The summer of ’92 my world
changed unhinged. My parents were traveling in San Francisco for a weekend and I enjoyed the respite of freedom while staying at a friend’s place. On the second day of their holiday my mother phoned unexpectedly. Her words, brief and to the point (or so I remember): “Gwendolyn, your father had a massive heart attack and died.” My knees buckled. I gripped the phone and sought out a chair for balance.
My fourteen year old self desperately tried to maintain a degree of stoicism. I adored my father, and the reality of his absence relentlessly echoed at every turn in my childhood home. Pacing from room to room I was surrounded by the evidence of his existence and dreams: books piled on the nightstand half-way read, his favorite foods untouched, a new computer barely used, travel guides marked for the following year, clothes never to be worn again…
I can only recall feeling the need to “deal” with the practical. It hadn’t occurred to me to mourn. What was mourning for a fourteen year old anyway? Instead, my reaction manifested in a brewing anger. I demanded unequivocal silence from my emotions.
Sophomore year of high school began, and I remember getting ready for the first day shadowed by an air of fear and hope that no one would feel sorry for me.
When searching for my locker early in the morning I bumped into my Freshman English teacher in the hallway. She immediately extended her arms wide and I ran into them without hesitation. It had been a little over a month since my father’s passing and I had not shed a tear until that moment. With my cheek resting on her shoulder the bottled up pain unleashed. This woman, this wonderful woman, simply embraced me and allowed me to release a turmoil I buried deep within. My carefully stowed rage finally found some semblance of peace.
Just last week I crossed paths with that English teacher. It was a glorious day, for I had the chance to thank her for that precious moment. She offered me love and support when I absolutely needed it, when I was blind to such a need. Our hug lasted for a brief moment in time, yet I can still feel the power of that gesture as if it were yesterday. Hope, security, and care radiated through her and helped me find some footing on tumultuous terrain.
Cheers to the people who extend a loving embrace, and cheers to the opportunity to say “Thank you.”