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Will You Be There?

I’ve been feeling really sentimental lately with all these celebrity deaths. As a result, it’s gotten me thinking of my father who passed away in 2001. I was at PCC and he died on Sunday, December 9. It was the week of finals and my family (mother and my dad’s two sisters) thought it’d be better to let me finish up my finals without distractions so they didn’t tell me until they were driving me home from the airport on Saturday, December 14. I got 104 (extra credit) on Mr. Zila’s History test and knew my dad would love to hear that since he loved any grades that were 100+. Instead, I suddenly found myself preparing a eulogy for my father’s funeral on December 17.

Most of you know by now that I’m a huge Michael Jackson (MJJ) fan. Well, you can thank my dad for that. Back in 1992 around the time the Free Willy movie came out, MJJ came out with a song called “Will You Be There.” My father loved that song TONS and back then said he wanted it played at his funeral. Well since I had no hand in funeral preparations (and I was still in the clutches of IFBism), it was never played. It’s something I regret not fighting for. To make up for it, I chose to walk down the aisle to “Will You Be There” as a tribute to my father.

All that to say that 8 years later, I still miss my dad. I’m over the bitterness about my family not telling me my father died sooner because I know they did it in my best interest. (Apparently when my uncle died of AIDS in the early ’90s, they had to give me a sedative to get me to calm down because I was so hysterical. They figured if that’s what happened with my uncle, I’d be ridiculous upon my father’s death. I wasn’t.) I talk to my husband about him but I feel like I’m talking about some imaginary person who never existed. (BTW, I know that’s a redundant phrase.) I don’t know how to keep his memory alive. What makes things worse is that I really lost my dad a long time ago. My father struggled with schizophrenia/paranoia and so the father that I had at 12 was radically different from the father I ended up with when I was 16. He passed away from a heart attack when I was 19. My mom said she watched his eyes fly open and gasp for air. He started foaming out the mouth and couldn’t breathe. She watched him die on their bed in their bedroom. She couldn’t bring herself to talk to me about his passing until a few years later.

Many of the memories I have of my father are fading and that scares me. We used to go to the park and toss around a football even though I was hopelessly nonathletic. (I still enjoyed it immensely.) One Christmas when all my parents could afford was one gift, he found out which CD I wanted the most that year and got it for me (Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill). When MJJ’s Live in Bucharest concert was being played on VH1 (wow – remember when they used to play music videos?!) after we first got cable, he called me in from my bedroom because he knew I’d love to see it. (His “Smooth Criminal” choreography always amazes me but I found out he stole it from Fred Astaire.) I’m writing this out, hoping it stays with me.

Me and DaddyAnyway, I wrote all that as a partial vent and also to ask how do you keep the memories of your loved ones alive. My husband will never know my father on this earth. My kids (if I ever have any) will think of my dad only as some kind of fairy tale. Pictures of him are limited but here’s one I found and scanned into my computer. I just try to think that he’s still looking down at me and smiling—whether I’m perfect or not.

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