Four years on

Today, four years ago, my father died.

Four years.  That is a presidential term; the interval between Olympics; the space in which my newborn son became a boy with opinions all his own.   It is the length of high school, or college, or a medical residency in some specialties.  I don’t know if four years is a short time or a long one.  As I age it seems shorter; both an eternity and a moment.

Out of necessity, I have built a life without my father in it.  He has not seen my new job, my new house, the place I live now, or his grandson.  He did not see the current presidency.  Sometimes I think of fathers as something in another universe; something other people have.  Sometimes I miss him terribly.  I find I have trouble looking at photos, or listening to saved voice messages.  Sometimes it is easier to put him and it out of my mind; when I see photos or hear his voice I am reminded what I lost.  I dream of him sometimes, and the dreams are still painful.

This year I moved across the country to a place with no fall colors.  The house where he died (and where I grew up) is for sale.  We have lowered the price twice, but nobody is buying it.  It makes me sad that the house that meant so much to us isn’t worth anything to anyone else.

The last three years, around this time of year I have become uneasy, anxious, and depressed without even realizing that I had come to associate early fall with his death.  I wanted to take the day off work.  Here on the other side of the country, those subconscious triggers don’t exist.  Here it is always summer.  I am not surrounded by the house where he died, or the places we went together.  His things are in my garage, packed away in boxes.  I don’t know if it feels harder or easier to have lost those connections.

I miss him, but in a different way than I did nearly four years ago when I wondered how I could go on.  The missing is like wallpaper; it is there and visible, but life goes on around it.  The horror of the last days is there, but the edges are dulled.  I have not Googled his cancer in a long time; how he died does not matter any more, only that he is not here.

I am more at peace with the fact that this life may be all there is, and that I may not see him again.  Because I haven’t seen him in a long time anyway.

The memories that stick out in my mind are like the little points of flour that remain when the rest has fallen through the sifter:  A walk in the park; a swim in the park pool; a trip to the Indian restaurant in Cambridge MA.  They were once mundane, and now are incomparable rarities that I touch in my mind, knowing the mold is broken, and no more will be made.  And let that remind me to live my days well, because one day my children may remember our trips to the park, or our adventures in our old house, in the same way.


Sept. 11: Seventeen Years

Where was I on 9/11? I was beginning my second year of graduate school. It was a beautiful New England September day. I had my first ever presentation in front of other grad students and my advisor in two days, and had planned to spend the day preparing. As I was arriving at the physics building, I walked by construction workers in a pickup truck blasting news radio, and thought it was odd. When I got to my office, my officemate and his wife told me that planes had crashed into the WTC.
My dad was at work in one of the areas that was on the news. I called for what seemed like hours until the phone finally connected. I somehow (I don’t believe I had a cell phone yet) connected with my then best friend, and waited for her. A British couple, not having heard, I guess, asked me directions.  My friend and I went to one of the big lecture halls and watched on CNN.

Eventually I went home; I was unable to focus at all on preparing my presentation the following day, and it ended up not going that well. There were no planes at all overhead, except fighter jets.

I simply can’t believe it’s been 17 years, because the memories of that day are fresh for me, and vivid.  There is an entire generation of kids, including mine, who don’t remember that day.  I guess all of history are like that; Pearl Harbor Day, major wars…at the time they are so much a part of the collective experience that you can’t imagine anybody NOT having been touched by it.  But slowly time passes, and eventually there is nobody living who has a firsthand memory.

For sure, those of us who were alive that day will never forget.

I remember how open airports were before–how you could walk up to the gate and say goodbye to your loved ones; buy an open ticket and show up at the airport, as though you were boarding a bus, and be where you wanted within hours.  All of that changed, I guess permanently.  I wouldn’t even remember myself, except that I made an effort to.

Our kids won’t remember the time when things were simpler; when it never occurred to anyone that a plane could be used as a bomb.  That makes me sad.

Strange Dreams

Well, here we are on the other side of the country.  Last week I finally got new car plates, which I guess breaks my last legal tie to my old home.

For the last two nights, I’ve had strange dreams.

In the first, I was in grad school again, awaiting my thesis defense.   Which is a usual variant of a dream I have. Except this time–for the first time–my PhD was in my new field, not the original one that I did my PhD in.  The work I was presenting was the work I had done post-PhD.  And I felt OK about it.  I woke up at 5 a.m., fell back asleep and re-entered the dream a few times.  I just remember one of the series; I was in a dorm room–not one I recognize.  A grad school classmate of mine named Jason walked in.  I remember wondering how he could just walk into my dorm room and feeling somewhat powerless.  His blonde girlfriend was with him and they started making out.  My walls were decorated with loudly colorful photos of Hindu gods that I had gotten from the temple; I remembered putting them up not because I was religious, but because I had no wall art and I assumed nobody would ever visit me.  Jason and his girlfriend started making out, which was in contrast with the traditional Hindu deities all around, and I felt quite uncomfortable.

Jason left.  She asked me how it had been, balancing work and family.  I felt old, and said it had been very, very hard.  As I spoke she started crying and I recognized that she must be pregnant herself and worried.  I held her and for some reason started crying too, but also wondering why I was crying.  When I woke up we were crying together.

Then in last night’s dream, I was back in my childhood home.  There was a tornado coming.  I remember seeing the funnel cloud, which was a double funnel, then thinking back to whether in my waking life I had ever seen a real funnel cloud (I’m not sure; I saw many things I think might have been funnels).  There was some sort of inspector visiting, as was my dad’s whole family.  I can’t remember if my dad was there too.  We all went into the basement with a weather radio and huddled there.  The inspector was proud because by the time he got there we were all already in the basement.  In the end I think the tornado missed us, and I woke up.

Our transition to the other end of the country has been okay.  The place we live now is much more diverse than the ones we left.  There are cultural activities for my kids within easy driving distance.  The downside is that I have a lot more responsibility than I did at our old home.  I see my husband much less…back in residency, he would have five or six bad rotations in a year where he arrived home very late; now it’s the same thing every day and it’s like a permanent bad rotation.  I am tired almost all the time.