I was naked. I had just flown back to Chicago after visiting my father and sister, gone directly to work and from there to an acting class. It had to have been about three o’clock and I was going to take a shower before trying to get some sleep before going back to work. My understanding roommate had taken his guitar to the laundry room. It was January 20, very cold and very bright. The phone rang.
I was naked, but those two words stripped be completely. It felt like a piston rearing back in slow motion before it fires in full force.
“I’ll have to call you back.”
It had been a heart attack at work. He was found in an office on the floor, phone in hand. An ambulance was called. He was revived but died in the ambulance. An anesthesiologist met his boy at the emergency room and charged us four hundred dollars. The insurance sent the check to me. I did not forward it.
My dear friend, Val was in the acting class that took place after me. I called the studio and begged them to get her to the phone. She was within walking distance and came right over. Somehow I managed to pull some clothes on and walked down four flights of stairs to the laundry room to find my roommate. As I walked down that long hall, it became more and more difficult to breathe so that by the time I found Tom I was hyperventilating.
“My dad died.”
Tom is a great guy. We were roommates having done a couple of shows together in college. We weren’t great friends. We were roommates. If you have to have your father die, you want Tom to be the one with you when you find out. A big football player, he wrapped his arms around me and took me back to our apartment. There had been a woman in the laundry room. I remember her as frozen.
Val arrived and helped calm me down. My father had died in the morning. My sister was in class. No one could find either of us. When they finally tracked my sister down it was afternoon. She then spent a couple of hours trying to find me and my mother.
God bless cell phones.
It was pay day. I called the hotel and asked if Tom could pick up my check. I told them I was going back to Iowa, and I didn’t know for how long. Tom was dispatched on his mission. I finally reached my mother, who was living in Seattle. She had been told by a number of people that her kids were trying to reach her. She thought it would be about her mother.
None of us ever thought Dad would die.
It was a brief call because she wanted to call my sister, Carol. She was just twenty and had to go the hospital to identify the body. My sister is an emotional titan, capable of things I can’t even imagine.
I remember going to the funeral home and telling the funeral director to give my sister anything she wanted. We signed some papers. We bought some clothes for the funeral. My father was a workman. Carol brought some clean work clothes for him to buried in. He owned a suit, but he’d graduated from high school in it. Work clothes were the right call.
Foraging through the house in search of insurance papers and will.
There were none.
People stopping by the house, a few claiming Dad owed them money. Like the anesthesiologist, I didn’t care, and they didn’t get paid.
After the initial reaction, I held things together pretty well. And then it came time to deal with Muffin. She was our dog, and the last one still living with Dad. She was poorly kept, old and blind in one eye. And the happiest animal I’ve ever known. There was no one to take care of her. I couldn’t take her to Chicago, Mom couldn’t take her to Seattle. Dogs aren’t allowed in dorms.
Sitting in the vet’s office is when I finally and completely lost it. I still can’t type this without getting misty. Carol had to deal with the vet, too. I’ve taken three pets to the vet for one last visit. It never got easier.
I’ll never have another dad, and I’ll never have another pet.