Twenty Two Years Without Him
He was 50 years old and had already had a few heart attacks before this final, fatal one. You'll appreciate this: he suffered this last heart attack while addressing a conference of his professional peers. When he felt the familiar chest pains he coolly stepped away from the podium, beckoned his secretary Mona Kay from the wings, told her to call an ambulance, and stepped back to finish his address. I imagine he was as nattily dressed as ever in one of his impeccable suits, smashing ties and soft leather Bally loafers. He had thinning salt-and-pepper hair and a handsome beak of a nose. He had a full 'stache and piercing chocolate chip eyes behind glasses. He was short, and he walked like he knew it. Lots of short man attitude, but never Napoleonic. He had a commanding presence and a wonderful deep voice which was perfect for singing fake opera, which he did often at home in the bathroom.
He did not suffer fools easily. This was said of him at his funeral, and hundreds of people exploded with laughter. Oh yea, they murmured.
It was also said of him that if you ran into him in the hall at the end of the work day, you would look at your watch at the end of the conversation and realize you had missed two trains. He was an extroverted gabber.
I am very much his child.
His last words were, "Take care of my babies." He had three: 19, 17 and 14 years old. Such a domineering Jewish papa he was. Difficult, demanding, volatile. He wrote to me in a Valentine's Day card one year that he was so proud of me his heart swelled ("a sometimes unhealthy thing to do"). I think too much love and passion to achieve and feeling killed him.
I am very much his child.
About a year before he died, we were driving home from dinner at my Uncle Marvin's, chatting with great intensity and mutual admiration as we always did, and my dad pulled into a little parking lot about ten minutes from home. All the stores were closed so I asked him why we had stopped. He was holding onto the steering wheel of his chocolate brown Mercedez-Benz and weeping.
"You're going to be such a great woman and I'm not going to live to see it," he said. He knew "his ticker," as he called it, was likely to give out. All at the ripe old age of 50. Because he was one of those type A+ guys who just couldn't quit.
When I came home from school one evening less than a year later and Mom said those fateful three words, "Honey, Daddy died," it smashed something in my insides that has never knit back together. I don't think it ever does. (Dena, this is for you, whose so-called "friends" expect that you'll be done grieving your grandmother's death in a few months).
I was in the grocery store this past Saturday afternoon when I heard a song that used to play right after he died that used to just flatten me with grief. I don't remember all the lyrics but the singer asks, "Is everything alright? I just called to tell the world how I miss you" and "Is everything okay...?"
Hearts can break
and never mend together
Love can fade away
Hearts can cry
when love won't stay forever
Hearts can be that way.
Something like that. I never did ever memorize the song. I think it's called "Hearts." I can't really stand to hear it or "Claire de Lune" by Debussy, which was the last song played at his memorial service. Yet I always seem to hear one or the other song at moments I most crave his presence, even when I'm not aware of it.
So I was standing in the Stop & Shop and a wave of grief and longing hit me so hard I actually could not move. I stood there glued to the floor in front of the pharmacist's counter remembering that spring 22 years ago when I was a teenaged girl and I had just learned that I would never hear my father's voice again, never hug him again, never cuddle on the couch next to him to spend an evening lulled by the sound of his voice hollering bloody murder at the NY Giants.
That T.S. Eliot knew what he was talking about.
April is the cruelest month, and I sure do miss you, CDW.