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  • Writer's picturecocodensmore

I remember desperately hoping if I could hurt my outside, the pain inside might alleviate.

May 7, 2018

Watching a movie. The killer takes victims with terminal illnesses. He says that after, those left behind are relieved. They think maybe it is better this way, that those murdered were spared the suffering. That is what so many people said when my father died. That he was spared the suffering. He was supposed to lose his leg and live on. Instead, he passed.

I had come home from college just that day. I remember getting the call in the middle of the night from the doctor. “You’d better come on down here. Your father is not doing well.” I was sleeping with mom. I woke her up. She was confused and disoriented, like she always is when she is woken.

We drove to the hospital. She drove, she insisted on it. I remember she stopped at the red light on 145th. There were no cars. It was dark and silent. I told her to go through the red light but she refused. I’ve often wondered why. Is it that she was trying to get a hold of what was happening? Taking that extra time to process? Or was it because she was so conditioned to following the rules that she couldn’t fathom breaking them?

We got to the hospital and took the elevator up to the floor. We walked past the waiting room. Dad’s doctor was in the waiting room, watching TV. That also struck me as very odd. How could you lose a patient then casually, seemingly casually, be watching TV in the waiting room down the hall? Why do people do what they do without thought? So carelessly?

The doctor explained the organ shutdown, said father hadn’t suffered at the end. Mom said she wanted to see him. The doctor got up to inform the nurse, so he said, so we thought. We waited a long time in the waiting room. I don’t remember how long before I went to the nurse’s station and said my mom wanted to see my father. The nurse said “It’s the charge nurse’s decision who she lets see the body”. Again, I’ve often wondered why, at that particular moment in time, that woman decided to make that assertion. Why do people do what they do without thought? So carelessly?

My mom and I walked down the hall in ICU. The room had a window. I looked through the window as my mom went to my father, touched him. I was unable to look at him for more than a few seconds, I turned my head away. I heard her say “I love you Don”. She was crying but not sobbing. She came out of the room and we walked out together. She was still crying, but just tears. She let me drive home.

I sat quietly on the couch and started making phone calls. It was perhaps 4, maybe 5 in the morning. I asked my roommate to bring me some clothes, something suitable for the funeral too. I remember her saying I could have waited to call, that it was early. Why do people do what they do without thought? So carelessly?

I called my uncle. He had just driven home to Oregon the previous day. He drove back up. I called my grandparents, my mom’s parents. They came a couple hours later. I was wearing my WWU sweatshirt that I had cut the collar off of, Flashdance style. My grandma hated that sweatshirt. I wondered if she would say anything when she saw me. It was the first thing she commented on when she walked through the door. Why do people do what they do without thought? So carelessly?

Oddly, I don’t remember much about what was said at the memorial service. I remember my uncle, who officiated, said my father was proud of me, that I would be finishing college in the spring. I remember thinking my father wasn’t proud of me, that my uncle was very mistaken. If you had asked my father what year, I was in school he would not have been able to tell you. He might not even have been able to tell you which school.

I remember what I wore to the memorial service, right down to the shoes. They were not my favorite shoes. The heel was too high, and they had a strap that wrapped around my ankle. They were pretty shoes but hard to walk in. I stared at those shoes all through the memorial service, hypnotically focused on the punch out design in the dove grey leather. Listening to my uncle’s message proved impossible. I don’t know why. I was in a great deal of pain. I don’t know why.

I recorded the service. Sometime later my uncle asked me for the tape. I gave it to him. I had never listened to it. Had no desire. Didn’t want the tape. Was happy to give it away.

A few days later, before I went back to school, I went to my father’s workplace. I asked to see the mechanics he worked with. The office manager led me back to the garage. All the mechanics gathered round. I told them how much my father liked working with them, that they made him happy and he laughed recounting work stories. They smiled and looked down at their shoes, with awkward “aw shucks” faces. I was charmed. I was happy I had made the effort.

But I knew one of these men was the shop manager that had made my father sweep the shop room floor. When my father complained he was getting a blister, the manager told him to finish the job. That is the blister that killed him. That was the man who murdered my father. Why do people do what they do without thought? So carelessly? I didn’t ask which man he was. I was afraid of what I would say.

I remember I was taking a class on American Indians. How inappropriate! How politically incorrect that in 1984 there would be a class titled American Indians! Now it would be Native Americans of North America. I dropped the class when I got back to school. That left me with a light load winter quarter. I did OK.

Spring quarter I took Industrial Psychology. I hated that class. I skipped most days, instead watched All My Children in the lounge at Nash Hall. Greg and Jenny were star crossed lovers. I longed to live in their world, not mine. I studied little, showed up for tests, passed with a C. A very rare occurrence. I always got A’s or B’s. Never C’s.

I had a speech class, too. I gave a speech about my father. I don’t remember the speech. I remember my voice shaking, but more because I didn’t like making speeches than my topic. I remember looking out at the faces of my classmates. I didn’t know most of them. I hadn’t developed any connections that quarter, also very unlike me. I remember looking at their faces and wondering if they were moved by what I was saying, if they felt badly for me, or if they were just in class because they were in that class.

On my 21st birthday, after a weekend with mom, I drove back to school with my friend, J. In her much coveted Volkswagen square back. We drank coffee with Baileys from a thermos. I had a urinary tract infection, I was in a great deal of pain. The result of an intense reunion with my old boyfriend the previous week. My old boyfriend. My first love. My first incredible all-consuming love. J. tucked me into her small bed in the small walk in closet in her small apartment. I remember the rough feel of her wool blanket under my chin.

That spring I started counseling at the student mental health clinic. That was when I first put the pieces together and labeled what had happened to me. Sexual abuse. I was laid out flat, thought I might never recover, never be able to live fully again. I was devastated, broken, beyond repair. Obliterated. Surely, I thought, I’ll never recover. I thought that then. I carry that still.

Then it was over, and I walked for my diploma. June 6, 1984. I remember that day crystal clear, down to the shoes I wore. A pretty pair of strappy white sandals with a low wedge heel. I remember taking the champagne bottle passed down the row, upending it high for that sweet sip of success. But I was in a great deal of pain. I don’t know why.

I remember crossing the stage, shaking the dean’s hand, the man who would die in a plane crash just a few months later. I remember my aunt and my brother saying they saw me on TV, where the ceremony was broadcast in the student union building for the overflow crowd.

Then I remember moving home with mom. And I remember the beginning of my decade of pain and hate. I remember the Xanax I was prescribed and how I felt like such a failure for having to take it. So much a failure I stopped taking it nearly immediately. I really needed it, I know that now.

I remember sitting in the Safeway parking lot, hysterical, wailing, and people walking out to their cars looking at me with odd expressions while I slammed the steering wheel with the palms of my hands. I remember desperately hoping if I could hurt my outside, the pain inside might alleviate. It didn’t work. It doesn’t work. It never works.



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