"Call me anytime." It was how all my phone calls ended with Daddy, usually the sentence just prior to the "I love yous" that substituted "goodbye".
Though I never said it, I often thought "YOU call ME!" because I wanted him to want to call me, to be the initiator. The thing is, I was busy with work, then a husband then a bunch of babies and life in general, and I'm sure he thought it was easier and more convenient for me to call him. I wonder if I ever gave him the feeling he was interrupting Something Important. I hope not.
Had Lewy Bodies disease not pillaged my father's mind, crippled his body, and chauffeured him to the grave two years ago, he would have been 77 today. His birthday has always trumpeted the advent of Fall to me, I suppose it's some sort of Pavlovian response to the actual autumnal equinox occurring just prior.
I can't remember the last birthday I celebrated with him in person and at the moment that bothers me; was a one-way, three hours drive really not worth it? He wasn't one to make a big deal out of his birthday and he'd discouraged me from coming, and his genuine, pleased response to a phone call indicated that really was all he wanted.
To be remembered.
I get that.
The other day I was walking into a store and I was stopped dead in my tracks: an elderly gentleman walking out of the store could have been my father. Never have I seen someone who so closely resembled him–his thinning gray hair, his olive complexion, his slightly softened stature, eye glasses with smudges…and a vacant expression that signaled he wasn't fully present. I wasn't prepared for this chance encounter and I couldn't help staring through the rain in my eyes. I wanted to speak to him, a kindness to a familiar stranger, but my feet were anchored and my heart was lodged in my throat. I watched him as he shuffled to the parking lot.
It was the first reminder his birthday was this week and I could hear him over the din of busy shoppers and subversive grocery store Musak…
"Call me anytime…."
And because I can't…I write…to remember….
Because that mattered to him.