“A tall cappuccino please,” were the last words I’d uttered before my life changed so permanently. If I’d known I was about to usher in a new era I might have chosen something more profound but it all happened so quickly, so finally, I was completely unprepared.
My father had been killed in a car accident. It was my Mom’s best friend who called to tell me. I could hear my Mom’s hysterical shrieks in the background at least I think it was her. The sounds she was making were so guttural, so primal I didn’t know she was capable of those cries. But everything I knew to be true in life was about to change. I was on campus, on my way to my American Lit class, when the call came in. I don’t know which one of my fellow students found me and scooped me off the ground where I had collapsed but someone had. They got me to the classroom where my professor sent me home immediately under the compassionate supervision of my best friend who had somehow miraculously appeared. Shortly after that I was sitting on my couch in my living room holding a cup of too hot tea but I didn’t notice. I wasn’t even sure how I got there. I just heard Cheryl’s voice repeating over and over in my head, “There’s been an accident. Your father…he’s…he’s dead.” Followed by the horrific sound of my mother’s grief. It was all too much and I retreated into silent denial. Perhaps, I did speak a little but I don’t remember to who or what I said. Then I got the idea that maybe she was wrong. Maybe she was confused. Cheryl wasn’t the smartest she was always calling on me to fix her computer. But death wasn’t something you got mixed up about. You were either alive or dead…unless you were in a coma. That was sort of an in between. Maybe he was just in a coma. I know it all sounds ridiculous but this is the way my mind skipped around. I couldn’t accept the truth. I refused to believe he was dead. It wasn’t that I refused it was just that it seemed impossible. I mean that’s my father. Your father is a figure of constant in this world of change. My Dad was my superhero. And besides if my Dad was really dead surely the world would stop? Wouldn’t the sun, the moon, the stars, nature itself enter into a state of monumental mourning? That’s how significant it felt. The birds shouldn’t wake and sing, the bees shouldn’t pollinate the flowers, Starbucks would be closed and the 405 freeway would be a ghost town. Everyone and everything should stop because life as we knew it was over. But that’s not what happened. Life continued as if nothing very remarkable had occurred and for the first time the world lost it luster. It was no longer the shiny welcoming place where I would fulfill my dreams and they would matter. It was callous and cold and apparently oblivious to our very existence.
“Alana, Alana…” Jordan called my name. Her voice became more insistent as if she was trying to wake me from a catatonic state.
“I’m here,” I reassure her.
“Are you OK?” She asks slumping down beside me on the couch. Of course I wasn’t fucking OK. I would never be OK again. I look at her wondering how I could convey that sentiment without sounding like a total bitch. Fortunately for me Jordan would always be the kind of girl that just “got it.” Maybe that’s why we were best friends.
“I’m sorry,” she replies. “Stupid question.” We just stare straight ahead neither one of us knowing what to say. I look down at my too hot tea and contemplate drinking it. But the idea of drinking or eating seemed like a totally foreign concept in my current state of mind.
“The tea was a bad idea wasn’t?” She asks.
“No!” I try to reassure her. “I love tea. Tea is wonderful.” I didn’t want to offend her. Despite the fact I was in too much shock to speak I didn’t want her to leave. I had no idea what I would do if I were alone. She stands up abruptly, wrenching the tea from my hand. Then promptly returns with a glass of vodka on the rocks. She has one too.
“This is a better idea,” she says.
“It’s not disrespectful?” I wonder. My Dad just died, should I really start boozing it up? The problem was this had never happened to me before and I just didn’t know how to handle it.
“Wasn’t your Dad Irish?”
“But this is vodka?”
“Well you don’t have whiskey.” I toss back the drink letting the vodka seep into my system, warming me.
“You were right,” I tell her. “This is what I needed.” The vodka woke me from my state of shock and at the same time awakened the grief within. It unleashed itself hysterically and before I knew it I was sobbing into Jordan’s chest. I cling to her as I realize she’s crying too.
“I’m so sorry…” she whispers. I don’t respond and we continue to sit there like that for I don’t know how long.
Later that evening a sober Jordan drove me home to my parents’ house. The drive was only thirty minutes but the distance seemed insurmountable. The truth is I didn’t want to go home. If I went home and my Dad wasn’t there well that would make it true. If I never went home I could live the rest of my life in total denial. I also didn’t want to face my mother. Just hearing her pain had split my heart in two. My mother had always been so strong. We had a close relationship. I would confide in her. Her wisdom and loving support had gotten me through many tough times. Somehow even my teen angst had left our relationship unscathed. But this was new territory. I heard it in her voice, her cries of grief; she was devastated, even that didn’t seem like a big enough word to describe it. She needed comforting but so did I.
Jordan walked me in the house. Cheryl greeted us warmly. Hugging me tightly. I hugged her back. By now I was feeling exhausted and maybe even a little hung over, the vodka having migrated my system. And as I got closer to the living room to see my mother part of me wished I had kept drinking. I wanted something to make this moment easier even though I knew such a thing didn’t exist.
She was sitting on the couch when I came in her head in her hands. She was so still I began to wonder if she was even breathing. The rise and fall of her chest was indiscernible.
“Mom?” I say quietly. She doesn’t look up. Now I was beginning to worry. You heard about those couples all the time on the news when one partner dies the other quickly follows. Dying of a broken heart. My parents had been that kind of couple they had loved each other deeply. They would never have contemplated a life without each other and now this is exactly what she was facing.
“Mom!” I call again, more decisively. She looks up, a deer caught in headlights. Her face is puffy and red from the hours of crying. When she sees me her face crumples and she begins crying again but she outstretches her arms and I run into them. We sob together.
I don’t know how long we’ve been there when my brother, Joe bursts in. He graduated college last year and has been working in Silicone Valley. He must have hopped the first flight to get here. When he sees us like this he knows it true. He breaks down right where he’s standing in the doorframe. My mom gets up and hugs him. I think to myself as I watch them, we will never, ever be the same again. This is my new fractured family. We’re a mess. And it’s sucks.