I was nine.
We had landed at Newark Airport on our Delta Flight where they had served us steak for breakfast (leave it to me to remember a tidbit about food).
My sister, my aunt Lilia, my cousin Linda and I had flown from Miami on route to Englewood because his condition had worsened. My sister was fourteen and Linda was a tiny little thing. Lilia was forty something or thereabouts.
My mother had left a few days earlier when he had the heart attack (again). She was thirty-five.
My uncle Rogelio picked us up at the airport and drove us to Englewood. I stayed back at my grandmother’s house while my sister and Lilia went to the hospital and met my mom.
I went to Doc’s store on Palisade Avenue and bought myself a giant comic book of Captain Marvel. My cousins Roger and Barbara came home from school and we were going to play a board game at Abuela Nina’s and then my Godfather’s wife called me next door to tell me that my cousin Miguel wanted to talk to me.
The burden of letting me know my Dad had died earlier in the day was left on the eldest of my cousins. Standing outside of his boyhood home, he delivered the heartbreaking news. By then everyone knew my father had passed, except for me. The bravery displayed by Barbara and Roger, children themselves, hiding this awful news as we setup for a game astonishes me even to this day.
Death comes into your life quickly and without notice. As a child, this was the most formative of moments for me because I learned about loss. This memory is still so vivid and the events of that day so clear; each year I take a moment to relive it and feel it. I don’t ever want to forget the pain associated with losing my father because in the memory is all the love I ever gave to him in the brief nine years of my life before he left.
I also remember the days that followed. The endless visitors at my aunt and uncle’s house, the wake at our local church, the burial service I was not allowed to attend (don’t ever deny that to any child) and the snow that fell on the day we were flying back to Miami.
Thirty-eight years defined my Father’s life and thirty-eight years later today, it has defined mine. I don’t know why this anniversary of his death has affected more than others, but today I miss my Dad in ways that I can’t even articulate. Today my forty-seven year old self wants to read the Captain Marvel comic book, wants to play a game with his two cousins and especially wants to tell that nine year old kid not to go next door.