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I didn’t know where I was going, but I needed to get out of that house. He had no right to talk to me like that, especially on a day like today when I was constantly reminded of his death. If my father hadn’t died, then I never would’ve met my stepfather. He knows today is the day too, which just makes what he did worse.
I keep running when I reach the street where Bryan lives. Briefly, I slow down and go to approach his window, and maybe talk to him. As I head toward his window, my destination becomes clear. When I came out, there was one place I was headed, my father’s grave.
On September 11th, 2001, my father was working as a volunteer firefighter just outside New York City. I was kindergarten and had no clue what was even going on that morning, before I got on the bus, I’d kissed his cheek and told him I loved him and that he’s better be safe. At the end of the day, I was told my mom was picking me up. Being an innocent five year old, I didn’t think anything bad had happened to my dad. When my mom came, tears streaming down her face, that’s when I knew something was wrong. My mom was a strong person, never cried. The only time I recall her crying after my dad died and on the anniversary of his death is when her Mom died.
“Baby girl,” she started, hugging me, “Daddy’s not coming home tonight.” Of course, being five and not knowing any better, I had to find out why.
“But why Mommy?”
“He’s dead baby. I’m so sorry.” She said, choking back tears. I just hugged her, in the middle of the school lobby.
For years, his coat hung on the hook, his baseball cap lay on the dresser, his wallet on the counter, shoes on the rack. My mom was like a zombie, just going through the motions each day. Once I was nine or ten, I put the coat in my closet, put the cap on the hat rack, emptied the wallet into my mother’s, and put the shoes in the closet.
Chris was originally my mom’s friend, the first person in a long time to make her happy. I had liked him fair enough, still did, just not at the moment. They got married when I was 13, three years after dating. Chris was kind of a member of the family before the wedding took place, bringing pizza when my mom was sick, helping with my homework, and small things like that made the move from dating to marriage a little easier.
Now that I think about it, this is the first time I’ve ever really been mad at Chris. We’d been fighting for the past few days, nothing serious, just teenage-parent bickering. I don’t even remember what it was about now, but when he mentioned my dad, that was crossing the line. If my dad could be here, he would be. No question about it.
I make a left and jog past the corner gas station. The glowing neon sign was so familiar. I’ve been this way so many times, I’d be willing to bet money that I know exactly what light bulbs need to be replaced. Only a half mile away from the grave. I keep jogging, it was getting closer to dark every moment I wasted.
I don’t remember my dad’s funeral at all. Just when my mom had me throw a hand full of dirt in the hole as they lowered the casket. I remember putting flowers there, wreaths at Christmas, along with cards on his birthday. I always cried at his grave, every time. It was as if all the missing and sadness was kept bottled up inside and just poured out when I was there.
Call me paranoid, but I all of the sudden got chills and felt like someone was watching me. One lone tear slid down my cheek. Afraid the person watching would see, I made it look like I was moving my hair out of my eyes as I wiped it off my face.
After Dad died, I always did my best. At soccer games, I worked my butt off to make my mom proud. Worked day and night to get my grades up to the 98.7 average. Ran until my legs were about to fall off at meets. All so my mom could focus on me, rather than mourning over my father.
When I was about 11, my mom and I went to a therapist for a month or two. Even though the visits to the shrink were short lived, some of the things she said still come back to me. Once , she’d said there was a lot of pressure on me, that I set impossibly high standards for myself as a way to make my mom pay attention to me. By that point Mom went to the bathroom having heard enough. I was left alone in the big leather chair that squeaked whenever you moved, with the therapist, who sat at her desk, all professional looking.
“Look,” I’d said, preparing to tell the shrink my thoughts, “we both know you just get paid to sit here and make us think you help us when you don’t. My mom really thinks you’re helping , so if you want her to keep coming back, don’t pull something like that again.” Her jaw dropped, and she managed a sound that could be “ok.”
What can I say? I was an 11 year old who spoke her mind. And plus, I never really did like that shrink anyway.
That shrink wasn’t all bad though, she was the one who told me running helped release emotions. Ever since then, I’d gone for a run when something was bothering me. Always, always, I would feel better. It gave me a chance for the anger and or sadness to blow over so I could make a logical decision. Running changed my life. I don’t know how I could have dealt with everything had it not been for running.
I make the right and undo the latch on the iron gate leading to the graveyard. The gate creaks loudly, stirring the otherwise silent night. I hear footsteps behind me and turn, expecting to see someone bent on nagging me. To my surprise Bryan was looking at me, a confused look on his face.
“I’m so glad you’re here.” I say, hugging him. My body goes completely limp in his strong arms. Everything happened in what seemed like eons. I broke down crying. He guided me to his car, parked back a little further. I just sat there, and he held me while I cried.
Him, sitting there, holding me, reminded me of when I was five and tumbled of my bike going down the big hill. I was five and had wanted to go, I nagged and nagged and nagged until my dad finally said:
“Honey, what’s the harm in letting her have a little fun?” And of course, if Dad said ok, then Mom would too.
So Dad took me out to the hill, and set me up at the top. No one ever came down that way so there was no need to worry about cars or anything. I started going and picking up speed. About halfway down I decided I’d had enough fun and wanted to stop. Not realizing how fast I was going, or knowing Newton’s Laws, I slammed down on the brakes.
And flying over the handlebars I went. God, was I bloody. I don’t think it’s really as bad as I remember it, but I was lucky enough to have dodged the bike. Dad was there almost as it happened. He scooped me up and just held me while I cried, like Bryan now.
“Kacie, you okay?” Bryan asked, shaking me.
“Sorry.” I said, sniffling. “I was just remembering my dad…and everything.”
“It’s fine, I just didn’t want you to be alone; out here. I saw you by my house and followed you.” He assured me.
“I was coming to see my dad.” I stated. At this he handed me a coat to put on, I was still in jeans and my tee shirt. The coat was a little too big, and reminded me of my dad’s coat, which I would probably wear more often if I wasn’t dating Bryan.
When I was 13, I started wearing my dad’s coat all the time. It made things a little easier to cope with. I had a piece of him here, with me. Bryan often gave me his coat to wear, so I stopped wearing my dad’s.
I never told Bryan about my dad. I don’t think we’d still be dating if he didn’t know though. It was a year after we had been dating, and was on the day my dad died. Bryan could tell I was sad, and kept asking what was wrong. I couldn’t tell him without crying, just couldn’t. He kept asking, and asking until Ashley, my best friend yelled out “God, Bryan! Her Dad died 9 years ago today, don’t you know that?!”
“Um no, actually I didn’t.” he said, his expression mixed between pained and understanding.
“Can I talk to you?” I’d asked, and looked at Ashley, hoping she’d get the message and beat it out of there. She did, and Bryan took my hand and walked with me as I told him everything about my dad. That day was the first time he told me he loved me. It completely changed our whole relationship.
“Kacie, babe, did you hear me?” Bryan asked.
“What? No, sorry. I was remembering the time you told me you loved me.” I say, looking up at him. I led him down the path to my dad’s grave. It wasn’t dark yet, but was getting closer every minute. While it had been two years since he knew, Bryan had never seen my dad. I was usually an emotional thing for me.
My throat starts to close up and I can feel the tears in my eyes as we step off the path and onto the corner of the plot. After a few deep breaths, I snuggle closer to Bryan under his arm. The terrain changes from stone to clumps of dirt and grass.
Looking up from the ground, I see my dad’s grave. The tears swell, my throat closes, and Bryan holds me tighter. I fall to my knees in front of his grave and run my hands over the cold, smooth stone.
“Why?” I ask. The tears are flowing freely now and there’s no stopping them. Bryan sits beside me, and I cry into his shirt. He rubs my back; strokes my hair, and comforts me in these small ways.
“Why? Why did this have to happen?” I repeat.
“You’ll be okay babe. You’re okay.” Bryan reassures me.
“But why?” I whisper, “Why?”