365 days ago was the worst day of my life, it almost sounds trivial to pronounce it such but it is what it was and I have an undeniable urge to document it.
I had a 9 something train, I had gotten up at 7, and was ready to leave by 8, I had an errand to run before getting to the station. I had to go to work to pick up the check that the person for whom I had been working, who’s business I made it my business to make work, the person for whom I had been working my ass off for nearly a year, had not suffcient kindness nor decency to take 4 minutes to write me a check when I left the afternoon before.
I got in the cab, I headed for work, I waited for 15 minutes with the cab meter running for this check to be written and I headed to the station. I had with me enough clothes to last a week or so, hoping that I would need more, but knowing I could always wash them. I had plans of long talks, of time to spend, of dinners to cook and walks to be had.
I was in the bookstore, train station bookstore, with an easy to read novel and a blank journal, ready to document the time I had to spend, when I saw that my brother had called. I figured I would call him when I got on the train, then my aunt called, I hesitated to answer, but I did. “Ali, Ali It’s not good. it’s very bad” She said. And right there I dropped the books, I started shaking, I was hours away, I couldn’t get there any faster if I tried.
I walked out of the bookstore, awkwardly shouldering an enourmous tote, pulling my 15 year old wheelie bag with my coat slung across the top. I was sweating as I walked towards the departure stairs, my coat slipping and getting caught in the wheels every few feet. I showed my ticket to the conductor. I got on the escalator, hesitantly as always. My father had instilled in me a fear of escalators that I have never been able to overcome. Midway down, as I was putting my ticket in my purse, the handle of my wheelie bag slipped out of my clammy,sweaty hand.
My coat, the bag, half the items crammed in my tote tumbled down the moving stairs. I grasped after them, holding back sobs, trying to just get on the train. A man grabbed my bag as it got to the bottom, an older man, a fatherly man. He asked if I was ok and I couldn’t hold my sobs anymore. No, I whimpered, I am not ok, and I told him everything.
This kind man, a stranger gathered my things, took my arm, sat me in one of the front seats, the ones with the most leg room, and sat down next to me, and for the next 2 hours he listened and he talked. He was on his way to New York, his mother was having an operation, she was rather elderly and he was afraid for her. He was from Brooklyn, he was a Mets fan. He held my ticket for me when my mother called and I went into the bathroom to talk to her.
He handed my ticket to the conductor while I lay on the filthy dirty floor of the Amtrak bathroom and cried.
My companion got off in New York, he wished me well, I wished him well. I slipped on my sunglasses and huddled in my seat under my coat, my sweater, my scarves. Over the next hour and a half I picked at the sandwich I had bought before going into the bookstore. It seemed a hundred years ago, that I optimistically chose roast beef and swiss on a whole grain roll at Au Bon Pain, when I made sure they put both mustard and mayo, when I thought cucumbers sounded good.
I got myself together as we approached Bridgeport, I put my sweater and my scarves back on, tidied up, shoving what personal detris had accumulated around me into my tote. I unplugged my phone from the charger, made sure I put the charger back in my purse, then minutes later in a flurry of uncertainty checked again, unable to find my phone I dug through my tote furiously undoing what careful stowing of objects I had done before, then finding it in my purse where I had put it.
The neighbor met me at the train, when I saw her I started shaking again, I couldn’t find words, she told me not to worry yet, we didn’t know, we didn’t know anything for certain.
We pulled up to the house, it felt lonely, the dog barked, I pushed open the gate and he ran to me his tail wagging with worry. I dropped my things and scooped him up, he wiggled and licked my face. I put him down, and took my things inside the house.
My aunt was there we hugged , she asked if I wanted tea, I didn’t I just want to go, to get there. She fussed with paperwork, for the dog, they said we could bring the dog once we got a note from the vet saying he’d had his shots. That was good, we could bring the dog.
We got in the car, we had directions it was about a half an hour away, north towards New Haven. We drove on the ugly highway, past signs for Mohegan Sun and Geico, the prettiness of Fairfield behind us. After exiting the highway we drove down long stretches of streets, really long streets, roads I guess, until we got there. My Aunt kept saying it was supposed to be beautiful, it was on the water, I imagined a colonial home, something poetic and lovely with rocking chairs and fireplaces and a porch facing the water. A place with tidy middle aged nurses, with doilies and tea.
We pulled into the parking lot, it was not lovely, it was not beautiful it was a 4 story faceless, dark industrial looking block. Inside it was slightly shabby with odd “homey” touches, dusty fake plants, gingham runners, a small shop with strange outdated candies and angel doodads. We signed in and took the elevator to the second floor. The building was U shaped and the elevator let out of quite far from the room, it too was slightly shabby and ugly with horrible art and a hospital smell. What illusions I had of what this place was was shattered.
We found the room. There were four beds, two were occupied, one was empty and in the fourth by the window lay my father. “Daddy” I whelped, hoping to hear him say ” Bobs, Bobby, Hi Bobs” but he didn’t, he couldn’t.
He was laying on his side, with oxygen in his nose, it breathed with him. My aunt fussed folding the sweater she brought with her, arranging pictures on the bedside table. She talked but I couldn’t hear her, I couldn’t recognize her pain yet. My heart was breaking, shredding, slowly and painfully. Daddy…I whispered now. I touched his hair, I held his hand, I scratched his back. I crooned something tuneless under my breath.
The other people in the room were very old, of indeterminate sex, they were watching television, I think they had visitors, I’m not sure. A nurse came in , she explained to me that my father had come to them dying, and they would do their best to keep him comfortable, that there were papers I needed to sign. I signed them. I asked her to please leave me alone, I pulled the curtains so I couldn’t see the other dying men.
I pulled up Porgy & Bess on my phone, I put it near my fathers head so he could hear it, he loved that opera. At some point my aunt came back in with a lady with a therapy dog. A spaniel, it climbed up in my arms and I held it tightly weeping into its soft fur until she pried it from my arms, saying there were other people the dog needed to visit, as if I cared.
My aunt had to go take care of our dog and sleep, I would stay and wait for my brother who would be there around 9 or ten. I stayed by my father’s side, scratching his back, playing music for him, leaving only to go to the bathroom, running there and back every time just in case. Hours passed. A nurse asked if I wanted something to eat, I said no. Hours later when I thought I should eat something there wasn’t anything to be had, but that was ok. The sun set and the moon rose, from the window I could see it huge and looming, and it’s reflection on the water. My father was lay on his side, like he always did when he was sleeping …at one point he opened his eyes and looked around, I’m right here Daddy…he closed them again. He started to say something that sounded like Bubububu. I know he was trying to say Bobby, my childhood nickname, Baba, Ali Baba, Bobs, Bobby.
I went outside at some point to get air, to make a phone call, it was dark and lonely and quiet, A man who worked there asked my who I was there with, I told him my father, my father was dying and said he would pray for us.
My brother got there late in the night, we sat with our father, not saying much. The nurses came to turn him over again and give him another shot, we gave them privacy and stepped outside to talk about the things that needed to be talked about, there were things we had to talk about, and we did. No graveyard, he hated them. Cremation, and a memorial service in a month or so. My brother would find out what to do, make the arrangements.
My brother went to find a place to sleep for awhile, the man in of the other beds got up and fell, I went to get the nurses, they settled him down, then wheeled his bed in to hall where they could watch over him. I was grateful.
I dozed off for a bit, I had been there for 13 hours and when I woke up. I heard it, the sound, the sound of life leaving, I’d heard it before when I sat with my grandmother, my hand on her foot while my grandfather held her hand. It’s unmistakable, a deep breath, then too long until the next one and then the sound, the rattle and then they go…he went, my father, he died, with my arms around him, I held him and I told him that I loved him and that I was sorry for every rotten thing I’d ever done and that he was a wonderful father.
And I didn’t scream, like I thought I would, I quietly went to get my brother. I screamed later, hours later after everyone got there, when the house was bustling, I went into the woods behind the pond and I keened long and loud with loss and longing.
And so began a year of terrible sorrow and loss matched moments of absolute love and joy. My “official” mourning period, will end tomorrow when I say kaddish once again for my father, Ira, who I miss every day. And I am thankful, so thankful for the kindness of the man on the train and the love I feel everyday from my family (husband included).