Wednesday, June 18, 2014

When I Discover that I Am Loved

So here I sit, trying to find people who remember anything at all about my father. It’s been almost thirty years since he died and even longer since many of them saw him. To a one, they have been gracious, kind, and responsive.

Some comments and traits are universal – wry and dry sense of humor, ethical, big smile, very smart.

Others are more specific – a federal judge said that in all his years on the bench he’d never seen a better summation than one my father made in the US Attorney’s Office. That would have been about forty years ago. Of his brilliance, I have no doubt.

Another person said, “He had a sense of humor. Maybe it was a Catholic sense of humor. It certainly wasn’t a Jewish one. But, because of that, he was someone I could talk to.” I've clearly been away from New York far too long to understand what the difference between a Catholic and Jewish sense of humor is. If someone, years from now, remembers me as someone with a ready sense of humor and being someone they could talk to, I’ll have managed quite something in this life.

What I haven't heard are stories about what it was like to be his close friend. Almost everyone said that they knew him but were tangentially involved in his life. It’s hard for me to picture him as someone on the edges. 

Then again, that’s how I’ve lived my entire life. I have a very small circle of very close friends. I tend to be invited to many things where the host is the only person I know. 

I wonder if he was lonely. How could it be possible that someone with so much to give had so few people who claim to have been close to him?

Then it occurs to me – he was close to me. All those wonderful Saturdays wandering around New York City, suffering an assault with Barbie dolls that day on the beach, driving me in the car with him to pick up my sister, lighting a barbecue  grill, playing Chutes and Ladders with me when I had pneumonia, listening to me read The Billy Goat's Gruff - easy reader edition three hundred times when I was learning to read. He wasn't with his "friends." He was with me. By choice. I was loved.

He wrote me a letter once. I still have it.

Dear Kate,
This is a letter about my favorites.
My favorite color is blue.
My favorite food is steak.
My favorite car is Jaguar.
My favorite people are you, Mommy and Tracy.


Does anyone need to know any more than that about their parents? Probably not. But, it’s not only knowing him that I crave. I still miss him every day and know that there are probably only three or four other people on Earth who think of him at least once every single day. But the world has her own people to miss every day. 

So for today, I'll remember to tell Brian and Ellie they are my favorite people in the world. They are. With them, I am most myself and never lonely. We don't need thousands of adoring fans when we have  people who are our home.

Monday, June 9, 2014

When You See What They Are Missing

One of the less convenient facts about grief is that it shows up whether it’s an appropriate time to be sad and nostalgic, or not. For me, it usually is not. Last weekend, we went to the wedding of two dear friends. My husband was a groomsman and my daughter, the flower girl.  The weddings of good friends are always fun because even the people you haven’t met are friends by the very fact that they are special to such special people.

As we sat in a beautiful late spring Connecticut garden, I watched long afternoon sunbeams light the perfect bride and her father walking up a small aisle constructed of white folding chairs. She smiled. He beamed. I walked up the aisle at my wedding with a family friend. 

Luckily, I was too busy watching to make sure my five-year-old flower girl wasn’t causing havoc during the ceremony to actually feel how I feel about that.

At some point during most weddings, the bride dances with her father. It nearly kills me. Every. Single. Time. Before it does, and some kind person at my table makes the "I feel so sorry for you" face, I spare us both and sneak off to the guestbook or the bar. Most torture and martyrdom carry no reward for the bravest face. This time, Ellie followed me. “Mommy you look sad.” She hugged me and I changed my face as I’ve done so many times.

I remember dancing with Daddy. We danced on Saturday nights at the New York Athletic Club, in the eleventh floor dining room. The ceiling-high windows look out over Central Park and the rest of New York City glows around the darkened rectangle where during the day, the children of the city climb rocks, slide down them on their backsides, occasionally discover New York wildlife (rats with feet and rats with wings – pigeons), and race our horses on the carousel.

One night, I wore a red taffeta dress with a white lace collar, white lace anklets, and black patent leather shoes without a strap. In an act of sheer lunacy over the love of his tiny daughter (or total ignorance of what children's shoes should cost), he special-ordered those shoes from Italy because my feet were too small to wear strapless shoes like my friends.  My mother could do nothing but roll her eyes and click her tongue. Even I know to pick my battles, most of the time.

The band played some big band hit that I can’t remember. He took me by the hand onto the dance floor. Once on the shimmery dance floor, he held each of my hands in his with my arms reaching up high and long towards him. First we swung our arms back and forth. Then he spun me around and around again. Everything else in the room blurred together. His blonde-red hair, knowing eyes and gigantic grin sharpened so much that I can still see them now if I close my eyes. Finally, he reached under my arms and lifted me up. As he spun around, my feet flew out into a wide arc much to my delight and much to the horror of the older couple perfunctorily fox trotting next us.

Later at the wedding, I stood at our table, gulping water before chasing down a sugar-shocked flower girl once again. Holding my breath, I watched my husband take my daughter by the hand and lead her to the dance floor. He held both her hands and swung them back and forth. He picked her up and dipped her so her hands touched the floor. She squealed with delight-bordering-on-terror, came up and leaned back again for another dip. What a lucky girl! He'll never have then chance to...
I bit my bottom lip, carefully wiped a tear from my right eye, and prayed, “Please don’t let him die. She deserves more than this moment. Please don’t let him die.”