A little over a year ago, my dad died. Unexpectedly. I mean, I know everyone is going to die. Death is a fact of life–but unless someone comes down with a fatal, long-term illness/disease, such as cancer, you don’t really see it coming. When you get a call that a loved one is dead, it’s almost always a shock. No matter how old you get, how many loved ones you lose, or how close to the jumping off point you are yourself–you always react in a way that implies that you thought Death would skip that particular person. Well, it doesn’t. And even if a person is ill–death is still a shock. Like everything leading up to that moment wasn’t enough to prepare you for the inevitable. I mean…terminal cancer…surely that’s not right. It’s just that type of cancer that goes away when it gets bored with you, right?
Well, this story isn’t about death. Not really. It’s about the moment I knew that I wanted JoJo (the missus) to be my partner for life. Or until, like cancer, she got bored with me. Though, with the way I act, it won’t be boredom that runs her off.
So…my dad died. JoJo had already left for work that evening, and I was getting showered so that I could get to work. Fresh out of the shower, I checked my phone, and found out my father was found dead. I immediately contacted my boss and made plans to head to Iowa where my father had been living at the time. After squaring things away with my boss and letting integral people know my plans, I texted JoJo and let her know that I was going to leave for Iowa and why.
Now, it is important to point out that JoJo had just moved in with me about 6 months prior. We weren’t married at the time. Hadn’t even discussed it–except maybe “jokingly”. When I told her what had happened, she talked to her boss, left work, came home, packed like a mad woman, and we were on the road to Iowa in less than an hour. When I told her in the car that she didn’t have to miss work and drive 12 hours across the Midwest with me, just to do the same thing 3 days later, and then return to work, she answered simply, “I didn’t want you to be alone.”
Aw. That’s sweet. But that’s not the moment to which I referred.
I was sad. And I was confused. But I don’t like being sad and confused. And I don’t like showing weakness in front of anyone. Probably from growing up an emotional little basket case….as an adult, for a long time, I didn’t want to be seen as “weak”–even when going through something understandably upsetting. So, instead of being maudlin, crying, talking wistfully about time spent with my dad, I went with comedy and sublimation.
Everyone remember the episode of Roseanne where Jackie has to call “Auntie Barbara” and explain that her father passed away? Well, “Auntie Barbara” ends up being hard of hearing, so Jackie ends up screaming “Dad’s Dead!” into the phone repeatedly. If that doesn’t ring a bell, here it is:
So, for twelve hours, I’d vacillate between hearing a song on the radio that reminded me of dad and being quiet, to screaming “Dad’s dead!” Really mature, I know. But, like a good sport, JoJo would go along with it, laughing hysterically at my obvious ploy to not start crying. It was a very long 12 hours for her, I’m sure. But she never even implied that my nonsense, obvious grief, and efforts to not cry were anything but normal.
Anyhoozles, we left Texas at 7pm-ish, and got into Iowa at 6am-ish. When we were an hour out from where we were going to stay in Iowa, I called the hotel we planned to stay at and reserved a room. When we got there, the front desk lady asked what brought us to Iowa from Texas, and I explained–and she gave me nearly a 50% discount. So…that was nice. And immediately, JoJo and I went to our room and fell into the bed so that we could nap before we had to be at the funeral home a few hours later.
I won’t bore anyone with details here about how the first day went, or how I continued to cover up my anguish with comedy and nonsense. Oh, and when I say comedy, obviously I mean jokes that are only socially unacceptable and funny to me. No one else but JoJo understood why I was acting the way I was. Or, at least, they didn’t behave as though they understood.
No. This wasn’t the moment either.
So….it was a long day, on very little sleep, and when night fell, JoJo and I fell into bed at the hotel, imagining that we would sleep for a solid 12 hours. It was 10 o’clock at night…and we were exhausted and knew we’d have two more days solid of running around like we weren’t old, fat, and didn’t have the energy for any of it. However, we went to bed with the hope that things would be better the next day. At this point, I was so exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally that I felt like anything would make me crack. But sleep was upon us, so I knew that I could hold it together. And sleep would make it possible to hold it together until I slept again.
But then two o’clock in the morning came. I had been dreaming of my father–the details of the dream I can’t fully remember, other than there were flashes of good memories of him. Like boating up the Mississippi to his cabin on the river. Tubing all day using his John boat. Drinking way too much Jim Beam and PBR and laughing hysterically at absolutely nothing. Playing Euchre with him and other family members. Him introducing me to Billy Joel, Jimmy Buffett, The Nitty Gritty Dirty Band, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Association, CCR, The Doors, Eric Clapton, and other amazing artists that I still can’t hear today without thinking of him. It was a good dream.
When I awoke from the dream, I couldn’t breathe, and my chest felt tight. My first thought was–yep, this is how it ends. You came for your dad’s funeral and it’s about to be a two-fer. But I collected myself in the dark as JoJo slept soundly, realizing that I was just having a panic attack. Dad’s dead! That’s all this is about–not a heart attack. Soothe your moobs, Allen. But, then…I was wide awake. And I was suddenly getting very sad, very quickly.
As silently and calmly as I could, I got on some shoes, found my cigarettes (I had taken up smoking again for the length of this “adventure”), the keys to JoJo’s car, and headed outside to calm myself down. Once outside of the hotel, as soon as I lit a cigarette, the tears came. And they weren’t cutesy movie tears. They were full on, Bull Moose having an anxiety attack sobbing tears. It was uuuuuugly crying. I stomped out my cigarette, got into the front passenger seat of JoJo’s car, and shaking from the cold (it was February in Iowa for God’s sake, and I was in shorts, t-shirt, and flip-flops like a straight up gansta), I began bawling like the pussy I felt like.
Within seconds, I looked up, and through the haze of my tears, and the glass of the passenger window, there stood JoJo. She looked concerned and fearful. But without calling me any of the names I was afraid of being called for crying, she climbed into the driver’s seat and sat with me in silence until I calmed down. Never once calling me a pussy, poon, or, God forbid, weak. She just let me not be alone.
That’s not the moment either.
After I had calmed down, and the tears stopped flowing, I wiped my nose, sniffled quite a bit, and collected myself. JoJo looked at me and said “do you want to go back inside and warm up?” I shook my head and told her that I wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep. And, knowing me well, she asked if I was hungry. Well, of course I could manage to eat. So, we went to the local Hy-Vee grocery store, while the rest of the town slept, and we bought all kinds of bad, awful, sugary treats. Then she drove us back to the hotel, and we waddled up to our hotel room, carrying our groceries like the shame that they were.
Over the next few hours, JoJo sat in bed with me, talking lowly and compassionately, letting me tell her anything about my dad that I could think of in the moment. I told her memories I had. I told her that I wish I had been a better son. I wished that I had known my dad not just as father/son, but as two adults should. I wish I’d made more of an effort. I wished he had made more of an effort. I wished that I hadn’t wished that he’d made more effort. I wished I could have accepted that my dad was not overly affectionate and effusive and he did the best with the tools he had. I wished I had appreciated him for the person he was at the time. I wished all kinds of wishes that would never have a chance in Hell to come true. Dad’s dead.
When I was done wishing all of my millions of wishes in one breath, I sat back in bed, more sad than I was before. JoJo watched me, a stony face.
“Do you want to cry again?” She asked firmly.
“No.” I replied. “I’ll never stop.”
She watched me.
“There’s nothing that I can do that will make this better.” I shook my head. “It feels like I’ll never find another fucking thing funny, JoJo. I’m so lost.”
JoJo looked down and nodded with understanding. Then she reached into the box of subpar deli donuts, and held out the last creme-filled one to me from across the bed.
“Then you may as well have another donut, you fat bitch.”
That. That was the moment. I laughed.
Not only did she know exactly what to do to make me laugh–she gave me my favorite donut out of the bunch. She didn’t treat me like I was weak. She let me have my dignity. If that’s not wife material…then what is?
Until next time…