Who presents this bride?

Personal Narrative

Today makes eight.

For years I went to bed early. As an elementary school teacher, I had an extensive morning routine involving exercise, prayer, and a 30-minute commute. I arrived at work by 7 a.m. – well before the kiddos who often wanted to share household news as soon as they said good morning.
Because I require 7-8 hours of sleep to function well, I observed a strict bedtime of 9 p.m. My friends knew this and generally avoided calling past 8 or 8:30. From time to time an acquaintance would call too late, so I turned off my ringer at night just to play it safe.

That is, until Daddy admitted his health was fading.

It was shortly after Mama died. His prostate cancer wasn’t a secret, yet he seemed to be doing well. But y’all know how (some) men like to hide shit. Reality didn’t exactly align with appearances. I told him in no uncertain terms, he wasn’t allowed to die any time soon. His reaction, some mixture of exasperation and acquiescence, was disconcerting. He said okay because that’s what I wanted, but he hinted there were no guarantees.

I began leaving my ringer on at night.

Daddy and me. Wasn't he sharp?
Daddy and me. Wasn’t he sharp?

My parents eloped when they were 23. As a little girl my mother offered me several thousand dollars if I eloped, too. I can’t remember what prompted her to mention it at that moment. The only possibility that comes to mind is Princess Diana’s wedding, grand affair that it was. I was too young to have heard about the bride’s family footing the bill for weddings or other such traditions. I’m serious, she said. I shrugged. I tucked it away for later.

As a teenager I thought I’d get married shortly after college. My 20s came and went and I remained single throughout. I was grateful, honestly. I hadn’t met “Mr. Right,” and by the time I hit 30, I’d evolved into a completely different woman.

My dad did his best, as much as one can wield control over such things. He held on another three years. My phone rang just before dawn. I sighed awake, already shaking my head. No good news comes at this time of day. The voice on the other end was Daddy’s but softer in tenor. I instantly recognized my uncle, Daddy’s identical twin. Did I call at a bad time? he asked. I pressed him to spill the news. Daddy was en route to the hospital. He wasn’t breathing on his own.

Daddy reading aloud The Night Before Christmas circa 1976.
Daddy reading aloud The Night Before Christmas circa 1976.

I arrived at Grady Hospital eight years ago today. I didn’t see Daddy that morning. Nor any other since. Following my uncle’s lead, we both left without seeing his lifeless body.
 I wanted to say goodbye, but I did not want the image of death burned into my memory. I had made that mistake with Mama.

Toward the end of my 30s, I met my future husband. When we spoke of marriage, I told him I didn’t favor a big wedding, and, in fact, eloping was fine with me. I was down for a courthouse ceremony, or a small gathering on the beach. I don’t think he believed me the first few times we discussed it, but the seed Mama planted nearly three decades earlier bore fruit. I had never planned or even considered a “fairy tale” wedding.

A few months after my 40th birthday, Blue proposed.

I remembered the brides who cried in the days leading up to their weddings. I vowed not to be one of them. As spring melted into summer, we played around with wedding dates, sizes and locations. Nearly every Friday from June through August, we considered jumping in the car and heading to the courthouse. In September we settled on an intimate October affair.

first lookIf we had eloped, we would’ve escorted each other during the ceremony. But the venue we selected encouraged something a little more traditional. I decided Daddy’s twin, my “DNA Daddy,” might be the perfect choice.

He later told me it was one of his greatest joys.

During our ceremony, we invoked ancestors and loved ones who were not present, and that, of course, included my parents. Although neither were present in body, it was a loving comfort to hear Daddy’s voice and witness his smile through his brother.

Said our officiant, Who presents this bride?

My uncle replied, I do. 

Who presents this bride? I do!
Who presents this bride? I do!

Relax

Personal Narrative

Relax.

It made me tense because every time he said it, I thought I was already doing it. He, Daddy, insisted I wasn’t. Squeezed beside him in the dark brown easy chair, we’d while away the late afternoons. He’d finish a cigarette while watching sports or news or whatever was on that time of day. Our legs stretched out, fully reclined, his head back and eyes closed, voice like a hypnotist, urging me to relax.

I am relaxed! I’d protest. I’m relaxing!

No, he’d disagree in that same quiet trance. Relax, he’d repeat. And on it went day after day. As the years passed, sharing the easy chair became more of a challenge. My petite build was now too much for a chair designed for one. His admonitions to relax fell to the recesses of my mind.

Pretending to relax.
Pretending to relax.

Until I found myself in my 30s holding my breath. Doing homework or watching a movie, or really any mundane thing, a quick moment of reflection would reveal hunched shoulders, a tight body, and me, inexplicably holding my breath.

It was as if my body were in a perpetual state of flight or fight.

And yet, as far as I could tell, there was no reason for stress.

Is this what daddy meant when he insisted I never relaxed? Did I somehow develop this habit of holding tension in my body, even holding my own breath, in childhood?

I think of it now for two reasons. One, I’m reading Tiger Eyes, and I believe it’s triggering memories of daddy. Davey, the central character, was close to her father. As the book opens, he has died unexpectedly. I didn’t make the connection before, but when the second memory, “Relax,” came to mind, I thought that might be the cause.

The second reason is I’m doing it again. I thought I had mastered deeper and more regular breathing, keeping unfounded tension out of my body. But twice in recent days I’ve found myself slouching, breathing shallow breaths. And I’m hearing his voice urging me to relax.

I’m listening, Daddy.

So long, farewell.

Personal Narrative

Thought about my daddy this morning. Not sure why he came to mind, but he’s always welcome.

This morning’s memory was of his goodbyes. He never said goodbye. I can’t recall a single time he actually used the word when departing. Whether we were separating for a couple of hours, or a couple of weeks, he always said the same thing: “So long!” He’d smile showing all his teeth, although the smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. We’d wave, go our separate ways.

daddy and nicole fullI always did a double take, as if somehow a second look would ensure so long really meant it was time to go, but only temporarily. Remembering it now makes me as sad as it did then.

I think I asked him once, about why he never said goodbye.

Perhaps he said he doesn’t like goodbye. As if goodbye were too formal or too final. So long implied a reunion was imminent. That it was so long until I see you again, but the seeing you again part was definitely going to happen.

I don’t know.

He never said goodbye.

On the Timeliness of Untimely Calls

Personal Narrative

I was minding my own business. I had just pulled into the parking lot of a local pharmacy, where I aimed to return an overpriced item. My phone rang and an unknown Atlanta number flashed on the display. I’m not great about answering unknown numbers but 1) I have a new phone and all of my contacts didn’t transfer, and 2) I’m in the middle of job hunting and apartment hunting. Those things being the case, I picked up not knowing who may have been on the line.

A woman responded to my hello and stammered an introduction: “Um. Hi, my name is Sharon. I’m not sure if I’m calling the right place, or if you even have anything to do with it…so this may sound strange…but I used to work for…” She went on to explain who she was and how she knew my dad. She was a receptionist where he worked over 25 years ago. It was her first job out of college. He left a mark. She wanted to say thank you and see how he was.

She told me stumbled across a website about me while searching for his name. She offered me congratulations on finishing my doctorate and said she noticed a comment that seemed to imply my parents were deceased. I confirmed the sad news which prompted a series of sorries from her.

It is not unusual for people to contact me wondering how one or the other of my parents are, and it usually doesn’t effect me all that much. My mom passed away in 2003 and my dad in 2006. But today’s call struck me. I was nearly undone in the parking lot, suddenly missing my dad. I’ve never made it a secret of being a daddy’s girl and I was actually surprised I wasn’t more tearful about him or mom during my graduation festivities. But here I was, totally missing him, choking out thank you, but simultaneously present enough to wonder what he wanted me to know.

As random as this call seemed, I was suddenly sure it was very purposeful guidance. I’ve been sleepwalking the past couple of months. I just finished a 3+ year stint in graduate school with non-stop days (weeks? months?) of writing and thinking. I put myself on a vacation from “real life” while I transition from student to – whatever role I play now. I’ve been hibernating and whiling away my days, and my journaling and reiki practices have suffered. I’m no longer a leader in my Buddhist organization (due to moving around, not to lack of desire) and my practice has been a bit on the unfocused side. All of the things that help provide clarity and meaning in my life have been fading and blurring in the background. I’ve been on autopilot. Note: Autopilot isn’t a helpful setting if you’re trying to reinvent yourself and become clearer on your purpose and next steps.

And so here comes this call. While Sharon was talking, I scrounged up a piece of mail and a sharpie. I jotted what she said was most important to her and still rang true these decades later. She explained that my daddy was always calm and full of wisdom he was happy to share, he encouraged sensible solutions to problems, and told her (especially as a young person full of energy but no direction) to plan every step.

That definitely sounds like my dad. He was always quiet, steady, persistent, focused and driven. (And extremely silly too, just to be clear). I definitely believe this call was to nudge me back on track as 2010 comes to an end and the new decade begins. I take it as a reminder to both seek out and share wisdom, to take more responsibility in envisioning, planning and co-creating my future, yet to be patient as things unfold.

Here’s to the journey. Thanks Daddy! Happy new year!

xoxo