Memories of a Lifetime

Monday, April 13, 2009

In which I lose my Daddy

I will never forget the night it happened. It was January. I was sitting in semi-darkness at the kitchen table talking to my boyfriend on the phone. I watched from the table as my father left the house at about 9:00 pm. He said goodbye to my mother and me. I remember the house was warm and it was cold outside and I wondered why he was going out. Lately, that hadn't been too unusual for him, but still, this time there'd been no provocation that I had noticed, it was just a normal Monday night. I was 13 and in the 8th grade.

In the middle of the night, I heard the phone ring. We only had one phone at the time, and it was downstairs. I didn't get up, but I heard Leah get up and figured if there was anything I needed to know someone would come and tell me. No one did so I went back to sleep. I remember having a fleeting thought that it might have been something with my Aunt Jean, who had just had surgery and was still in the hospital.

When I woke up next morning, I got ready for school, almost as normal. Maybe it was the middle of the night phone call, maybe it was the atmosphere in the house, but one thing I did that was atypical was to not listen to the radio as I got ready.

When I went downstairs, Leah was there (Eric was away at college) but Mom wasn't. She told me that Mom had had to go to the hospital and that we were to go to school as normal, that everything was fine. Again, the fleeting thought that something was up with Aunt Jean, but didn't think too much about it. It was weird for Mom not to be home, not so weird for Daddy not to be home as he always left before we were even up. But the secrecy, not so weird. In our family we learned at an early age to keep the secrets and just go with it.

As I recalled it then, and as I still recall it, all was normal at school also. Until gym class. This part requires a little back story. As usual for high school gym teachers ours were a little -- ahem -- masculine. One of them also taught Math and had had my brother as a student. She loved him. Hated me and Leah, but loved Eric. And another important thing, Eric's given name is Paul the same as my father.

After our showers, I'm in the locker bay with my friends getting dressed. I remember I only had on my underwear when I heard Miss White walking down the locker room aisle, swinging the lanyard with her whistle on it and bellowing, "Where's Konicki?". (Keep in mind the bitch hated me.) Thinking I had once again done something to piss her off, I timidly stuck my head out of the locker row, wearing nothing but my bra and panties and holding my shirt in front of me like a shield. In a small voice I said "I'm right here." but in my mind I was thinking "I'm right here where I should be you bitch."

She's not even to where I am standing yet and she hollers, "What happened to Paul?" Confused, I answer "What do you mean, what happened to Paul, he's in Minnesota at college." She says, "No he's not, he was shot this morning over on the East End."

I remember there were faces popping out of the locker bays during this exchange and suddenly all the pieces fell together in my head. I collapsed, sobbing, saying "no, it's not my brother, it's my daddy!"

I don't really remember what happened after that. Somehow, I got dressed. One of my friends must have helped me, because the next thing I really remember is being in my next class and the guidance counselor coming for me. She explained to me that it had been on the news all day (Remember how I said I didn't listen to the radio that morning?) and that most people had thought that I knew and had just come to school. She told me I could go home and I said no, I couldn't, that my mom had wanted me to be in school and in school I would stay. I did find out later from a friend that it was true, most people did know what had happened and assumed that I did too and was just toughing it out at school until there was news. And kids being kids, no one really knew what to say, so they said nothing. Except for Miss White, who had the subtlety of a Mack truck.

When I got home that afternoon, I was a little weirded out to see Mom standing at the stove browning ground beef and onions, as though life were totally normal. She told me to come in and sit down, that she had something to tell me. Wanting to spare her having to tell me, I told her I already knew. She asked me how I knew and I told her the truth about what had happened that day.

(Needless to say, this little tidbit really upset her. She didn't like Miss White much anyway because of the way she had treated Leah, and the way she treated me. The next day she went up to the school and read the principal the riot act for what Miss White had done. Miss White ignored me for the rest of the school year, gave me B's in gym and the next year I was in the other masculine gym teacher's class.)

The next few days were a blur of Mom taking trips to the hospital and trying to run the house. We went to school as normal. I only went to see Daddy once in the hospital, and never told him goodbye because we all thought he was doing better. (I also think there were some silly age restrictions and they had to sneak me in, but I'm not 100% sure of that). The bullet had gone in his side and even though there had been some internal damage we all thought he was going to get better. What happened in the wee hours of January 31 was therefore even worse, because it wasn't supposed to happen that way. It should never happen that way.


Blogger Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

I was in kindergarten. We got a phone call early one morning - EARLY - and after, Mom disappeared. I don't remember the details (I was five) but I think Gabriella told me the news.

To this day, even though my memories of your father are reduced to a couple fleeting images, one of which is of him and my father sitting at your kitchen table at the top of the basement steps, drinking beers and laughing together, I can honestly say that I feel the loss.

What your gym teacher did was inexcusable. Unconscionable. Good on my Aunt Joan for taking it to her.

I have to commend you, Claudia, for being brave enough to tell this. Not only was your Mom my favorite Aunt (Good 'N' Plenty rocks!), but you have always been my favorite cousin. This just reminds me why.

Love you.

April 15, 2009 2:04 PM  

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