He died before I could say his name.
On January 11, 1985, exactly five days before I turned six months old, my father died. He and my mother were on the road after a day of skiing and had a terrible accident. He died at the scene. My mother spent the next six months, yes you read that correctly, in a coma. She awoke mentally and physically disabled and has remained that way ever since.
Today is exactly five days before E turns six months old, and I cannot stop thinking about what it must have been like for them.
Did it happen very quickly? Was there just a brief moment of terror before it all went dark? Could they see it coming? Did they have time to reach out to one another and hold on for one last time? What were their last thoughts? Was is pure panic, or did they have time to feel the bone-chilling fear of oncoming disaster? Did they have time to think of me, safe and snuggled up at home, awaiting a father who would never return? Was there regret? Was there determination? Was there gratitude for leaving a life that had been good?
I look at my sweet, beautiful son and I literally cannot imagine it. I look at all of the things he is doing now - waking me up in the morning by talking to himself in his crib, jumping and giggling like a madman in his bouncer, rolling over and over until he runs into an obstacle, greeting me with a blinding smile when I scoop him up from his crib, gulping bananas like candy and pushing sweet potatoes back out of his mouth with his tongue - and I cannot imagine not being there.
I cannot imagine being my mother - living through the hell of the accident and then waking up six months later. All of a sudden her baby, her precious girl, was one year old. Where there used to be an infant there was now the beginnings of a toddler. And worst, most heartbreakingly of all, she couldn’t even pick me up. Never again could she scoop me up and carry me, or swing me over her head in an arc, or lay me gently down in my bed. Never again could she take care of me, be by herself with me or even cook for me. And the agonizing part is that she was still mentally present - she knew what was going on and it broke her already fragile heart.
I can’t stop reaching out to my husband and my son today - just touching them and watching them smile. I keep sneaking a peek into E’s room where he is sleeping peacefully, rosy cheeks and puckered mouth all unaware he is being watched. I want to wrap myself up so tight in my little family that this terrible sadness gets compressed.
I never had a chance to know my father. His family abandoned me as soon as my maternal grandparents were awarded custody of me. I have aunts, uncles and cousins who have never once cared enough to reach out to me. I don’t even know their names or where they live. I have no one to tell me stories of when he was a little boy, or a mischievous high-schooler, or a young college boy who won the heart of a theatre major from Oklahoma. All I have are the memories my family has of him, a few letters he wrote to my mother in college, and photos of us during the brief, perfect time that the three of us were a family.
I have one other thing. When I look into the mirror, my father’s bright, guileless blue eyes look back at me. The same eyes that I see when I look down into my son’s beautiful face. And sometimes, knowing that my son bears not only my father’s name but also his eyes, almost softens the ache of that empty space in my heart where my father should be.