April 12, 1949: You were born during a snow storm. How you laughed so when you told me—that one yellow tooth shone, soon replaced with a cap—brown brows furrowed in that dad sort of way. A snow storm in April, I said. What a thing.
December 17, 2016: I buried you during an ice storm in the baby blue (same color of your eyes) casket you picked out long ago. You wore a brown cowboy hat and boots to match your favorite outfit: black and blue flannel shirt, Levi’s jeans, brown corduroy jacket, and brown leather belt, crafted from the state of Texas back in the ‘80s. I found the outfit hanging in your closet, all together, pressed and polished, as if meant to be, as if you had it ready to go for a long time.
I knew that outfit well:
1998: 30th wedding anniversary vows renewed in it.
2000: Burial of mom in it.
2001: Married to mom number two in it.
2009: Buried mom number two in it.
2010: Attended your retirement party in it.
Four decades of my life’s memories of you smiling, laughing, yelling, crying, and preaching the things that fathers preach, while wearing that outfit all left me the day I buried you—maybe to resurface one day when I can think clearly, without guilt, pain, tears, and sorrow.
I actually watched you leave Saturday, December 3, as I spoke the words, “Daddy, I’m here; it’s me,” and I watched your foot move one last time—after two days of the most horrifying drive I ever made in my life.
They said you might have been hanging on to hear my voice one last time, but last you heard, I couldn’t come because my old dog was sick and I had essays to grade (and this is where I fail, because I knew how bad it was, yet I waited—almost too long).
What a horrifying drive to make from Ohio to Florida, with an old dog that’s having seizures, an old dog I can’t kennel because I don’t know how long I’ll be gone. I don’t know if she’ll die while I am away.
What a horrifying drive to make from Ohio to Florida, when it’s the last two weeks of a semester, and I have six classes worth of essays and final projects to grade and submit.
What a horrifying drive to make from Ohio to Florida, when I know you’re in a coma; when I know you’re not coming home; when I know I’ll have to pull the plug; when I know I’ll have to bring your dog home with me; when I know all that you’ve groomed me for, for the past few years, will finally happen: all the promises you made me promise of the things I’d have to take care of.
What a horrifying drive this life can be.
December 6, 2016: Hey doctor, I said, with the annoying echo of the heart monitor machine grinding beeps in the background:
and every once in a while, a sharp chirp would spike, and then, back to
That’s it, I said. He wouldn’t want this. Remove the tubes, please.
And so they did.
And for hours, I watched your forced, reflexive breathing take over, your chest heaving like you were running your last Dayton Daily News River Corridor Classic.
I prayed for hours that you would go; go in peace. I told you it was okay, that I’d be okay, and I’d keep my promises the best I could; that I’d found all the papers you had put aside for me because maybe, just maybe, you knew your day was coming—(But did you really want it to be like this? Did you really want it to be because I pulled the plug?)—thinking all the while that we shared the same Lithuanian nose and large forehead.
I tried not to cry. You always hated when I cried, because you thought I was weak; but I only cry because that’s how strong I am.
I remember being two and sitting on your lap as we drove down a road in an old tan car with light brown leather seats. You let me hold the steering wheel. I don’t know where we were going, but I never thought it would be here. And now, looking back, I see snow and ice swirling around my feet as I stand over your grave contemplating the rest of this drive I have to make on my own.
What will become of me now, I wonder?
Orphan at 44. Instructor of English to those who can’t read cursive and only know communication via the latest iPhone model.
Executor to an estate: trying to figure out the probate; the car, home, and insurance policies; what to move, what to keep, what to donate; waiting to pay the hospital, the realtor, the lawyer.
Owner of an inherited dog I’m not happy to have because mine passed away January 2, 2017. I held my furbaby in my hands as I watched her take her last breath, my hand over her heart:
(skipping a beat because she had a murmur),
thinking all the while how you loved that dog so; feeding her “chicky” and cream cheese for snacks, just like you did your own dog.
And then silence.
Just like the machines in your ICU room, the silence killed me as I watched your heart rate and pulse race to the end as I held your hand and stroked your forehead; thinking like a naïve child that you’d actually sit up and flash your capped teeth in a smile that would tell me all would be well. And then the flat line. All these flat lines in my life. The thumps and the beeps.
And then the silence.
Nothing prepares you for the moment when the things you love the most in this world leave you. You might see it coming, but nothing prepares you for the moment when snow turns to ice, when the heart stops because it’s tired, and breath you once shared with those you love turns to silence.
I thought the boyfriend who once held a knife to my throat was the worst. I thought the night I saw my mother’s body zipped up in a black bag on a stretcher was the worst. I thought watching my stepmother cry as blood drained from her chemo-filled nose as she stared death in the face was the worst. I thought pulling away from the curb of the home I once shared with the man I loved, who replaced me with a younger model, in a rented U-Haul was the worst. But I was always wrong; it can always be worse. The funny thing is it will be again. It’s not over, this drive.
You told me once, over a beer with Johnny Paycheck’s “Old Violin” playing in the background, that you and mom took a chance on me; I almost wasn’t born, and because of that, I must be destined to do something. And because I was born on Father’s Day, no daughter of yours born on your special day would be destined to do nothing short of survive and do in this life.
And so, through the probate and the pain, the flat lines and the Father’s Days, I’ll write.
I’ll drive, and I’ll write.
about the author
Christy Lynne Trotter, a Dayton area resident, teaches English at Clark State Community College, and most recently, at Sinclair Community College. Her poetry has appeared in Mock Turtle Zine, and she has had a short story published in Flights. Christy’s short story work has also placed in a few local contests, and she freelances occasionally. In 2015, she wrote a profile on the city of Dayton for U.S. News and World Report.