The Day the Phone Rang
I don’t quite remember how many days went by but I do remember it was early this particular morning. My oldest brother and I were dressed, sitting downstairs in the living room. We had just finished having breakfast. I believe the babies had been up early and were now sleeping. My mom was still in her house clothes, floor length light blue cotton nightgown with a floral robe on top. She was pacing the floor anxiously. My oldest brother and I could read the confusion on one another’s faces. We were actually a little nervous. Mom was typically calm so her behavior had us on pins and needles. We broke our awkward silence, turned to look at each other and I whispered to my brother asking him if he knew what was wrong with mommy. He said she missed dad and was having a hard time taking care of us by herself. That was at least his best guess as the oldest.
As mom walked towards the door, she took long drags on her cigarette, slowly exhaling until the cigarette almost disappeared between her fingers. It was like watching a scary haunted movie where we all knew something bad was about to happen but didn’t know what. Suddenly, the phone rang. We all jumped and then Man and I watched mom wisp towards the kitchen to answer the phone. For some reason we knew the call had something to do with our father. Mom slowly walked towards the living room sofa with the phone in her hand as she listened intently and waved us to get up and go upstairs all in the same motion. As we moved towards the stairs, seemingly in slow motion, Man and I grabbed hands and looked at one another knowing that the news wouldn’t be good.
We reached the top of the stairs, stopped and sat, waiting, hoping to hear something that would give us a clue as to mom’s anxiety. Almost simultaneously my brother and I said daddy died. It was this gut feeling that led us to verbalize what we were thinking. We sat on the steps hugging, almost at the point of tears but never letting a drop fall.
Felt like an eternity before mom called us back downstairs. We eagerly rushed down the stairs and then over to where she sat on the sofa. She looked at us almost blankly; maybe more shock than anything, no true expression written on her face, just distance in her eyes. Even though we knew our guts hadn’t led us astray, anxiety had traded places and we now stood where our mom stood earlier, as we waited for her to say something to break the silence and clue us in. Finally she told us that our daddy died and wouldn’t be coming back home again. We hugged our mom tightly and lay in her arms allowing rivers of silent tears to flow.
The entire week was spent with family, friends and plenty of unfamiliar faces of people professing their love for our father. My siblings and I were shifted from arm to arm and house to house as everyone pitched in to assist my mom while funeral arrangements were being made. A man showed up who looked a lot like my dad except he was taller, thicker and wore a mustache. Along with his mustache a somber look was painted on his face as if he had lost his dog. Seemed to me, every time I looked up he was watching me and my brother. It was weird but I never asked any questions just smiled, kept an eye on my mom and tried not to get in the adults way.
Finally it was time to say our last goodbyes to my dad. We entered the church to find it filled with people, again, most of whom I couldn’t recall seeing before. As we walked down the aisle to the front of the church I remember an older man with glasses. He wore a white robe trimmed in red and held a book in his left hand as his arms dangled by his side. I remember this specifically because he was standing behind a box that held my father. Felt like we were walking forever before we finally reached the front of the church. I don’t remember much more except me and my brother Man sat by my mom in the front pew just watching my dad’s still body. It looked like he was sleeping to me. I kept waiting for him to get up, to scream surprise or something, I mean, he was known for playing cruel and unusual jokes.
As I sat there in the pew beside my mother, my mind drifted back to how my grandmother recently died and we were here in this same church with a different set of folks screaming and crying. These people included my father who as I recall was extremely sad when Grandma Mayme passed away. I thought about how when it was time for her funeral my father sat outside on the car smoking a cigarette looking dazed but when he noticed I was standing there he plucked his cigarette away, blew the smoke in the opposite direction and reached down to pick me up. I was in a frilly laced dress. He told me I looked pretty, pinched my nose and then kissed my cheek. I grabbed both of his cheeks with my tiny little hands and asked him if he was sad. Instead of answering me he asked me if I was sad. With teary eyes I told him I missed grandma and then asked where dead people go. He said to heaven after we bury them. I was confused but didn’t want to keep asking questions, as I could see that talking about this made him upset.
I snapped out of my day dream and was snatched back to reality as the preacher concluded his prayer with Amen, and asked everyone to stand to their feet. The funeral directors came forth to provide instructions and as the man closed the casket another harsh reality almost choked the life from me as I watch my father’s face fade away. My mom stood, tearless.
To My Daughter:
Before you were brought forth, you were loved. As the prayers flowed and the tears fell, you were loved. On the day of your birth, you showed up while your mother was grimacing through the pains of birthing you, still, you were loved. As the doctors were working to pull you into this world, you were loved.
Once you were placed in my arms, I realized that I was LOVED! As I saw you had your toes & hands, I knew I was loved. As you started to walk and talk, I knew I was loved. As you began to speak your own thoughts and make your own decisions, I knew I was loved. When you learned to play chess, help with your brother and hugged me with your loving touch, I knew I was loved.
When you started school and it was clear that you had a special gift, I knew you were loved. When I told you that “you are # 1” only because of the LOVE of God, I knew we were Both Loved. As you learn, live and I watch your tender heart come to life, I know the world is loved and better because you are in it.
Thank you for being a wonderful daughter. Thank you for loving me and I thank God I was able to love you. Nothing, not even death can keep me from loving you!
Love You Baby Girl,