When I look back over the year before my father died, it seems almost as if he knew it was his last. My father was always living life to the fullest, but in that last year, even with the stroke slowing him down, he really pulled out all the stops. Visiting people he hadn't seen in years, going back with me to our favorite family campground, and making a conscious effort to track down his most cherished food memories from his childhood.
He came to visit me in Toronto the month before he died, craving plato tipico. He grew up in Colombia, and apparently had fond memories of this set meal that you would get pretty much anywhere you went for lunch. It took two buses and a streetcar to get there, but we all enjoyed the meal, even if the chicharron was a little hard for my tastes. At Christmas, he decided that he wanted to show us all what a traditional Noche Buena feast was like, so he hired a sweet little Colombian lady to make us tamales and pan de bon and empanadas. That was the Christmas that he had the stroke, and I could be wrong, but I think he had already ordered the food before it happened.
When my dad died, one of the things that almost everyone mentioned to us was his love of life. So, when his birthday rolled around that year, we decided to memorialize his life by going out to dinner as a family on the day of his birth. Sure, we all remember the day he died, but we feel like we can celebrate more on his birthday. So we went out for Salvadoranean food on the day he would have turned 59. And we went out for Chilean food on the day he would have turned 60. Then my sister moved away, and I moved away, and when his birthday rolled around this year, my family was spread far apart, and we couldn't go out for dinner together.
This past Wednesday, my father would have turned 61. I had to work that night. I had to work Thursday morning, too. But I was meeting Jon in the city to connect for our weekend road trip, and surely, there must be a Latin American restaurant in the city. I searched all over the internet, but came up empty handed. I did manage to find one Colombian restaurant, but it was in the far northern end of the city, which was nowhere near where we would be. So we ended up getting take-out. Not even remotely hispanic take-out, either. And then we got on the wrong bus and ended up lost in Camden. And the two days of increasingly early shifts that I had been scheduled in order to have this evening off were starting to catch up to me, and I found myself tired and cold and frustrated.
I forgot to bring a book with me, so I picked up a free newspaper to read on the train. It wasn't a very interesting free newspaper, but it did have an extremely long article about morticians that I spent most of the trip reading. Probably not the best reading material for my state of mind, but it kept my brain occupied.
We connected with Phil and Rachel and decided to leave on our road trip in the morning, rather than starting out so late. Which was probably for the best, since I was barely keeping my eyes open by this time. I fell asleep on a couch almost as soon as my head hit the cushion. Usually, I spend about a half hour or so awake in bed before I fall asleep, mulling things over in my mind and stressing about things that I can't possibly do anything about right now. But on this occasion, I fell directly asleep.
And woke up, fully alert and wide awake, at about 4:45 a.m., with two vivid images juxtaposed in my mind. The first was of my mother, kissing my father's body goodbye, and telling us how cold his lips had been. The second was a graphic description of embalming from the article I had read on the train the day before - an image of formaldehyde and deodorant spray and things stitched together and padded and painted and all of that hiding behind my father's glued together lips. And all of those thoughts and worries and stresses took my mind back over for almost an hour before I finally stopped crying and fell back asleep.
I don't like to write about these kinds of things. But when I don't, it's like a wall goes up on my blog, and I feel like I can't write anything else of substance while those thoughts are still sitting there, waiting to be processed. And yes, I suppose I have been a bit pre-occupied with my father lately, but at least two of you like to hear about him, so here it is. I still miss him. It still hurts sometimes. A lot, sometimes. And I pretended it was no big thing, but not being able to get tamales for Christmas Eve this year really upset me. And I suppose I put a lot of weight on being able to go out for his birthday instead, so when that fell through, I took it hard. Add this to the fact that Jeremy is still sick, and my family is far away, and even if I had been able to get Colombian food for my dad's birthday, I wouldn't have been able to share it with the people for whom it would have meant the most.
And now, I am tired, and emotionally spent, so the upbeat account of our road trip weekend will have to await another day.