I have never spoken much about it, but the floodgates opened today when I read this. No tribute this, nor a structured essay. It is a raw note, that may serve no purpose I am aware of.
It was April '01. I was in school and my dad didn’t come to pick me up. Instead his friend and my aunt came to pick me up, driving down in my dad’s car. How strange a partnership, I told myself. But, I didn’t want to face reality just then, it was just a short distance home from school, and any horrible event could wait those 20 minutes. There was an ambulance leaving the apartment complex when I got home, albeit empty. Just a coincidence, I told myself and I went up home.
After that, life has never been normal again.
I was 15 when my dad died – neither here nor there. Not young enough to forget the normal and get acclimatized to the new normal. Not old enough to have already charted out a normal of my own. Well, that can be argued in different ways. Death alters the living irreversibly, no matter what age we are left at, after all.
All we talk about when someone dies is how we miss that person, how they leave behind a void, how we yearn for happy memories etc. Yes, I have gone through and still go through all those emotions. But, something more fundamental changes when someone close to you dies.
The biggest change when someone close to you dies is that nothing is something that only happens to someone else anymore. Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night to put my ears to the lungs of the person sleeping next to me, to make sure they are still breathing. At other times, I get paranoid when my mother doesn’t pick up the phone even when I call her 2-3 times in a span of ten minutes, and I promptly start calling everyone else she knows in the city to track her down. When I see an ambulance in the apartment complex, I am not able to brush it off any longer as happening to someone else; it could very well have been summoned for my house. Anyone calling me out of the blue is no longer a social call. It only means something has gone wrong with someone close to me that I am being called to be informed about.
In every scenario, in every next step, in every otherwise normal situation, death figures as a highly possible outcome and that’s how the normal changes. Living with this paranoia of facing death of a loved one again is the biggest punishment that this life has bestowed upon me. I think, no, I know that I had much rather die than live through the death of a loved one ever again.
Whenever I am depressed with life, I tell myself that my dad’s death made me stronger, made me more resilient to face life’s challenges, geared me up for chaos and unhappiness and the transience of life. And then, the other me screams from within, “I didn’t want to be resilient. I just wanted to be normal and happy. I have no tangible use for this experience.” I have no answers to myself in those situations. Life can be led happier when there are no harsh lessons to learn, perhaps.
Most times, I feel guilty that I am not doing enough justice to my father’s memory. I do not necessarily miss him for the person he was. I only miss my own normal life that can be no more. But, seriously, think about it. It has been almost 15 years now since I last saw him in flesh and blood. Memory is a bitch, and I do not remember his smile, his facial features, his idiosyncrasies, his weird handwriting, in totality. I remember those things in bits and pieces, in individual situations. For instance, sometimes I sense the strong presence of his perfume. Not always though.
We used to go out once every month for dinner – Mom, Dad and I. Same restaurant, same table, same orders, same waiter (yeah, they were called waiters then). A ritual.
We used to have home-made pooris and mushroom for dinner every Saturday – Mom, Dad and I. A ritual.
We would drive down to random places, right from East Coast Road to Pondicherry to Bangalore, mom and dad in the front, me sprawled at the back of the car. Random trips, no planning, no outside food. All food cooked and packed by mom, the entire journey driven around by dad. As familial as it can get.
And that’s what I lost with the death of my dad. Not money. Not a cushy life. Not that sense of protection that a male presence brings in. Because my mother has always made up for all that and been more than what my father could ever have been to me.
I lost the feeling and sense and notion of being a family, and that’s something irreplaceable, and irreversible. That’s something that doesn’t heal with time. It never heals. And that's death's contribution to my life.