My father would be there. If I was arriving, we were happy and hurried. We'd get to the car and drive through the winding spirals out of the parking garage and onto the freeway, because they call it a freeway out there in Seattle, not a highway. If I was leaving, there was a different tone. We were slower, my stomach in knots over the anticipation of the goodbye that was waiting. Sometimes I cried before we got to the gate. Sometimes I held it together until they called my flight. The older I got, the better I was able to control my tears. But I could never shake that knot of dread in my stomach when I'd leave.
But those were the trips of my childhood and adolescence. Now as I look down at those familiar brown tiles I try not to think about the fact that my father isn't waiting for me this time. There will be no bone-crushing hug. There will be no warm voice to call me sweetie or pumpkin face.
Because I am a grown woman now. And my father has died.
* * * * *
It's after 11 when we get to the hotel, which means my body thinks it's 2 in the morning. My hotel room is cold. I don't bother to take off my coat or even my shoes. I turn the radio on to static because it's too quiet. I take a Tylenol PM and lie down and wait to fall asleep.
I think about how I want to go home.
* * * * *
The next day we drive to my father's house, my in-from-out-of-town family and I. I sit in the backseat. We pull up the driveway.
I can't get out of the car.
It's overcast. Maybe it's raining. Maybe I only remember it that way because it seems like it should have been gray and rainy.
I have to get out of the car. I have to go into the house where he's not anymore, where I've never been without him. It's going to be the most real that it has been so far and I know I have to do it.
But first, I need a minute.
* * * * *
That night, there's a party. The house is full of strangers, people from all aspects of my father's life that I didn't know, but they are warm and welcoming as I float among them. There's music and whiskey and laughter. I think about how much my father would love this, everyone talking about him. The house is warm and bright and full of love.
It might be the best party I've ever been to.
* * * * *
The next day I put on a black dress and heels that hurt my feet. The celebratory feel of the night before has evaporated.
I'm careful not to look at the wooden box of ashes sitting upon the altar. I wonder for a moment where my dad might be, if he's there with us or if he's in some place called heaven or if he's just ashes now in a box.
I push that thought out of my mind. My brother holds my hand. I tune out most of what's being said.
I've written something for the service. There was nothing I could do for my father while he was sick, while he was dying. I couldn't comfort him or bring him tea or make him toast. But I can do this for him. I can get up in front of all of these people and take my words and put them together to say something that will honor him.
I read my writing. I am steady.
My voice breaks at the very end.
But I do not cry.
* * * * *
As soon as they call my flight to board, my heart begins to race. My stomach twists. There's a lump in my throat.
I cry as I board the plane. I rest my forehead against the window, turned away from the passengers walking by. I watch the airport recede as the plane pulls away from the gate and moves towards the runway. I can't stop crying. We're taxiing.
The plane begins to gain speed for takeoff.
I don't want to leave here, I don't want to leave you, I think in a panic as we rush down the runway.
I'm not ready to let go.
I'm not ready, I'm not ready, I'm not ready.
And then, we're airborne.
And I am going home.