The day my dad died I was dressed like a clown. Complete with a dunce cap, oversized glasses, yellow gators, and hot pink rubber boots. It wasn’t just an ordinary clown outfit. It was part of a theme to celebrate opening day of Boating Season, where hundreds of boats and boaters gather to celebrate and the celebration is punctuated with some silly theme. The boats parade through a canal, in front of a panel of judges dressed in sailing clothes, loosely holding martini glasses, while amused onlookers watch from the land-locked sides of the canal.
My husband and I had arrived early that morning, lugging bottles of beer and thick sub-style sandwiches to fuel us, the captain, and his crew all day. We drank and laughed, made fun of our costumes and the costumes of others, while surrounded by boats with names such as “The JollyWhacker.” Late in the day, when we had finally made back to land, and our car, I had grabbed my smartphone in anticipation of some mindless scrolling while my husband drove us home. There were voicemails from my mother whose shaky voice asked me to call her. There was a call from my emotionally distant, yet always patronizing, aunt asking if I had heard the news and if I was ok. She didn’t say what the news was. Why wouldn’t I be ok? My grandmother may have passed away I told my husband while beginning to dial my mother’s phone number.
My mom immediately answered the phone, and with the trembling coming through her voice. She told me that my father had died. My father was her ex-husband divorcing more than 35 years earlier when I was a toddler and my brother still an infant. She had received the call since my brother was in Mexico and not able to be reached.
My dad was just a month shy of his 58th birthday, death just couldn’t have happened. I didn’t believe her. Told her she was wrong, that it had to be my grandmother, my father’s mother, who had passed recently been admitted into a nursing home. “No,” she said, “your father has passed away. He didn’t survive a heart attack. I’m so sorry, honey.”
My whole body wretched to catch a breath as I hit the end call button without saying a word. In a way, everything felt like it was in slow motion. Oh my God, I squealed, throwing my head in to the lap still covered by the yellow rubber gators. Someone had just taken me and thrown me at 100 miles an hour into a brick wall. I could hear wailing and felt stinging wetness on my face, but it was me. My husband’s hand came to rest on my shoulder trying to show support through the firm weight it presented.
I threw my body back up into sitting position, the spinner on the dunce cap whirring with its force, and called her back. She told me a little more about what she knew, which wasn’t much before I had to hang up again and numbly process what I had just heard. Then, with my dunce cap still on my head, I dialed a phone number that I hadn’t dialed in eight long years but somehow still knew it by heart.