My dad died today. 18 years ago.
I still remember the call in the shockingly early morning hours. To this day I’m terrified if my phone rings after 1am. I remember my mom’s voice and I remember hearing someone scream and thinking how primal it was. I didn’t know it was coming from my own mouth. I remember my roommate having to take the phone because I couldn’t breathe, let alone speak. I remember going next door and crawling in to my boyfriend’s bed and asking him to not say anything. The day before, a friend that lived on our floor in the dorm had found out her best friend had died of a heart attack at 19. My boyfriend just looked at her and said “that sucks.”. I remembered lecturing him on how callous that sounded and how god forbid anything bad ever happened to me, would he please just remain silent? Who knew it would be less than 24 hours before that request would need to be honored.
Someone pulled the fire alarm. Our entire dorm had to be evacuated in the middle of the winter in Syracuse, NY. I don’t remember walking there, but I do remember standing outside in my shoes and pajamas with no coat and crying. People thought I was crying about a fire alarm.
My mom made arrangements, put my roommate in charge, and trusted her to make sure I got to the airport that afternoon. I don’t remember leaving, I don’t remember getting on the plane, I do remember connecting in Chicago, being within 15 minutes of my home airport and the pilot saying we had to turn around because of weather. I do remember the woman in front of me in the Customer Service line at O’Hare turning and snapping at me as I cried in to the phone to my mom about just wanting to get home. She snarled at me that it “wasn’t that big of a deal and to shut up”. She didn’t know. I remember being alone, a college student with no money and being told I would have to stay overnight in Chicago. I was 2.5 hours from my dad. Who was alone somewhere. Without his family. Or maybe he was already gone. I worried that if he had gone to heaven, he’d be alone there too because his parents outlived him. I don’t remember getting to a hotel near the airport. I found the pen from the desk drawer in my bag three weeks later.
I remember landing and having to go straight to the mortuary with my mom and brother because I arrived a day late. It was Valentine’s Day and I listened to a man explain to my mom that the strange extra charge on the sheet was a fuel tax. He was being cremated. She had to pay tax to say goodbye.
I remember sitting in the driveway late at night with my big brother and confessing to him that I had lost my virginity (sorry mom), the Saturday before my dad died, and that I had ignored his phone call because I was watching my boyfriend pick “mood music” (Coldplay, Yellow), for my first time. The answering machine went off, and he left a message. I ignored it. Even though it was my dad making the call and not my mom as per usual. I confessed that I was certain he had called at that moment because he sensed his little girl was about to disappear. I confessed that my dad must have known I had done “it”, and that it had killed him. He laughed at me. I was completely serious. I’m still not convinced that I wasn’t the cause. I confessed in tears that since being away at school, I had also gotten drunk multiple times and smoked pot. I was in the Drama Department. I remember him throwing his hands up in the air and asking how on earth I had gotten away with being “the good kid” and I remember feeling like I had let him down or abandoned him somehow.
I don’t remember going to the memorial, but I remember my high school choir singing songs at the service. I remember focusing on one distinct voice that was constantly sharp. I remember laughing so hard with my mom I had to pretend I was crying when the minister went off on a tangent about being a sheep farmer. His point was that “Ed was like a shepherd.”
I don’t remember standing up and giving the eulogy. I did.
I remember standing in a receiving line and shaking hands with strangers. I remember a man bursting in to tears when he told my mom how much he had loved my dad. I didn’t know this man. The man they were all talking about. He was just my dad. He wasn’t a co-worker, or someone’s soccer coach that they “would always remember”, or their neighbor. He wasn’t their tragic story to weep at the thought of. He was my dad.
I don’t remember going back to school. I did. Only a week after he died. I don’t remember my roommate giving me cards from the entire Drama Department. I found them recently in a box at my mom’s house. I don’t remember saying ‘thank you.’ I hope I did.
I don’t remember finishing the semester. I do remember being in The Secret Garden and my mom coming to see me in a show alone. Not alone, my boyfriend went with her, but without my dad. I do remember her giving me flowers and knowing that they were actually from my boyfriend because of the way they were tied. He always used twine. I don’t remember preparing for my Sophomore Evaluations at the end of the year, but I do remember failing them. Failing meant you had to repeat certain Sophomore classes and then re-evaluate at the end of the Fall semester (I did, and I passed). I do remember sitting in Rodney’s office (my Faculty Advisor/Favorite Teacher), and him telling me that they had failed me because they felt my dad’s death had caused me to lose focus. They thought I had come back too soon. They believed in me. So they failed me. It’s hard to understand if you weren’t there, but they were right.
I do remember my dad. I remember him pissing me off while helping me do math. He was an engineer, they use 8 more steps than are necessary because it’s fun. I just needed to show my work. I remember him racing me in the backyard in polyester gym teacher shorts and knee high socks. I remember his sweatsuits. They matched. I remember he loved the Broncos. I remember the not-so-secret chip drawer that held Ruffles potato chips and endless amounts of Dolly Madison Bakery day old snacks. I remember him coaching my soccer team and helping tie my tie when I was in the Salvation Army Band in Guys and Dolls. I remember him taking a week off of work to take me to audition for theatre departments across the country. I remember him making friends with another parent at the audition in Chicago, and letting her daughter use our tape recorder because they didn’t know they had needed to bring one. Her name was Lauren. She would end up being a classmate of mine at Syracuse. I remember his mustache and the fact that he used cloth handkerchiefs. And pocket protectors in his ridiculous short sleeve button down shirts. I remember the first time he let me drive the John Deere riding lawn mower on my own. He ran after me the whole way.
I do remember my dad. College Emily remembers him. Teenage Emily remembers him. I remember snapshots of him. I remember stories, and situations. I remember that he was a good man and was happy to help. I remember that he was always there. I remember he was quietly funny, sarcastic and would have made a good curmudgeon. I remember he loved my mom so very much.
“Adult” Emily fears that he’s fading. I don’t remember his voice. I don’t remember what he smelled like. I don’t remember his laugh. I don’t remember his favorite color. I only remember what the heart gives back to me on random days in the middle of doing random things. Some years I sob and some years I laugh. Sometimes I don’t even realize that it’s Feb. 13th. I guess that’s ok. I guess that’s why we live and we love on a daily basis so that when the time comes, you have memories, but you aren’t stuck trying to find a specific one to cling to when it’s time to say goodbye.
I don’t remember Edgar Charles Agy, b. June 14, 1942 – d. February 13, 2001.
I remember my dad and through me, he lives. ❤