Monday, November 26, 2001
If you could hear the music being played, you may find more meaning in what I am about to write. And, if possible, you may even understand how I feel as I write it. I've been asked many times how my father died and how I found out. Doesn't bother me. People by nature are curious. And the same thing happened when my mother passed away. So here it is. In chronological order, with every emotion, feeling, and impulse I can remember, the events that took place on the day of my father's death.
I didn't have a job to go to. So, naturally, I had been up late the night before. I was on the computer when my father walked in and told me he was going to bed. He asked if I went job hunting that day and I told him I had. The response didn't seem that great, as I had only inquired at one place. He asked if I was going to go back out the next day and try again and I told him I was. And in all honesty, that was my plan. I had written down numerous places that I might like to work part time at and was going to be calling on them the next day. He turned from me and said goodnight and not to stay up too late. I said okay and went about my business. As cliche as this is, he did say he loved me as he walked away and I returned the favor. Something we always do. Nothing out of the ordinary, but yet so important for what would come, as those were the last words he and I exchanged for the rest of our lives. I wasn't so lucky with my mother.
I woke up the next morning around 8am or so. But only because I had to use the bathroom. I noticed my father's bedroom lights were on as though he were still getting ready to go to his office. I finished and walked back to my bedroom. I slept some more and the phone rang. It was a friend of mine and we talked for probably an hour or so and at this point it must have been around 10:30. After we finished I got up to see if my father was still here and by all accounts he was. The lights were still on in his bedroom. I looked out my bedroom window and saw that his van was still here. I found it odd, but thought perhaps he had already gone and came home for lunch. Maybe even waiting for me to get up so he could know for sure that I was going to go job hunting as I had said. The reason I do this is silly, really, but I like to wake up in an empty house. I enjoy doing my morning routine when no one is here. More comfortable or something, so I would often wake up while my father was still home and go back to sleep until he had left. Normal thing, but yet again, so very important on this day.
It was now 11:30 or so and I could not go back to sleep. So I got up and said the hell with it. I walked past his bedroom and didn't see him. Figured maybe he was in another room or even outside having a smoke. Thoughts of catching him doing something he didn't want me to see entered my mind. I grinned at the thought, but truthfully didn't care. I wasn't up for giving him the third degree. Hell, by then I was trying to avoid seeing him doing things I know he wouldn't want me to see, such as smoking or what have you, just to keep from talking to him and listening to him preach of, "Do as I say, not as I do." mumbo jumbo. Anyway, I made it to the kitchen and looking in the next room over the bar and didn't see him. I walked pass the entrance way to that room, the one with the fireplace, and I opened the refrigerator door to get my daily dose of orange juice. I never even reached for the carton.
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a bright color. A yellow. It was my father's shirt he had slept in the night before. As my eye focused, I turned and had full vision of my father, face first on the floor next to the open fire place. It honestly looked as though he had fallen asleep. I called out to him and he didn't move. I called again and nothing. In my mind I expected the worse, but didn't show that in my actions. I guess I was more scared of what I might see, so I slowly made my way to him, calling at him the entire time. As I stood over him. I nudged him a little with my hand trying to shake him awake, but nothing. I tried rolling him over, but he seemed unusually heavy. I wasn't sure what had happened at this point. Not until I rolled him onto his back. At that instance it seemed like something out of a horror movie. That quick close-up of the face of whomever was dead and initially giving the audience a shock. That's exactly how to describe it. There was no music or anything. Just me staring into my father's face. There was blood on the left side of his forehead. His eyes were closed and his glasses lay on the floor. His nosed was pushed up, staying in the position the floor had left it in when he fell. There was some blood around the corners of his mouth and his lips were a chilling blue color. A blue you'd see possibly in a cave of ice. I kept calling him and headed back in the kitchen to the nearest phone. I dialed 911 and went through the motions. The operator on the other end asked if he was breathing and I went to check. She'd already dispatched the emergency unit. I went to check and as I knelt on the floor to him, I put my hands on his chest. Air came from his mouth as did saliva. I was quickly relieved as I thought he actually was breathing, as I stood it happened again. My thoughts suddenly changed. I made the connection that it was I who was causing the air and saliva to come out of his mouth. To make sure, I pushed again on his chest and it happened. It was then I noticed a cigarette laying near by where he was. He'd obviously been smoking. I ran back to the phone and told them he wasn't breathing. I told her I needed to get off the phone and she wanted to make sure I was okay with that, which I was and I ran to my room and put on some pants and a shirt, and made my way to the front door.
My first thought was to run next door to the neighbors, but I could see that they weren't home, so I went across the street where some people who were in my father's Sunday school class lived. I was nervous and couldn't really talk much, but the words, oddly enough, came very easy.
"I think Dad's died. I called 911." At almost this exact moment, the firetrucks and emergency vehicles pulled into the front yard. I waited for some time at the house across the street and then they all came with me back to the house. I went in first and was asked a few questions. I stayed very clear of the kitchen and the room with the fireplace in it. I sat on the couch while people ran back and forth, like time had frozen for me, but not everyone else. The emergency medic came to me and knelt at the floor so he was at my eye level and asked if I was the son. When I nodded, he said, "Okay, I'm sorry, but your father has passed away." That did it for me. Thinking my father had died was one thing, but when he made it official for me, I cried. It didn't last long as I sucked it up and began to make the necessary phone calls. But no one was home. I couldn't get in touch with my aunt, or anyone else who needed to know this information. And at the worst of times, my grandmother on my mother's side called to see how I was. She'd already lost her daughter and that was really tough on her, and even more so because she felt so helpless for me. I kept it from her as best I could and ended the conversation. But I still couldn't get in touch with anyone. I called the station and told Steve the news. He immediately offered to come over and I gave him directions. He ended up showing up with 3 more people who I'd become good friends with at the station. These were people I normally wouldn't have called so soon like that, but not being able to get in touch with anyone was driving me so insane. I kept getting voice mail's and no answers that I needed to call somewhere I knew someone would answer and the station was that place.
Left with no other options, I called my grandmother back. I didn't know how to get the information I needed without making her suspicious. I asked for my aunt's cell phone number and she asked why. Then she assumed the worse. Asking me what was wrong and I tried so hard not to tell her but I couldn't keep it from her as I felt that was worse to let her worry about the millions of things that may be wrong and I couldn't make up anything either. I told her and she took it rather well, and told me she would get in touch with Margaret, my aunt.
I began to take things rather well after that. There was nothing more I could do and things like this spread faster than you can imagine. The pastor of my father's church arrived, just as he had the day my mother passed. The things you overhear when everyone thinks you aren't listening. "This is so tragic." "First his mother and now his Dad." Thanks for the reminder people.
My Aunt called a little later and said she was packing and would be here soon. She made good time since she lived in Birmingham and was at my place 45 minutes after we got off the phone. I was walking outside to say bye to one of my friends from the station who had to go. At this time, my neighbors next door showed up and I went to greet them, I saw my aunt pull up. I continued toward the neighbor for what seemed a handshake but ended up a hug. The first embrace of another father figure since the news of my father's death and I broke down again. I remember how good friends this man was with my Dad and it made me miss him. It happened again when I saw my Aunt. The last time we met like this was when her sister, my mother, had died. More memories. And then again when her husband came to me. A man I had known since I was born, who'd taken pictures of me as a child, and who I wasn't much on terms with for embracement, hugged me. We got along fine and all, just not really the hugging and stuff. Trivial, I know, but a big deal for me for some reason.
Things began to settle down and thoughts now turned toward my other grandmother. My father's mother. We learned she was having her hair done and her neighbors were informed of the news and watched for her to arrive. Then they would go over and visit with her, making sure she didn't answer the phone or anything. We arrived, and by saying we, I mean my aunt, uncle, Shirley, the pastor, and myself. I was the last to enter the house and at first my grandmother welcomed us all with surprise and was happy to see us. Then the pastor was the first to speak. "Why don't you have a seat, Ms. Benton, we..." He was cut off as she spoke, "What's wrong?" "What's happened?". She was told the news and she took it, I guess, as any mother would. Disbelief. I remained silent and as far out of the way as I could. I stood in her kitchen and stared out the window. Afterwards, in her tears, disbelief, and constantly trying to wish it all away saying no over and over again, she spoke to me....and rather sharply, "Where were you?". Someone else spoke for me, I can't remember who, but they told her I was asleep and how I found him. We stayed there for most of the afternoon. Were it up to me, I wouldn't have gone there to begin with, but I knew I needed to be there. I just wanted to stay home and go to sleep. I was miserable.
We got home and talked a little about how it had happened and what possibly took place. But I dared not enter that room with the fireplace. I kept my distance. The rest of the evening saw phone calls and visitors offering their condolences. Three days would go by before I would cry again, at least a cry on par with that of the one I had when my mother died...and this large cry came on the very morning after he was buried and gone, when I could see him no more.
In between that time preparations were made for the funeral. It was later determined that my father had died of a heart attack. One he'd had while standing. It must have been massive as he wasn't far from the fireplace. So, it was then suspected that he fell and in doing so hit his head on the bricks of the fireplace and then to the floor. This all occurred in the first few minutes he was up as the coffee pot was full and his cup on the mantel was nearly full. The day of visitation came, as the viewing was open casket, and we all gathered at his mother's home. Shirley went first though. That got to me. She would be the first to see my father since I found him on the floor that morning of his death. In my mind, that was my right that she took from me. When we arrived, we were lead to the viewing chapel and I alone went in first. No problem, right? I had done this just 5 years earlier with my mother. Only difference now was that I was alone whereas before I walked in with my father...holding each other for support as we saw her lifeless self in the casket. Tears formed, and I wept. And I continued to weep as more and more of the family joined me. And again as friends began to show up. They weren't outright cries of anger, rage, or loss, or anything. Just sobbing. That cry I mentioned earlier was a soak your pillow-take quick breaths-type of crying. A big one. These at the visitation were just tears mainly. Again something trivial, but a big deal for me for some reason or another.
Oh, and I almost forgot. When I was in there alone with him, I glanced at a flower arrangement sitting just near the casket. It was from Shirley, and written on the card was the words, "I love you." I finally knew the truth. Even though I had suspected for most of the time, I now knew for certain that they, she and my father, were more than just "buddies" as he so often told me. I actually smiled and whispered, "And I love you too, Dad." [The camera pulls back and we fade to black]