Frankly, I hate this time of the year. It gets dark too early. The upcoming holiday season, particularly since I'm surrounded by people who celebrate and actually enjoy Christmas, just adds to my stress levels.
And today is the 33rd anniversary of my dad's death.
On Wednesday, November 14, 1979, I saw him walk through the house with a .22 caliber Colt Peacemaker revolver. He walked out the back door with it in his hand and closed the door behind him.
My mom screamed. "Oh my god, he's shot himself!" She was completely overwhelmed. She dialed 911 and tried talking to the operator.
Meanwhile, I went outside to check on him. He was lying on the ground in the backyard, on his right side. A pool of blood surrounded his head. I took a pulse at the wrist. Nothing. I took a carotid pulse, nothing. The life was leaving his eyes as I watched. There was nothing else to be done. The sun was going down and it was getting steadily darker and harder to see.
At this point, my memories become a series of individual film clips, taken in small, regular intervals over the course of the next two days.
I take a blanket outside and cover him with it. I call 911 again and say something to the effect of "No hurry, guys, it's too late."
I wait for the ambulance to arrive and meet the EMTs. Carrying a flashlight, I show them the way through the side yard to the back yard, tell them over my shoulder that it's too late, but here he is anyway, you can take it from here.
I take my brother back to my parents' bedroom and keep him occupied while police descend upon my mom. I also call my mom's friend and ask her to come over.
The police come back to the bedroom and take us to the living room. They tell us he is dead. I tell them I already know that. I get the strangest look from one of the detectives.
A neighbor comes over and takes my brother and me to get some food at McDonald's. I don't remember what we get. I don't recall if I eat or not. While we are gone, my mom calls family members to let them know.
My dad's body is gone when we get back home. Another neighbor is out in the back yard with a bucket of water and a sponge, cleaning up the blood. I watch dispassionately.
We end up leaving the house for the night, staying at my mom's friend's home. I spend most of the night staring up at the ceiling in the dark. I wonder how on earth we go on from here. How is the world continuing to spin? How on earth can the sun rise and things just go on, when my life has just been turned completely upside down? How can anyone go on when this happens to them?
At some point, I decide it's completely worthless to make any sort of Plan ever again -- because when complete and utterly-life-changing disasters can come out of left field like this, what is the point of Planning to Do Something with Your Life? How is it even possible?
The next set of memories involve being back at the house, doing my weekly housecleaning chores, because People Are Coming Over and The House Has To Look Good. And watching the piles of food accumulate: food cramming the refrigerator, food spread across all the counters in the kitchen, food covering the dining room table and card tables. So much freaking food. And I wasn't hungry at all.
From there, numbness sets in. I have sporadic memories of people trying to talk to me. I don't know when or if I finally cried. It may have taken weeks because that's how I work: I stuff the emotions down and deal with the situation at hand. There'll be time for emotions later. I would have made an excellent EMT or ER doctor, I think.
Of course, the longer the emotions are stuffed down, the harder it is for them to come out, and the more damaging they are when they finally do....
When I was almost 21 years old, I finally broke. Badly enough that I went into therapy
for the next seven years. It helped immensely in putting most of the
pieces back into place -- but it didn't get all of them. There are still
a lot of gaps and cracks and holes in me. As I get older, those holes
become more apparent. The failures loom larger and larger as the time
ahead grows shorter.
People have always told me I'm smart. They've always told me I could do whatever I wanted to do with my life. I've always looked at them like they're insane. They don't see what I do when they look at me. They don't see the person who failed to stop him. The person who failed to save him. The person who decided that there is no point to planning anything beyond the next few minutes because disaster is always waiting around the corner. They don't see the person who is broken beyond repair. The person who will never amount to anything, ever.
I know it's been 33 years. Some years, the anniversary passes almost without my noticing it. This isn't one of those years. This is one of the years where the whole thing plays out in my head like it happened yesterday. Because to the 13-year-old still living inside me, it just did.