This morning, while others throw green and purple beads, show their t%^&s, hunt for plastic babies in colorful cakes, I celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the worst day of my life. Twenty years ago this morning I woke up under a mysterious emotional cloud in a tiny Denver foothills apartment, unaware that in six hours my insides would spill all over the carpet through my tear ducts. February 17, 1995, would mark the end of an era for people who had the pleasure of knowing my dear daddy. As bad as that day was for my mother, my sister, my brothers, myself, and anyone else lucky enough to soak up the sunshine of my father, it was the worst for him. I’m so sorry for your agony, that we couldn’t know to help you, to stop you. I try to imagine what it might have been like for you, Da…
“Preparation for Departure” – originally published 2011 in Emprise Review
The year before you leave for good, rack up the frequent flier miles scrambling to find a buyer for your piano business. If you can unload it, you will be free. You can retire.
Test-drive a Lexus. Inhale the leather scent of luxury.
Rise each morning at 3:00 a.m., and on a yellow legal pad scrawl fragments of notes that reveal your fractured thinking in the weeks preceding your death. Unraveling the mystery of your sudden departure will keep your family occupied when they gather for your funeral, and the notes will provide clues.
Two months before you leave, fly to Denver for your youngest child’s wedding. In the dim light of your hotel room, look her in the eye and assure her that if anything should happen to you, her mother will be fine, financially. Sound nonchalant.
The day before the wedding, treat the groom, groomsmen, and your sons to lunch at the Best-of-Denver barbecue joint. Offer to buy them all sweaters from Brooks Brothers on your walk back to the hotel.
At the reception in the penthouse ballroom of the Denver Petroleum Club, take your little girl into your arms for the father-of-the-bride dance. With a jazz trio playing “Unforgettable,” ask, “Are you happy?” Just to finish that business. This will be your last dance, so speak tenderly, and make it a good one.
Return to your legal pad at the kitchen table in Indiana.
Let your wife take you to the psychiatrist. Take the drugs he prescribes, even if they rob you of sleep and make you edgy. What do you know? They may work. And, at least you tried.
Two weeks before The Day, fly to L.A. in a desperate attempt to sell your business to a potential buyer who already turned you down months before.
Despair over the dead end. Fly home.
Fill another legal pad at the kitchen table with bizarre declarations about things like smoking guns.
Stop answering phone calls from your children.
Don’t shoot yourself. Your little girl will need to see your orange made-up face and awkwardly stretched, pinned-together hands as visible proof that you are really gone.
Be considerate. Schedule your exit at a time when no one will be around to interfere. Wait for your wife to leave for work.
Plan. Schedule a lunch appointment with your next-door neighbor, the one who considers you a second father, within a half hour of your departure. When you fail to meet him, he’ll come looking for you and find your body before your wife gets home from work. But lock the door so he’ll have to hack through it with an axe, his ten-year-old looking on.
On your final Sunday evening, stun your wife by accepting her invitation to join her at children’s church choir practice. As she accompanies them on the piano, hear the angel voices and succumb. Weep in the pew.
After choir practice, take your wife out for Chinese. When she notices your melancholy and asks what’s wrong say, “My life would have been different if I’d had the kind of childhood those little children have.”
On her insistence, make another appointment with the psychiatrist.
Meet with your accountant.
Meet with your attorney about that EEOC complaint from your office manager. Lament about a smoking gun, but don’t hear him when he insists there is no smoking gun, that you’re in the clear, she has no case.
A few evenings before your death, pace the kitchen with manic vigor. When your wife walks in from the garage and asks what you’re doing tell her, “I’m trying to have a heart attack.”
Frighten your wife.
Fight with her like in the early days. Stumble downstairs to the basement and drag up the pool hose. Threaten to attach it to the tailpipe of your car. When she picks up the phone to call the neighbor for help, wrestle it out of her hands and slam it back onto the hook on the wall. Come to your senses and haul the ribbed, blue snake back down to the storage room.
The night before your death you won’t feel like eating. Your wife will say, “Do you want me to drive to Colonel Sanders?” and “I’ll fix you anything you want.” Say, “I guess chicken and noodles.” Eat half a plate and stuff the rest down the disposal.
The morning of your death, rise early. Shower. Dress for work. A Macy’s suit will do. Out of habit, or just in case, place the tiny amber jar of nitroglycerin tablets in your right front trouser pocket.
Try to kiss your wife goodbye. When she rolls over, away from the fearsome creature you have become, forgive her.
Drive to work. Lock your office door. Sit at your mahogany desk. Read a Billy Graham tract that offers unconditional assurance of your place in eternity. Place it in the top right drawer.
When your wife has left for work, drive home. Pull into the garage and lower the door. Lower your window two inches.
Pull the pool hose up the stairs and take it to the garage. Duct-tape one end of the hose to the tailpipe of your Buick Riviera. Feed the other end into the driver’s side window. Duct-tape the gaps.
Duct-tape along the bottom edge of the garage door and along the sides, refusing oxygen access to the chamber.
Open the passenger door, and climb in.
Shut the door.
Slide over into the driver’s seat.
Lock the doors.
Turn on the ignition.