Do you know what you were doing six years ago today?
I was sitting in the emergency waiting room at Mercy-St. John’s in Aurora. Stargate: SG-1 was playing soundlessly on the TV and it was all I could do not to bawl my eyes out as Richard Dean-Anderson and the others had some kind of quirky adventure on a faraway planet. God, I wanted to be with them or anywhere but there. I was trying to figure out how to get the G’oauld’s attention. I really wished I was lying in bed in the throws of a horrible nightmare.
Six years ago today was a Saturday. The opening day of deer season. It was much like today because it’s gray outside and in the 60′s. I was wearing the Ram’s t-shirt I had worn to bed and a pair of jeans I wouldn’t ever wear in public if my brain had been at the point of caring. I’d tell you what shoes I was wearing, but honestly I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.
My mom had been admitted to the ER minutes earlier. You’ll have to excuse me for the sudden burst of cynicism, but I don’t trust doctors. No offense to them, but I don’t like them. With all the modern miracles available to the world, a doctor had failed me. What was to keep another one from doing the same thing the very same day?
I’d gotten up early for a Saturday. I’m the type of person who can’t get enough of sleeping in. I’ll stay up late and then sleep until noon when I can. Sometimes one. For whatever reason that particular day, I woke up at 8:30. I put my contacts in, wandered into the living room and sat down on the reclining sofa. My mom was at the computer desk doing whatever. I think the TV was on. We talked some. And then we got a phone call. From my mom’s oldest sister. She asked if everything was all right because she’d just gotten a phone call from my mom’s younger sister that said she needed to get to our house right away. We were stunned. My brother was fine, I’m fairly certain he was awake at that point and watching TV downstairs.
Not ten minutes later my aunt’s car pulled into the driveway. She had my grandma with her. I was staring out the sliding glass door and my mom said, “Oh, God, something happened to Bobby.”
I turned around and snapped at her, “Don’t you say that. DO. NOT. SAY. THAT.”
He’d gone hunting near the Missouri-Iowa border, outside a town called Trenton. He went every year. He always came back with pictures of piles of slain deer with their guts gone and their tongues hanging out. Then we ate deer the rest of the winter. Rupert G Boomhauer the Deer hangs (to this day) in our basement, a handsome fellow with a wide eight-point rack and giant glassy eyes. A trophy. He was tasty, too.
They came to the door and we answered the one downstairs. You’ve never seen such miserable faces in your whole life. My mom told me that my grandma was the one who told us. I don’t remember. I thought it was my aunt, but she told me later that my grandma was afraid I hated her because she was the one who told us. I wouldn’t have hated her if I could remember. It wasn’t like she did anything other than bring the news and you know what they say about the messenger. She loved me and I loved her (she died in ’07 and I got closure by visiting a few hours before she died.)
The next couple of hours were a blur. I’m not the type of person who cries in front of others. I like to suffer alone. I know I’m not a pretty crier, so I tend to hide. I went to the bathroom, shut the door, and laid on the floor for a long time. I didn’t feel better, but composed enough to go back downstairs. He’d had a massive heart attack. My uncle, who hunted with him, said they’d all gotten up (a bunch of guys always went), eaten breakfast. He didn’t say anything about not feeling well. They went their seperate ways. The signal if there was trouble was three shots in a row. They only heard one. When they found him at before nine, he was face down, his gun propped against the stump where he had been sitting and the deer wasn’t too far away, bled out. He had a tiny scratch on his forehead, the only thing that was physically wrong with him. They tried to do CPR. One of the other guys said when he pushed on dad’s chest it made this kind of squish noise. The autopsy report said his heart had literally exploded.
He was 49. It was November 15th, his birthday was November 19th. I’d already gotten his present. I’d scheduled a speech for that day because I was in college and I couldn’t be home. Get the big important things out of the way, you know. He had been retired from the Federal Medical Center for Prisoners for a year and a half. My parents were making plans to go to Louisiana for two weeks with some of his other retired friends.
At some point my mom collapsed, she couldn’t talk, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move. I was pissed, if you’ll excuse my language, because 911 couldn’t find us. When the ambulance did arrive, it was followed by one of my dad’s former co-workers and friends. I was sitting in my car, my beloved 1998 Mustang that my dad had picked out (after swearing he would never buy me one because if I got in a wreck I’d probably die) for me. His friend came up to the window and asked what had happened and had we been able to get in touch with dad?
I had to be the one to tell him and I’ve never done anything so hard in my life since. Somehow I was able to remove myself enough from that situation that when I saw his face crumple with disbelief and sadness that I felt more sorry for him that I did for myself.
I couldn’t stand watching Stargate in that waiting room. Practically since I’d gone to college dad taped it for me because we didn’t get cable or anything in our dorm room. He recorded it for me every week. It was like some cosmic joke meant to really drive the pain deep.
They transfered mom to St. John’s in Springfield that evening. It was the longest night I can ever recall living. Neither one of us slept, just stared at the clock until the sun came up. Then I got to do the next hardest thing I’ve ever done. She asked me to take her credit card to the mall (wouldn’t a 21 year old love hearing those words any other time) and buy him a shirt and tie to wear with his suit. He hadn’t worn it in some time and she wasn’t sure if the shirt would fit. My aunt offered to take me, but I wanted to go alone. I got lost on the way to the mall. I ran a red light, breezed right through like it was green. An ambulance came up behind me and instead of getting in the far right lane, I got in the turn lane. He yelled at me through the speaker about the center lane is for emergency vehicles. Oh. I didn’t have any business driving that day. I hadn’t eaten since the morning before, I hadn’t had any caffeine and I love my Dr. Pepper. I hadn’t slept and frainkly, I wasn’t even there. I hated myself because I couldn’t stop breathing, couldn’t stop my heart from beating and worse, I had to look into the faces of my mom and brother and see how bad they hurt.
My brother is nine years older than I am and mentally retarded. My dad had spent the last year and a half around him all the time. They’d been close. My parents had been married for thirty-one years, right out of high school. Mom had never lived alone.
He had a nice funeral. A lot of people showed up because he had a lot of friends. He was funny, had a nice smile, and would talk to anyone. It was a good turn out. I wrote his eulogy and I included a story about the first date he and mom went on. People laughed. I was momentarily stunned because people were laughing at a funeral. It my was first eulogy. I’ve learned laughing at a funeral isn’t that bad.
The summer of 2003, I turned 21. I had just finished my junior year in college. He was very proud because he never got the opportunity. I had done my internship with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. During that summer all of my friends were doing the same and we were seperated. My temporary roommate was gone all the time and I had nothing better to do, so I sat down and wrote a book. I did 1,000 words a day and nearly finished it by the end of June. I can tell you right now, it was crap. It’s a great premise, but the writing is not good at all. It was the last creative fiction I did after 2003. My daddy was dead and I wanted to die, too.
When graduation rolled around in 2004, I stood in the gymnasium in front of my grandma and my mom, had a fit and said flat out I wasn’t doing it. I even stomped my foot like a four-year-old. My mom almost cried. I did do it, I used the tactic that had gotten me through another year of school and fooled the people who knew me best. I put on a smile. It was one thing I’d learned from him that was really useful. No matter how bad it gets, if you can smile and make a joke, you can get through anything.
Mom and I went on a cruise a few days after I graduated. We’d never been so far from home by ourselves. It was a learning experience. In Miami, FL, I was terrified we’d be robbed, raped and murdered. We weren’t. In fact, after the cruise we ended up spending a whole nother week in Florida by ourselves. Given the chance, I’d never have left. It’s hard to be sad when the sun is shining and you’ve got your toes buried in the sand while the waves are rolling in around you.
I got married in 2005. The night we were married, we were going up to my mom’s house to get my bag before we left for our honeymoon. Standing in the middle of the driveway was a six-point buck. He froze, looked at us, then bounded off. Tell me daddy wasn’t watching.
When I feel down and the world is going to crush me like a flea, I see them. Not every time, because that would be a lot of deer. But sometimes they appear is strange places, strange times of the day. On my 23rd birthday we had gone to the lake and had a cookout. We were driving down a back road for the heck of it and standing on the edge of the road was a doe and a fawn that still had his spots. I’d never seen anything but a picture of a fawn before. I believe in signs and angels and all that superstitious stuff. Maybe because I don’t want to believe we’re alone. Some people say people like me, who look for that kind of thing are delusional. Why would someone who’s dead waste their time sending signs? Shouldn’t they have something better to do? I feel sorry for those people, if they’re so jaded by the world that they can’t even believe in love.
I get depressed in the winter. I have ever since I went to college. My first winter away from home was a nightmare. I knew what was wrong with me and I’ve never been as far down as I was in 2000-2001. But last year I was having problems and I was snapish all the time. My husband actually said he was scared of me. I strive to be a little frightening, because I don’t want him to think I’m a weiner (he does anyway), but that was when I realized I really did have a problem. Last year was five years to the day, though. I thought about going to grief counseling, but I don’t want other people to see me cry. And I feel like their grief is worse than mine. I started writing again. I hadn’t done it for pleasure since that summer before dad died. And you know what? I got better. I started to feel better and get involved with the world again. So this November, I’ve really struggled with keeping up the pace. I was glad that NaNo was in November. I’ve stayed busy and I haven’t thought about the past as much. I haven’t written hardly a thing today except this post, but it was bothering me. God, he was proud of everything I did. I feel like such a schmuck because I wasted five years when I could have been writing. Or maybe I couldn’t have. Maybe I’d have failed at it. Something was definately broke. So I do it for him because it would have tickled him that I’m at least making an attempt. And I think about him almost every day, but I’m sure he’s mostly busy sitting on some big lake in heaven catching bass and talking with his buddies. Life is a lot quieter without him, but I’m getting through and while the 15th won’t ever be just another day, one of these days it won’t hurt so bad. In the meantime, there are stories to be written. Someday I’ll get around to writing the one he wanted about some greenhorn kid who won a big, mean, smart black stallion in a poker game.
Robert L. Cox (11/19/1953-11/15/2003)