When my father was a teenager, he was driving with his girlfriend Gloria and another young couple to get something to eat after a movie. We could have gone someplace closer, Gloria told me, forty-five years later with a mischievous wink, but we were feeling so lazy…we wanted to go someplace they would bring the food out to the car… The last thing Glo remembered was the girl in the back seat saying can’t you go any faster? I’m really hungry!
And then they were off the road.
My father – true to character and not wearing his seat-belt – was immediately thrown from the car, which then rolled over him and continued to roll 4…5…6 more times before coming to rest at the bottom of a hill. Glo’s only memory, as she circled once, twice, six times, was the sound of my fathers voice chasing them through the darkness screaming “I love you Gloria! I love you!”
Four decades later I receive a phone call from Gloria, frantic and not making sense. There’s been an accident…your father’s been in an accident…he can’t…they don’t think he can move the right side of his body…damn it, how is this happening?…we were just sailing yesterday and he was fine…
I recognize the scene from a thousand TV shows and movies; from the thousand times this has gone through my head as a bad daydream when my husband was late coming home from work. What I don’t recognize is the feeling – the confusion, helplessness and panic. The clarity that this is really happening. Now. To me.
Yet at the same time my heart is beating faster than it ever has, I know that everything is going to be fine. It will be fine because it always has been fine before. Because those phone calls only happen in the movies and in my mind, not in real life. Because my father is not someone who gets in an accident and dies. My father is someone who carries a burning mattress from the second floor of his house and throws it on the front lawn without thinking. He is someone who wakes up one morning after forty years of drinking and decides that today he is going to stop. He is someone who, while in rehab, bumps his head on the corner of a dresser and almost bleeds to death, then gets hit in the face with a softball and suffers a major concussion, but walks out not only alive, but sober. He is someone who doesn’t start drinking again while he takes care of his dying mother at home, by himself for the next year. He is someone who decides, at sixty years old, to get his Master’s degree and becomes a drug and alcohol councilor, and he does it. He is someone who has a car roll over him and then gets up and chases it down a hill screaming I love you!
I’m sure I’ll have a lot more to say about my father when I come back down to earth, but for now I am living in suspended reality. Someplace beautiful and foreign where all of us – these living legacies of my father – are tumbling… over and over… as we hear my father’s voice following us in the distance.