Dear woman who stood in front of me in line at the Atlanta Airport,
I was standing, waiting to get on the plane, when I left a message for my best friend. I remember telling her that my dad was non-responsive. I remember telling her that my dad was probably not going to make it. I remember telling her that I wanted to see her when I got home.
You looked back and just threw your arms around me with this look that gave every emotion. You told me of your daughter, who went to Xavier, and how you were moving her to her new life after graduation.
I will not ever forget you, not in a million years. You offered to let me sit with you. You wanted so badly to make the pain of a poor teenager alone in the middle of a flight to go away.
Art teaches you about skin tone. You can look at the deep, sun-touched tan with the tinge of pink behind it. You can tell yourself that they’re simply sleeping.
Biology teaches you about cells. Biology doesn’t teach you what it means when you look at a CAT scan and the entire center is black. It doesn’t teach you about how something smaller than the head of a pin can take out a 350 pound man.
Chemistry teaches you about chemical reactions. It doesn’t teach you about Propofol or nutrition compounds or blood oxygen.
Economics and Math teach you financial responsibility. It doesn’t teach you on what to do when your father’s business $100,000 in debt, and your house is $50,000 under water, and the electric bill and mortgage and water bill are all due, on top of your University bill, insurance, and phone bill.
Sociology teaches you about how groups of people work. It doesn’t teach you that your father’s entire family is going to turn against you and excise you from the family. It doesn’t teach you how to handle it when you’re left with no father and no family.
Psychology teaches you how the human brain works. Psychology doesn’t teach you how to grieve alone. It doesn’t teach you how to pack up your animals and your things and move two hours away where you know no one.
Philosophy teaches you about existential ideas. It doesn’t teach you why you shouldn’t jump when you walk the bridge every day. Philosophy doesn’t teach
Religion teaches you about the belief systems of people around the world. It doesn’t teach you why your god has left you.
History doesn’t teach you that people have been through this before, but those people won’t be around when you need it.
Communication teaches you how to reach out to others. It doesn’t teach you how to stand up in front of everyone you’ve ever known and give the last speech you’ll ever give about your father. It doesn’t teach you how to work through the tears and quote e.e. cummings and say goodbye one last time.
Education teaches you how to teach children. Education never explained how to sit down with your nieces and nephews and explain that Uncle Mark is dead and Uncle Mark will never come back.
After $100,000, I thought my Liberal Arts education had taught me everything. It didn’t teach me how to touch my father one last time as the pastor looked over me. It didn’t teach me how to survive with nothing.
When you kiss me goodbye, I wonder if it’ll be the last time. I wonder if you’ll come to a conclusion that I’m a wreck. But then I think about when I start crying, and you shush me softly, and pull me into your chest and hold me tight and close. And I think about how much better that makes me feel. And I think about what I must mean to you for you to care enough to tell me to stop apologizing as you kiss my forehead.
And you know how I told you that my roommate was given to me by some higher power? So were you. You’re a who and a when. You’re my who and when. And maybe, with a little luck and a lot of faith, it’ll be like that for awhile.
We’re always told that we’re never promised tomorrow. From day one, we have a strong sense of tempest fugit, momento mori . Even through this, we carpe diem, or even carpe noctem, and we live as if every moment will last an eternity. As a child, we’re even more convinced that our parents will never die, at least not until many years down the road. But eventually, we all kneel in front of Thanatos and beg for our souls. And at 2041 on a cool Tuesday evening, I watched Thanatos take the hand of my father as Oizys took mine.
As I stood on the back porch of the home my father owned for twenty two years for the last time, I thought of everything we’d done in that backyard. Every grill out, every camp fire. I looked at the roses, needing to be trimmed. I looked at the concrete he’d poured for our patio – the hideous green color he’d regret as soon as it dried. I looked at the freshly trimmed maple that he’d raised from a sapling. And standing there, I realized that no one would ever notice these things. No one would ever know that there was my pet chicken, Nugget, buried under that driveway. No one would ever know how many times we’d painstakingly moved the Japanese Maple when it outgrew its home. No one would ever remember pouring the patio behind the garage, the red that turned purple, or would notice my name in the concrete, now faded with time. We spend years making something of ourselves, with the hopes to pass it onto our children one day, or maybe even our children’s children. We spend hour upon hour creating a home. And sometimes, in the grand scheme, a blood clot smaller than the head of a pin leaves your child homeless, orphaned, and confused, like we never could have intended.
I should have met Jen for lunch at noon on the dot. I would have had a chili cheese burger and fries, we would have sat and chatted and watched muster, then gone back to the office to put tyvek on the back of posters. I would have gone home around 3:30pm and had dinner around 5pm, maybe gone out to PetSmart to buy things while awaiting for the delivery of my new kitten, Hemingway. By 11pm, I’d have worked on some research and paperwork and I would have called it a night, heading to bed to be awake by 7am.
Instead, I cried for an hour and packed my things, being in Providence to fly home at 6pm, and my plane landed at 11pm. The last time I would ever see my dad was 5 days later at 9pm.
I’m small in stature, not personality. I’m 18, but a senior in college. I’m witty as shit. I’m every guy’s worst nightmare. It’ll take you two or three dates before you’re asking yourself “Is this girl the one?” Every date, every random fact, every time you look at me in smile, you’ll wonder more and more about your feelings. You’ll ask yourself again, “Is this too good to be true? Do I really feel this strongly this soon?” The one night you’ll find yourself idly playing around online, maybe on reddit or stumble upon, and you’ll find yourself thinking about engagement rings. You’ll snap out of it, but the idea will follow you. A week, two, maybe a month later you’ll just get curious and linger into a jeweler as you walk through the mall, just looking to see what’s out there, you’ll tell yourself. An hour later, you find yourself still standing there, talking to the nice woman about color and clarity while you gush over me. You’ll leave empty handed, but haunted by the thought of what you just did. Maybe a few months later, we’ve known each other for about 6, 7 months now, you make a joke about the wedding and I don’t seem to react adversely. You let the that haunt you more, and in combination with the former events, and even more time spent with me, you feel lost and confused. You grow distant, not sure how to handle yourself, and you finally break, one Thursday after class, and you buy the ring you think is perfect. By this point, months later, I’m sure we’re ending and then you propose, leaving me in shock and awe and unsure of what to say. With tears in my eyes, an unsteady “Yes” comes out of my mouth. I smile, so you smile, but you let that moment before the “yes” fill you with as much doubt as I’m filled with. “Is it too soon?” I’ll ask my friends as we start to look at churches and venues. We’ll tell our friends with smiles but our fights will grow more intense until one day I forget to put my ring on before I leave for work…
Or nothing happens. Maybe there’s not even a second date.
There’s a Who and a When. A Who is the person that is your soulmate. They aren’t usually at the right time, but they are what you need fully and wholly. A when is right when you need a person, any person. You move from one part of your life to another, or something like that. Sometimes you hit a mix bag of the right person for you at the right time in your life.
When I imagine the future, I imagine us standing on a few acres watching our children play. When I imagine the future, I imagine you sitting in the chair with your little boy in one arm, and your maroon beret in the other. I imagine myself wondering if you want him to follow in your footsteps. I imagine the perfect wedding I have planned, for you and I, and I imagine the perfect life I have planned, for you and I. When I imagine the future, I imagine a future of We and Us, You and I, Together, a family. I imagine us being close at night, and in the morning, and making up after every fight, and never going to bed angry. I imagine you telling me that my bear is out of regs, and making it right. I imagine every time you correct me on my acronyms. I imagine the future of tears and heartbreak, with triumph and love. I imagine myself growing old with you, and watching our grandkids, maybe even our great grandkids, playing in our yard.
I imagine a world that is perfect, with you. I imagine us being a team, through good and bad. And most importantly, I know that you being the man of my dreams is not an imagination, but a reality.