Last night, as I settled into bed, there he was. Hands in the pockets of his gray suit, peering out of the window at the city, sunshine reflecting off of his glasses, blue light blinking on his ear piece. I saw him so clearly. It flashed in front of me and then disappeared. I flipped my body around, propped a pillow between my legs, and said a few Hail Marys in my head. It flashed again. Suddenly I was brought right back there. Why didn’t you hug him the whole time? Why didn’t you hold his hand? Why didn’t you say “Daddy, I love you more than you’ll ever understand”? Just like that, my night, and often the following day, is completely shot. I toss and turn all night, unable to get the images and thoughts out of my head. I’m unable to calm down and ease into a restful night sleep. Instead I am restless, thrashing around like a fish in a net. I know I cannot get those moments back, and I cannot change what happened. But I can become more familiar with the memories and embrace them instead of allowing them to wreck havoc inside of my head. I also know that this will take time. I try to be gentle on myself, but so much of it is beyond my control. For now, I write them here.