I took a step forward. My left hand reached out towards the box. My fingers tightly curled around its smooth wooden handle. “One, Two, Three, lift.” I thought that the casket would tug on my shoulders and cause my arms to stretch and ache, as my grandmother’s casket had. With a small pine box, carried by me, my brother, my five uncles and grandfather it was quite light. I took a step forward, pointing my feet outwards, so that I would not step on my grandfather’s shoes in front of me. I lifted my head up, my eyes finding the shoulders of my grandfather and took another step.
As I took my step, I pictured myself sitting in 111 Forum for microeconomics less than a week ago. I was sitting there trying to pay attention. I had just taken a chemistry test the evening before. I was anxious about the Math 251 test I had that Tuesday evening and the physics test I would have the following night. I was counting the minutes before the class ended, so that I could run back to my dorm and use my last hour I had before the test to study. All this was going through my head when my pocket started to vibrate. I woke up from my little zone of taking notes and pretending to care about the material. My pocket vibrated again, I reached my hand inside my pocket, slipping it along the jean and pulling out my phone. I look at it and it was from my mother. I pressed the big red upside down phone symbol. I sent her a text asking if it was important, she responded that it was.
After scooting past a few students with some difficulty, I made my way to the hallway in forum where I called my mother back. “Hi, honey…” she said when I called her. I knew something horrible at happened. With these two words, I could hear the sadness in her voice. From these two words I could tell that someone in my immediate family had died. It wasn’t her and it wasn’t me. This left my brother and my father. Looking back, from the loneliness I heard in her voice, from the croaking sound that came from fighting through tears, I should have been able to predict who it was. “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but… your father has died.” All I could responded with was a half sobering-in-disbelief “what?” The ground rushed up towards my face and I had to block it from hitting me with my arm. I had lost control of all my other muscles except the muscles keeping the phone to my ear and the ground slamming into my face. The first thing that came to my mind is that my father would not be driving to pick me up in a few weeks. Other students would be picked up by their parents and be driven back home at the end of the semester. I, however, would now only be picked up by my mother. It would be a long, sad nine hour drive home. So, there I was lying flat on the soft carpet floor, in the hallway in forum with cold tears wiggling their way down my face. My mother then went on to explain how she was going about her daily routines. That she thought my dad was just sleeping in, so she didn’t wake him. Eventually, he didn’t get up and when she went to check on him, he was dead.
I took another step. I looked to my right and saw my father’s friend. She was staring at the ground, near our feet. Her body sort of dropped, her body language showing that she could not face the pain of looking up into our eyes. I turned my head to the left, slowly, trying to savor the moment, yet at the same time trying to let it go. I forced my eyes open, trying not to blink, so that I would not miss a second. On my left was my mother’s friend. Tears were falling down her cheeks. She tried to give me and my brother a smile. You could tell in her eyes and from the dimples formed by the smile that she was proud of us, but she had a deep sorrow for what we were going through. I took another step.
I started thinking about how two months ago I thought what I had to look forward to at home had disappeared. Two months ago me and my girlfriend of two years broke up. It was a long distance relationship, but I thought out of all my friends that we could be the ones to make it through. I turned out to be wrong. I knew it wasn’t the end of the world, but I thought I had lost a good chunk of what was waiting for me back home. I had lost a part of my life back home, it wasn’t quite as shiny as it was before. After a week or so I came to realize that, I had a great family and lots of caring friends back home. I had a few really close friends, a brother, a mother and a father that still loved me. Like most break-ups, I eventually discovered there might be someone else waiting out there for me in the future.
I took another step. To say this was much worse would be an understatement. They weren’t even comparable. My grandfather had described it as a punch in the stomach. However, this punch felt as if it was from Hercules. This punch, is what caused me to lose control of my muscles in the Forum building. This punch will bring any grown man or woman to his or her knees. This punch sent me aching for weeks. It gave me a headache for about two days and gave my stomach pain for a few weeks. I took another step.
I tilted my head to the left. Out of the corner of my eye I could see my brother one person ahead and one person to the left. I looked at my brother and saw, that with his slouched shoulders, clamped jaw, tense neck, but flexing forearm he was thinking something similar to me. What if that Tuesday I had never received a phone call? What if I had sat through the entire class, continued on to take my math test and then my physics test? What if, on Wednesday night I had called my father to tell him my tests were over with? On Tuesday I was beginning to feel the end of the semester. There were a little over four weeks left, all I had to do was get through that week and finals and I would be home for the summer. I had been home for less than fifteen days since august. I was looking forward to seeing my mother and my father, even watching a movie at night as we always did. The one thing that had helped me get through my breakup and the rest of the school year was that I would still have a wonderful, happy and complete family to come home to.
In the coming weeks it would have been easy to slip into a false reality. It would have been as easy as reaching out and turning on a sink faucet. I could have tricked my brain into believing he was still alive, that he was just away on a work trip. I could trick myself into believing that he would pick me up once my finals were over. All I had to do was reach out. I eventually learned to walk away from this faucet and accepted the reality that was handed to me.
I took another step. I took a deep breath and sighed. Not a sigh as if it had been a long day. This sigh came from deep from within the lungs, like the breath of someone about to dive into water. This breath came from deeper within, it came from the heart. I tensed my neck. I was not going to dwell on sad thoughts, I had to keep moving forward and put one foot in front of the other. I took another step.
I started giving some thought as to what the future would be like. It would not be the large things that I missed. I would miss him as a person, a father and a friend. The biggest pain, however, would come from the smallest things. I would miss the weekly call from him and how he worked so hard to keep my single pet fish alive. When I get home, it will be the absence of the soft sound of a shoe against a sock, him taking off his shoes. It will be him setting gently briefcase down with a little clunk sound after work. It will be him handing me his black Ace comb that had a few teeth missing to comb my hair before we went into church. Once again, I tried not to dwell on the sad things, I tried to focus on the good. I took another step forward.
I readjusted and tightened my grip on the now warm wooden handle. I looked to my left and saw the man who had read at my baptism. He did his best to stand tall and with his dark grey and shining blue eyes, he looked at me. I gave a slight nod of my head, to show that I see him and appreciate him being there. He stood strong, looked back at me and blinked his eyes, telling me that he was confident I could get through this. That it is horrible, but when you get through with this, I am here for you. I took another step.
I turned my head forward, turning my head slightly to look at all of the people in the back row. Most of them were people I did not know. But all of them had the same expression. All watching us intently, trying to see what we were going through, pitying us for what we were going through. I took another step.
The doors of the sanctuary were before us. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. I was supposed to be in State college, just getting up and making my way to the dining hall. My father was supposed to die in about twenty or more years, after I had graduated and maybe even started a family. He was supposed to die an old man, like in the movies when the family kneels around his bed and listens to his last words. My father had no known health conditions or any symptoms. It was as if someone or something had snapped its fingers. It had just woke up one morning and decided that my father would live no more. It had decided that my brother and I would not have a father, my mother would not have a husband; my grandparents would not have a son; my uncles and aunt would not have a brother. Until this moment, I had not fully understood the fragility of life. Death had always been something that was reserved for the old and unhealthy. For dangerous activities and freak accidents. Never could I have imagined that life could be there, and the next moment not. Never could I have imagined that in between weekly phone calls, my father would be gone. My father who had raised me to be the person I am. My father who did so many things for me. My father who showed me what friendship, kindness and love is. My father who I was looking forward to seeing when I got home. My father who wouldn’t be there to pick me up when the semester ends.
Once again I took a deep, deep breath. I took another step out of the sanctuary. Eventually we made our way down the steps of the church. We then lifted up the pine box, put the box to rest in the hearse and closed the door. And that is the last time I ever saw my father.