I'm sweating as I stand on my tip-toes, searching for a water bottle that I know is in this cabinet somewhere. I'm pushing aside travel mugs and tops to old sippy cups when I see the corner of a red box on the other side of the cabinet. It's a box of hard candies. I pull it out.
I turn it over in my hands.
"To Jenn: A little sweetness for you at Christmas."
It's a small box and I remember that I opened it and ate one, a raspberry one, the day that my coworker gave it to me. I thought they'd be a nice treat throughout that day.
A few minutes after she gave me the candy, I got up to stretch my back. I checked my cell phone; it hadn't been working right lately. Sometimes it wouldn't ring, sometimes it wouldn't vibrate, sometimes the text alert wouldn't actually alert.
There were three missed calls. Two voicemails.
All were from Seattle. From my stepmother. From my brother.
The next breath that rose from my chest and slipped from my body was one not unlike what I imagine my father's last to have been.
Pivotal in its marking of time in a new way: before and after.
My hands shook as I stepped outside. The air was cold and the sky was bright, too bright really, the way the world tends to be sometimes in winter when everything is just too crisp and too jarring and too sharp to even bear.
I called Seattle and heard the words I had known were coming: my father was gone.
I did not cry.
I went back inside and I packed up my things. My hands would not stop shaking, would not behave themselves. Not as I tried to close my laptop, not as I tried to shove the box of hard candies into my bag, not even as I tried to slide them into my gloves.
The people I worked directly with, the ones to whom I would have needed to explain this sudden packing up and leaving and shaking, were all in a meeting. So I simply walked out the door without having to say a word to anyone.
Fuck, I thought as I climbed into my car.
I need gas.
I pulled into the gas station at the corner, and as I stood there trying to curl deeper into my coat against the biting wind, I was struck by the incongruity of the moment. My life had just changed and would never, ever be the same. And there I was, doing something so ordinary. I was pumping gas.
I'll never hear his voice again. Why is the seal on this thing all weird and making the pump stop every four seconds?
To everyone else, it was just Monday. The Monday before Christmas. Lots to do. Busy, busy.
There was a man at the pump in front of me and he looked to be about my dad's age. I wanted to say to him, "Excuse me, but 15 minutes ago, I found out that my father died" because he was a fellow human being and, as such, was likely to understand that this was no ordinary day and that the very notion of pumping gas on a day of this magnitude was absolutely absurd. I felt invisible, with this incredibly painful, sad thing turning itself over inside of me while, from the outside, I appeared to be just another woman pumping gas on a Monday, that woman there with her gray pants and her tall shoes and her black coat and her plum colored scarf. Bet she has lots to do. It is, after all, the Monday before Christmas. Busy, busy.
At the same time, I prayed that he wouldn't look at me because I knew I wouldn't be able to stand the humanity of it, of another person looking me in the eye right then, grounding me to the earth and the gas station and making everything real. I wouldn't be able to NOT cry out to him, "Don't you know what has just happened?"
I finished pumping the gas. I got back in my car.
Still, I did not cry.
I did all of the things a person does when she drives her car on the Monday before Christmas, when she has lots to do and is busy, busy. I slowed down going into the curve, sped up again as I came out of it. I stopped at the red light. I put on the blinker.
I pulled into the driveway.
I got the mail.
I slid the key into the lock of my empty house. I put my purse where I always do, tossed my keys and sunglasses into the basket by the phone in the kitchen.
I did not take off my coat.
I sat down in front of my computer, opened up my email and sent a single message:
My dad died this morning.
Now, I had put it out into the world.
Now, I had shared it with another human being.
Now, it was real.
I stood, walked into my living room, and fell to my knees, still wearing my itchy black coat.
I let my forehead rest upon the floor.
And then, I cried.
I cried in the alone, on the Monday before Christmas, when there was lots to do.