I remember when I got the call on January 17th. Of course I remember.
I had an appointment with my dermatologist that morning. When that wrapped up, I went into the hall and called my dad to ask for a quick opinion. See, I had been in the ER on Sunday night with terrible stomach and chest pains. I had been getting stomachaches quite frequently for a year or so but nothing like this. Never aches that caused me to double over in pain and cry in my bedroom. I wasn’t sure whether the episode was related to the colonoscopy and endoscopy I had on Friday. Conveniently, my gastroenterologist’s office is in the same building as my dermatologist’s so I called my dad to ask if I should wait to see the other doctor even though I didn’t have an appointment. I really didn’t want to miss more time at work and I wasn’t sure how long I would have to wait to be seen. I took time off of work on Friday for my procedure and then again on Monday to recover from my night in the ER. My job didn’t entail much, so the least I felt I could do to contribute was to be punctual. Torn, I called my dad for his recommendation.
When I talked to my dad, I had terrible reception. Office buildings can be like that, you know? So, I couldn’t hear him too well and I kept shouting “What? I can’t hear you.” For some reason, my tone implied that I was blaming him for my poor reception. Hopefully he knew how crucial his regular advice was for even my most minute decisions but maybe he couldn’t discern that through my shouting. I think the conversation lasted about 1 minute and 40 seconds. When I recall it now, perhaps he sounded a bit winded. He said I should definitely wait see the gastroenterologist. The office didn’t open for a little while so, I sat downstairs in a waiting area between the pharmacy and blood draw lab. I sat in an armchair and took out my newish iPad that had 3G service. How cool that I could browse the web during this downtime. It was pretty awesome how my dad convinced his parents to pay for the cellular service on my iPad. I went in to see the doctor who gave me Prevacid. He didn’t seem too phased that I had been in the ER.
Feeling like I had somewhat wasted my time, I rushed off to work. I don’t think I updated my dad about my appointment but maybe I sent him a quick text. I definitely didn’t talk to him again. I could check the screen capture I took of our text messages but the thought of looking that up right now makes my hands shake and tears well. I got to the office and of course nobody was concerned about my tardiness. I sat at my desk with nothing to do. I was in charge of selecting music for the office and I felt like playing Stevie Nicks, one of my dad’s favorites. I texted my Dad for his “Spotify pass” (a.k.a. password) and didn’t get an answer. He was probably with a therapy patient as usual. I am pretty sure I texted him another banal question an hour or so later.
It was around 1 PM that I saw “Blocked” on my cell phone screen. It was probably my dad and I was annoyed he was calling during the day. Didn’t he know I had no privacy at work? It was obtrusive for me to step out for personal calls. I answered the call and instead, it was my Dad’s office mate, Steve. I was surprised to hear from him and wasn’t sure why he was calling. He had never called me on the phone before and it felt kind of special that he was calling now.
He said, “Hi Olivia, this is Steve Brown, do you know who I am?”
Somewhere between “Brown” and “am,” the call felt less special. It didn’t sound like he was calling to tell me that he wanted my help to prepare a surprise for my dad or anything fun like that. I think what he did say next is that there had been an accident. He then said more plainly, “your father passed away.” Something about an asthma attack but later it was determined to be a heart attack. I barreled out of the office into the parking lot and starting sobbing and babbling incoherently. I couldn’t comprehend what he meant. “What happened? What? What? What? I can’t hear you.” I was sitting on the floor of the parking lot screaming. I hung up the phone. I somehow made it back into the office and told my boss that my dad died. He hugged me. The hug was very sincere and it wasn’t one of those half hugs people give you. It was a full hug that actually made me feel the presence of empathy and care. But my dad was still dead. He had been dead on the floor of his office for hours and nobody noticed until after lunchtime.
My disorientation caused me to pace around the conference room and hurl myself against the wall a few times. I called my mom (who had recently gotten divorced from my dad) to tell her what happened. She said “What? I can’t hear you. Slow down. He is what? DEAD?” She told me to call my friend James. I called and told him he had to come pick me up because my Dad had died. He had to pick me up because I was sitting on the floor and didn’t know how to stand anymore. My limbs were lead. So there I was, slumped in the corner of the conference room, leaning on the wall and pounding against it. My boss brought me water; he empathetically remarked that he didn’t know what to do for me. I didn’t know what to do for me. I pretended to drink the water and said, “I don’t really know where to go. There’s nowhere to go. I guess I’ll go home.” James arrived, pulled me up from the floor, and dragged me to my car.
The whole way home, I was banging my feet on the glove box. I was clenching my teeth. I was screaming. I was choking on tears and snot. In between my outbursts, I was giving Jon directions to my apartment as calmly as possible. He told me he would just look up directions on his phone; it was okay. Soon after I got home, my roommate Lisa got home and sat next to me on my bed. She had so much composure. She was kind of hushing me, like she were shushing a baby to sleep, and telling me things would be okay. Her hand was on my back. It was too calm for me. I wanted to just run around and wail and heave myself into. I wanted people to be there to help me but I also wanted to be alone so I could just ravage everything in my sight including myself. Somehow, my surroundings and my body remained in tact.
Death is the most permanent event I have ever experienced. Compared to death, everything is an ephemeral bubble that defies gravity. Now death, that thing has quadruple gravity. It’s the kind of gravity that feels like my dad’s corpse is hanging off my heart by its decaying finger joints. (I would give you a more illustrative picture of the carcass but when I Googled “how fast does a body decay when buried,” I couldn’t really figure out a timeline. How much flesh is left on the bones? Are maggots enveloping everything? What about his shoes? There seem to be too many variables to say.) So, each day, I walk around and have to plant my feet much more firmly onto the earth so as to not topple over from the weight of my dad’s corpse. Some days it seems to support its own weight more and I can stand with a bit less wobble, but other days, I can’t even walk a straight line.
The weird thing about Death is that it taps me on the shoulder at incongruous times. I am sitting in class and Death will go, “psst” in my left ear, chasing me into the bathroom where I sob. I am in the middle of a funny story and Death materializes behind my eyelids. I employ my best poker face to finish the joke but immediately feel clammy and panicked. Hopefully my acting fools them all. But if only I could just trust-fall into their arms, they could hug me and cover my eyes and tell me that they have no idea how awful I must feel. But acknowledging this pain would make people uncomfortable.
I navigate the world, and sometimes Death leaves me alone. Sometimes I forget my dad’s corpse is chained to my leg and I feel genuinely happy. I guess my body feels used to being attached to it every now and then. But when it pulls on the slack of the chain, I feel like melting into the earth and dissolving into sand. All I want to do is dig through the earth and lay next to my dad. Maybe I would even be able to hear him whisper “I love you so much, Liv.”
Somehow each day, I go on without digging.