I cried slicing tomatoes yesterday. They were good tomatoes; they had the rich tangy smell of tomatoes and tasted sweet and herbal and like tomatoes are supposed to taste. I thought, “These are the kind of tomatoes my dad would like.” He did not like mealy, pinkish tomatoes. He liked red, juicy tomatoes.
There are no words to take the sadness out of good tomatoes.
It’s one A.M. and I can’t sleep any more. I meant this first post back to talk about something else, I meant to apologize for being a bad blogger, for falling off the grid like that. When I started this up, I had every intention of blogging real regular-like. It didn’t really work out that way.
My dad died about three weeks ago.
I just got home.
Then @exmoorejane asked about coffee. I meant to write a comment to leave there, on Jane’s blog, even though we don’t have Tesco here and I don’t need strangely vulvular coffee products lurking obscenely in my cupboards. It’s just that coffee is important to me.
Then when I got started, I thought maybe this didn’t belong there after all. It’s very long and only a little about coffee.
The last time I saw my dad—before he got sick—was the day I left and moved six time zones to a different continent in a different hemisphere. Must’ve been seven-thirty or eight in the morning. Mid-fall, after Halloween and before Thanksgiving, too late for color and too early for snow. The sky was still gray, but light, and the grass was thick with frost and spindles of mist clung to the field across the street.
My dad, he never got up early, not unless he absolutely had to. Not unless it was really important. It always drove my mom nuts, she’s a sanctimonious early-riser.
He was up that morning, huddled in a fleece hoodie with a mug of coffee steaming in his hand. Always the coffee. Black, unless it was barely drinkable. Then he’d use cream and sugar rather than not have coffee at all. At the nursing home, he sent me down to the visitor’s coffee table in the front lobby to snag little cups of real half and half because he didn’t like the powdered creamer.
I don’t remember if I had a cup too. Probably. I’m like him that way. Always the coffee.
My mom was driving me to the airport, four hours to Newark.
He hugged me when I got in the car. He said goodbye, he said to call. He didn’t ask if I was sure. That’s another thing my dad and I have in common: he moved to a different country to be with someone he loved, too. That was a couple months before I was born.
The summer before I left we sat outside in the shade of the Black Walnut tree and drank coffee and talked. Outside, because it’s beautiful country up there on the hill and because he still smoked. I quit a few years earlier and he promised he’d stop too, if I stayed quit for a year, but he never did. He said it didn’t matter, that it wasn’t the cigarettes that gave him cancer. That was true, but I said they weren’t helping either. He smoked right up to the end, when he was coughing up pieces of himself, too sick to sit up in the wheelchair and go outside for a cigarette.
There’s a man in our building who smells like my Dad—cigarettes and coffee and motor oil. Sometimes he leaves a ghost in the elevator.
My dad never came to see me. We made plans, before I knew he wouldn’t get better. For a while I hoped that in a few years, when my Dad retired, he’d think about moving here. He’d have loved it.
A couple months after I arrived, our first Christmas living together, Em got me a coffee maker. Mine, the one my Dad showed up with one weekend at my college dorm when he came to visit, was still in the U.S. Not the kind of thing worth bringing; just a plain old Mr. Coffee that wouldn’t even plug in to the electrical here. It was still at his house, up on a shelf over the fridge. I cleaned it out and used it to make coffee while I was sorting through his things.
Right now, I want to make coffee. I want the comfort of the ritual measuring, the smell, the steamy gurgle when the pot finishes.
I’ve done an admirable job of tamping down the raw and wild and wounded parts of my soul, keeping them bound and at bay. I’ve sorted and washed and laundered and swept and shaken hands and thanked everyone so much for their kindness. I’ve scheduled and called and talked about markers and cemetery regulations and had things certified and notarized. My Puritan ancestors would be proud.
All the while, in the back of my head has been the lingering thought: it is times like these that destroy families, there are things that, if said or done now, will never be forgotten.
I choked down a lot of things I wanted to say, because true or not, valid or not, it wasn’t the time. I said a couple that I probably shouldn’t have, but it was from love not malice, and I was afraid that later would be too late.
Some things were said to me, were done, that I hope I can forget because I’m not sure I can ever forgive them, even if I understand why. There are things that were said and I’ll never understand why.
I had four weeks because I knew it would be the last time that I ever saw my father and I didn’t want to be the one to leave, not this time. My dad died three days after I got there. I spent the next three weeks adrift in other people’s daily lives, thousands of miles from home. Everyone else had their anchors, their obligations.
I promised myself, when I get home it will be okay to fall apart.
Last time I got home it was like this: the sleeplessness, the weeping jags, the tightness in my chest, the feeling that if I didn’t clutch it together, it would all rip apart. That was when I knew my dad didn’t have another year in him. I fought through it just in time to go back and watch him die.
I thought it might be easier because I’ve already been missing him every day for years. Every morning when I turn the pot on, he ambles into my consciousness and snuffles around for a cup.
It’s not easier. It’s unreal. I’ve been missing him for so long, I don’t know how to miss him differently. I still think, I should call Dad. I still think, I have to tell Dad about that.
It’s a dark and terrible place and I know I’m going in, one way or another. I’m afraid that once I’m there, I won’t be able to find my way back out. If I fight it, then it will fester on the inside until my chest grows so tight I cannot breathe and the strain of holding myself together alienates everyone who loves me.
I guess I should make that coffee now.
 Jane’s post: Free coffee and £100 to spend in Tesco