Writing a Memoir
I've been considering writing a memoir for awhile now. I still don't know if I will but I really enjoy sharing some of the more difficult moments of my life via writing. It seems those posts usually resonate with many of you, too. So while I ponder over the memoir, I may as well write out the stories that come to me and share them here. Today is the anniversary of the death of my dad, Gerald. This memory or story, has been in my head for the past 19 years. Today I was inspired to write about it.
The Phone Call
The day was shaping up to be a good day for adventure. It was a week into summer vacation, the summer before the beginning of high school. I was 6 weeks shy of my 15th birthday, an important one as I would get my driver’s license, a rite of passage I was very looking forward to. I had spent the night with my best friend, Alison, which was already a pattern thus far during the summer as we hadn’t spent a night apart since the last day of school. It was rare we stayed at her house for one reason or another but living in east Boise, she lived so much closer to downtown, which was a place we had only begun to explore. We were just starting to venture out of our neighborhood hangs now that our parents trusted us with public transit and given our own small income from allowances and my family’s small business, the Sno Shack they had bought that we named the “Icebox,” where we had started working the previous summer. We slept in, then planned for the day over some breakfast of buttered toast. The plan was to take the bus downtown, take in a movie at the historic Egyptian theater, and then go shopping at Macy’s. While I curled my hair, the phone rang. I had a cell phone, one of the first of my friends, because of the Icebox. In case there was ever an emergency while we were working or even while we navigated the public transit to get to the southern part of town from west side, my parents wanted us to be prepared. The caller was my brother, Dusty, which wasn’t too surprising but not really expected. He had called to tell me that our aunt Dorothy had just called, asking for our mom. It was a weekday, so our parents weren’t home, and it was surprising our aunt wasn’t at work herself. She didn’t mention why she was calling but asked for our mom’s work number. Dusty gave her then number, hung up with her, and called me.
“Do you think it’s weird that aunt Dorothy called?” asked my brother tentatively.
Until now I had only partly been paying attention, still focusing on my hair and makeup in the mirror. This question made me pause and consider. Why WAS our aunt calling, looking for my mom? Since our parents divorce 10 years prior, our aunt had never called us. It was always Dad or Grandma.
“Yeah, why didn’t Dad call? Or Grandma? And why did she need to call her at work and not wait to be called back tonight?” I asked, knowing he wouldn’t know the answers.
“Yeah, I wondered that too.” He responded quietly.
As his older sister, it was always my instinct to reassure and not jump to conclusions. “Dust, I’m sure it’s fine. Let me know if mom calls or you hear anything more.” He and I exchanged goodbyes and then hung up.
Alison stood next to me and had stopped her preening as well to listen to the conversation. “Everything okay?” I relayed to her what was said, though I knew she heard it all, and asked her the same questions as I did Dusty. Again, they were rhetorical. The whole scenario gave me an unsettled feeling. I decided to brush it off and instead focused on finishing getting ready and looking forward to our day. If there was anything wrong, I knew my mom would call me.
We headed out, hopped on the bus, and headed downtown. We made it to our movie, and I don’t know if the movie was just particularly bad or if my instincts had begun to take over more. I don’t remember the movie now, being 19 years later, mostly because all I remember is that terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. Those questions I asked earlier would not leave my head. I needed answers. We left the movie when it was over, went shopping as planned, but I really didn’t think of much besides the nagging feeling of impending doom. We returned to Alison’s by bus and waited for my parents to pick us up.
We already had made plans for Alison to stay the night. My parents were supposed to pick the both of us up from her house on their way home from work. My mom stepped out of the car while Alison and I piled in. She went to go speak with Alison’s mom, which was another odd moment because there didn’t seem to be anything to discuss from my perspective. Their conversation couldn’t be heard, nor expressions observed. It was a short conversation though and soon my mom was back in the car with us.
It was a very quiet, but long car ride. Alison and I met at a music camp near Boise, a friendship quickly established and eventually we became inseparable. This posed quite the challenge for our parents given we lived on opposite sides of the city. The drive between was always a bit of a nuisance. Both of our parents couldn’t wait for us to get our licenses so we could make the drive instead.
I was afraid to ask why my aunt had called. I suppose I could have called my mom at work. I could have asked on the car ride home. Something stopped me. I knew I would know soon enough. About a mile away from home, I looked up at my mom and could see a tear roll down her cheek from behind her sunglasses.
When we got home, I went straight to the restroom, Alison found a spot in the living room to sit, my brother was playing video games in the family room. My mom asked Dusty and I to come to the living room because she needed to tell us something. My brother and I both took a seat on the couch, my mom sitting on the coffee table in front of us, my stepdad, Ron nearby in the kitchen, Alison on the loveseat adjacent. Dusty and I took our mom’s hands.
My mom began, “Your dad…”
Dusty and I immediately began to cry. We had known, somehow, somewhere deep down that this was the news. We knew he was gone. There had been no warning. He wasn’t sick. He was only 46 years old. Somehow though, that phone call had been the clue.
“How did he die?” I asked between sobs.
“He committed suicide. You aunt Dorothy said he had called that morning to invite she and uncle Alan over to the house. He also invited uncle Bill and aunt Cissy over from next door. When they all arrived, your dad went into the bathroom. They heard a gunshot and a thud. They got your grandma out of the house and next door. Your uncles busted through the door and found your dad.” My mom said all this slowly, calmly, holding back her sobs, while silent tears ran down her face.
“Did he say why? Was there a note? Did he say goodbye?” Dusty and I were asking, trying to understand what had happened. Why would he do this?
“Your aunt Dorothy said there wasn’t an explanation. He has previously said that there were people after him. Bad people. People who would hurt his family. He also had really debilitating emphysema and felt he was a burden.” My mom explained. I started to think about how difficult it had been for Dad to breathe when we last visited. He would rise from the couch to use the restroom, only 15 feet away, come back to the couch, and be completely out of breath and require his inhaler.
We had only seen our dad three times in the last year. Prior to that we hadn’t seen or spoken to him for two years. My brother and I didn’t really know at the time that my dad had gotten back into using drugs. What we did know is that he had a girlfriend who we didn’t trust and didn’t like being around. Father’s Day 1997 was the last time we saw her. Tanya and Dad had moved to Horseshoe Bend, a small city 45 minutes away from our house. He had been excited to live closer as most of our childhood since the divorce he had lived in a city a couple of hours away, making it harder to see each other regularly.
I had bought him a Father’s Day card but had forgotten it at home. He told me now that he lived so close, he would get it from me the next time he saw me, which would be soon. He didn’t have a number for his new place so Dusty and I had no way of getting a hold of him. Some time went by before we called Grandma to see if she knew how to get in touch with him. She said they had moved to Texas and gave us the address so we could send a letter. I don’t remember speaking to him on the phone that whole time but Dusty and I received letters from Tanya, telling us how they were doing. This was a time of confusion for us. Over time we have realized that he had an addiction. That addiction had taken over.
He got in touch with us around our birthdays in July of 1999. He was back in Idaho and Tanya was no longer in the picture. I remember having so many emotions before seeing him after all that time. I told myself I’m not going to let him get away with disappearing. I’m going to tell him how mad I was and how inexcusable his actions were. I also remember missing him so much. When I finally did see him, I didn’t want to spoil it by being angry. Instead I told him I loved him and that I had missed him. I told him how Mom had just let me pierce my belly button. He hadn’t liked that she had allowed me to do that. I remember not liking that he disapproved, but I really didn’t think he had the right to have much of an opinion. When saying goodbye, I gave him the Father’s Day card I’d been holding on to for 2 years. I remember it had a blue envelope. On the card had been a white puppy with black spots.
I could tell a lot had changed in that time. He seemed older. He seemed tired. I took it upon myself to show off what Dusty and I had been up to since he had last been in our lives. Over the course of that last year I asked my mom and stepdad to record my choir concerts. I recorded Dusty skateboarding at home on his rails and quarter pipe. I wanted our dad to see who we were becoming. We visited during Spring Break of 2000. He was living with Grandma again like he had most of my childhood. He got tears in his eyes when he watched the video. I beamed from getting the chance to show him what he had been missing. I don’t know why I was so determined to “show off,” other than I wanted him to see us. I wanted him to care.
It’s hard to know exactly why he did what he did. Dusty and I were devastated. We also had “lost” him before when he vanished for 2 years. We were also teenagers. We cried, and then we watched a movie. That conversation my mom had while Alison and I waited in the car was to tell her the news and ask if she should still stay the night. They decided it would be a good idea for me to have my best friend with me that night. My mom had told Alison when Dusty and I hadn’t entered the room yet, so she knew what to expect. She told her they would take her home if she wanted. She didn’t. That night she slept next to me and rubbed my back while I cried.
Every 12th of June, this is the story I remember.
|My view from my favorite spot at Municipal Park, a place I have fond memories of my dad.|