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I sit and watch my dying father sleep, as he slips further into the abyss

December 6, 2012

His breathing is quiet. He has morphine, now. I stroke his face and marvel at how much red hair still clings to his head, considering he has a golf ball-sized tumor rising from his skull. He still looks like my dad, only not quite. Earlier his eyes opened when I told him there was a hummingbird at the feeder outside his window, and when it flitted away he closed his eyes again.

He really is going to die. I didn’t know how I would feel. I didn’t think it would really happen, but now I know it is.  Now I am pissed that he is going to die. I am sorrowful and angry with him for leaving me before I am ready. When I wanted him to die, he didn’t…

It is spring 1966.  My father had moved out three years earlier and all hell had broken loose in my mother’s house with the seven children. As the oldest I was mercilessly destructive  to my mother, disparaging and blaming her as only out of control almost-teenage girls do when their lives have been upended.(Sorry, Mom.)  But that is not this story. This story is why I wanted my father to die in 1968.

I don’t know why, and I cannot ask him now, but he took me to live with him that spring of 1966, my 14th year. The previous year he had become a professor of philosophy at a local college and he had moved into a bigger apartment. He  was still driving the yellow Hillman his parents had given him when he moved out. His girlfriend, Barbara, was nice to me, and even gave me my first job watching kids after school at her private school.

After I had been with him a month, Dad decided to get a new car. Maybe it was all the driving he was doing taking and picking me up from junior high school 25 miles away. He had never had a new car. We went to the Chevrolet dealer in town (Selman Chevrolet, still there) and this really cute young salesman (I swear he looked like Sonny Bono, if you are too young for that reference, look up Cher) showed us cars. Dad decided on a 1965 white Camaro with black leather interior. Automatic steering. This was the first year of the Camaro, so he was going to be the hippest professor on campus. While he was signing papers, the salesman took me for wild ride on the freeway in a 1965 Corvette. Imagine being 14 years old and having Sonny Bono (well, he did look like him) driving you fast in an awesome sports car, and you sneak a look at the speedometer needle all the way at 100 mph! Ahh, but that is not the story, either…

So Dad tells me that he has made me the beneficiary on the car, so if he dies, the car will go to me. At 14 that didn’t mean much. Our joint residency only lasted a few months, and I went back to Mom’s. Fast forward to my 16th birthday. Dad let me take my driver’s license test in his Camaro, and I passed. By now Dad had married Barbara and they were living 5 miles away from Mom. Friday nights Dad would have a martini and settle in to watch his favorite TV show, Star Trek. I figured out if I got myself over to his house, and I asked when he had already had one martini, he would let me take his car out.

So now imagine ( or remember!) being 16 and driving a hot car on a Friday night! Hmmm, if he died, I would get to keep on driving that hot car every night. Yes, I thought it, more than once, more than I should.

Now he is. And I don’t get the car.

  1. Dear Cathy,

    Oh, mercy, thank you for this.

    Your raw emotional honesty is so very powerful.
    You’ve put words to emotions and thoughts that far too many people
    are afraid to confront and express.

    I love you and I stand with you in your sadness.

    Mary Ellen

  2. Awesome story. Love ya!

  3. No, you don’t get to keep the car. But you get to keep the memory, and you have a great story to share. The memory won’t break down, need new tires, or rust out. Thanks for sharing this story!

    After my dad had been gone for a while, memories like this became easier for me, and when I think of him, it is no longer with sadness because he is gone … it’s more like having a little visit now and then.

    Love, D’

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