Unspoken Goodbyes

Describe the last difficult “goodbye” you said.

It’s 2018 and I am lying on the living room couch listening to my son and nephew playing on the Xbox in my bedroom. It’s a hot South Texas day in August and my only thoughts are getting as much rest as possible after the tumultuous Summer Reading Program we had at the public library. It was the first program I ran as acting-supervisor of the department, as the children’s supervisor had left before summer began. There were some hopes that I’d take the title before Autumn Programming began, though I know there was a slim chance I’d even be their second or third choice for the position. Maybe their fourth? Possibly their fifth. 

A black moth lands on the front screen door. Memory makes it the size palm of my hand, but it might have been much smaller, though still bigger than most moths that flutter around during the day. 

I call out to the boys to come see the moth while snapping a picture with my phone for my Instagram. “The invasion starts tonight,” I typed and hit post. It is August 9, 2018.

The day goes on. My nephew gets picked up and Shaun and I wind up at Walmart where I buy him a Bendy plushie to cheer up my melancholy son. He’s like me in that way. Some things weigh heavy on his shoulders, though today I am guessing it’s because his visit with his mother was cut short and his cousin went home earlier than expected. 

The day goes on. It becomes night. An unfamiliar phone number calls my phone. After I ignore it a couple of times, Shaun finally asks to see the number. He is six at this time. It is the summer before the first grade. He looks at me and says, “I think it’s one of my mom’s friends.”

I write this off as any father would as a childhood fiction. What friend of his mom’s would be calling me? Which would have my number? But I assured him that if they called again, I would answer it. Another call comes in, but I miss it after excusing myself from the bedroom. My phone beeps with a voicemail. 

My first thought isn’t the seriousness of the call. In fact, I laugh a little at the fact the nurse messes up the mispronunciation of her name. My mind is a kicked hornet nest even as my stomach drops at the sound of the nurse’s voice. 

My instinct is to call her mom. No answer. To call her older sister. No answer. To call her brother. Her younger sister. Anyone who isn’t me. 

No. Answer. 

I wake my mom up. “We need to go to the hospital. Something happened.”

I don’t tell her the tell and hide them from Shaun. I leave them both in the car as I rush into the emergency room. 

“I was called. My son’s mom.” 

I give the lady at the front desk her name. I try calling her mother. I leave a voicemail.

It is now August 10, 2018. 

“There’s been an accident,” the ER nurse tells me. “She was the only survivor.” 

Her mom. Her older sister. Her youngest nephew. Gone. 

“She doesn’t know, and we ask that you don’t tell her. She needs an operation and we can’t have anything that may compromise her.”

She lies on a gurney. Maybe a hospital bed. I can’t tell white. Her voice is broken. Scared, maybe. I speak to her for a bit before the world around becomes a rush of whirls and swirls. It expends my energy trying to keep myself upright. A nurse brings me a chair as I sit beside her in silence. When she asks about her family, I tell her I haven’t heard anything. I make the excuse that I wasn’t on their emergency contact list, but they’re trying to get a hold of her family. 

I excuse myself to use the restroom. I try her brother-in-law on Facebook. I try her brother. I try her younger sister. 

As they wheel her off to the OR, I am left in a waiting room. The dams break and I call my mom to inform her of everything, but to keep it secret from Shaun. She drops him off with my aunt. I speak to the police. I speak to her boyfriend. I call friends. I cry some more. 

What follows are funerals. One for her sister and nephew. One for her mother. She is told the news and I break the news to Shaun. We both cry. We both have to make with what we have. 

The next summer, I say goodbye to my estranged father. It’s easier. I have time to process that this almost stranger is leaving me again. I tell him that no matter our history, I still have love for him. The words are true. I count myself lucky to have been given the chance to say them. 

And while his absence is present in the months and year after, it begins to fade. Not like them. Not like the family who took me in and kept me even after the relationship ended. Who called me on the wrong day, but close enough to my birthday. Who checked in on me when it came to see how I was doing. If I was okay when Shaun’s mom moved on. 

To this day, it hurts when I realize they’re no longer just a phone call or text message away.

Photo by Vie Studio

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