My dad… wasn’t always the man he is today. But this isn’t about him; he left when I was around 8. My mom met a wonderful man a couple of years later. He was gentle, patient, and always spoke to me like what I had to say mattered to him. He was also “ma’s friend” for most of my childhood, and a constant in my life. He talked to me about baseball, gave me a mitt and taught me how to oil it to keep it soft, and introduced me to Broadway and classical music. He was full of life and positivity, and could always be heard humming a couple of his favorite songs. I started typing what they were …then stopped… Because I’m selfish and want to keep that part of him to myself.
I won’t share the name I actually called him. That, too, is precious to me. But, I will say, I once asked him what his name was, because I’d called him by the other moniker the entirety of our time together. I was surprised upon hearing it, because it was so plain and he was larger than life to me. The first time I bought a gift for someone other than my mom… It was a white mug with GEORGE in baby blue letters. I’d purchased it on father’s day at the Hallmark store a few blocks away from my apartment. And I was scared shitless the entire time because, growing up poor, I knew better than to waste money on something that wasn’t a necessity. Tail between my legs, I showed my mom what I’d spent my allowance on… She didn’t yell at or punish me.
George later moved in with us in Brooklyn, because “it’s closer to work.” In hindsight, the subway ride from his home in Queens wasn’t that much longer.
He was there for a lot of my milestones. My mom was a single mom who did her best, but she wasn’t someone you went to for comfort or sympathy. My dad made her bitter, I think, or maybe it was just how she was raised. She was, and is, a good person who had trouble expressing concern for others. The first time I got my period, she didn’t understand what I needed and basically told me to suck it up. George told her to let me stay in bed and rest. And then he left. Only to return with McDonald’s. Remember how I mentioned growing up poor? McDonald’s was considered a treat for most of my formative years. That was the first time I’d ever felt treasured, that my feelings weren’t trivial or an inconvenience.
I lost him before I had the chance to tell him I loved and appreciated him, and just how much he meant to me. That day is imprinted in my mind like a goddamned curse. Every terrifying moment that morning, the numbness and hope tinged confusion. And the aftermath. Of picking up the pieces that were my mom. Of bringing his comb and toothbrush to the precinct because his adult daughter was trapped in California due to suspended flights, so could I handle it for her? Of checking the Found database on a neighbor’s computer, because I didn’t have internet at home. Of seeing his name… Of checking, and double checking to make sure it was the right list and oh my fucking gods it is… Of the relief, both for him and for my mom who’d been catatonic for days… Of the grief… My mother’s keens… When his daughter called to tell us her well intentioned friend had submitted his name to the wrong list.
It’s been 19 years. And I still go into fight or flight when I hear a plane flying overhead. It wasn’t until I had my oldest six years ago that I could look at old pictures of the towers without having a panic attack. I still can’t look at the ones from that day.
I stayed off social media yesterday to avoid triggers. I baked, I read. I didn’t shed one tear. I had a laugh reading Emerald Blaze. And, Freedom app finally releasing me at 12am, I shared the picture I took of the quote on Ilona’s fan group. A mod removed it because it wasn’t under a spoiler tag. And that’s when I started crying. It’s ridiculous. Over a stupid picture. And someone who was only donating their time.
It feels good to get everything out there. Other than my dragon and a discord group I wrote the initial version of this post to, I’ve never spoken these thoughts out loud. I mean, I guess I still haven’t, but even typing it was cathartic. Maybe next year, I’ll be strong enough to celebrate his life instead of cowardly hiding from his death.