When I think back, he was always there in my imagination, the man I would fall in love with one day. A tall, dark and handsome cowboy version of a straight Carey Grant with a chiseled jaw and smiling eyes.
My search for the literal man of my dreams began well before my father, whose life was about to be extinguished by Melanoma Cancer, set his ideals on his daughters for what he thought we should search for (life might certainly be a whole lot easier had not rebelled and listened).
Quietly sitting in the cheerful living room in the white house on the hill with blue shutters that I had grown up in, I watched my mother and two sisters as the sun filtered through the windows illuminating the thousands of dust particles we inhaled and exhaled with every breath.
“I’m so sorry girls,” the nurse in the crisp white uniform announced, “but your father has passed on.” A cold veil of black enshrouded my vision. I went numb.
Where was my desire to drop down to my knees and weep? Thirty-four years of living with a force that directed every decision I ever made, and now he was gone, leaving the rest up to me.
I was void of emotion, a cold mass of emptiness and guilt, guilty that I had no tears and guilty that I had never mastered the art of handling his destructive temper.
From what felt like above, I observed as my sisters and I gathered closer to our mother in search of a deeper understanding of times already fading into a dark course of memories.
The nurse returned, “false alarm,” she sang, “Harold seems to have come back.” Comic relief, typical of our father. All our lives he had emotionally swung us between anxiety and humor, why should the day of his death be any different? We ran to his bed to say our final goodbyes.
An outpouring of sentiment flowed out from my sisters, but I was at a loss for words, and then the dog began to bark and we all felt the chill as an oil painting fell off of the wall above the lifeless fireplace. This time he truly had left us, never to return again.
The den had always been his favorite room when he was well, where he spent many an afternoon watching football on the soft beige leather couch as my sisters and I practiced the piano, the large old growth Maple trees standing sentry in our backyard.
In his last few months of living, I had returned home from Aspen to help my mother take care of him. As he lay in his bed in his den on morphine, I took on the role as his DJ, making sure that he had endlessly beautiful classical music playing to ease his pain. He couldn’t speak with all the morphine dripping into his system, but he would raise his arms in the air and move his beautiful hands to the music like a conductor in a symphony as the Melanoma Cancer metastacized throughout his body, extinguishing his strong life force.
What was he thinking as he lay there dying? I knew that he was angry with my mother for her inability to save him from his inevitable death, but I wondered if he was having any reflective moments in his last three months. Did he have any regrets for the demands that he had put on us, his three daughters, as we were growing up, or did he feel proud that he had done a good job of raising us?