A Gift For my Father
My Dad, Richard Michael Brown would’ve been 55 today. Although next year he would’ve been gone a decade, every thread of that experience has been sewn into not just my memory but my very DNA. Death, especially your first major loss, shifts you. You become acutely aware of the time on not just the clock of those you love but your own timepiece. To say I miss him is an understatement. There has not been a day in the last decade where he has not come into my thoughts for one reason or another. I’m acutely aware of my feelings especially so close to giving birth. As his only child, this would be his second grandkid. And parts of me yearn for the ability for both him and my children to be able to have a relationship. But as with all troublesome things, I tend to write them down. This is an excerpt from a far longer original piece, which will be ready to share in full one day.
“Death ends a life, not a relationship.”
― Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie
Looking at my inbox, I was immediately confused. There was no email from Dad. But instead, there was a cluster of emails from address’ that my inbox did not recognize.
‘Dennis, Gareth, Nigel’ I mumbled to myself scrolling down the dozen or so emails that had all seemed to reach me in the last half an hour. Although on the surface I had no idea who these people were, the tiniest bell began to ring. A bit like that of a hum of a train coming a way off in the distance.
Upon closer inspection, the subject lines were all eerily similar.
The sound of the train was growing louder.
‘CALL ME NOW’
‘PLEASE CALL THIS NUMBER’
‘PLEASE GET IN CONTACT’
My inquisitiveness and the seeming urgency of the matter began to outweigh the fear of me being hacked or sent a virus. I scrolled back up to the top and closed my eyes as I double clicked on the latest email.
The body of the email itself simply read: ‘Please call me now.’
The signature was that of a Nigel Larkin and the address below his name was the same as the office my father worked at and the law firm I had worked in for a few years when I had just finished my GCSE’s.
All of a sudden it became clear. My father’s office system had been hacked or had a virus and was potentially trying to infect everyone on their email list or address book. I had to let Dad know right away.
‘Dad - you might want to speak to someone in your IT department, I think your office has been hacked as I’m getting well dodgy emails.’ I typed.
Within seconds of me hitting send, I had another email. This time from Marcia. I liked Marcia. She was a friend and colleague of my fathers. She was first generation British birthed by Jamaican parents which is why I think her and my father got along so well. She also had a gap in her front teeth like both Dad and I. But what really made me look up to her was her dedication to being her authentic self. She was a black middle-aged woman, with dreadlocks, a white wife, and two adopted kids. If her background, sexuality, and lifestyle weren’t already enough to shatter stereotypes, she was also one of the most in-demand human rights lawyers in the UK. Yeah, she was a little bit awesome.
Her email simply read:
‘Candice, please call me urgently.’
The train was now in sight and the tiny bell was now similar to the ones they used to ring when two people were announced as married.
Now, why would Marcia email me? Since leaving the law firm, I had seen her on the various occasions I had popped into the office to hustle Dad for fifty quid or so.
‘Cand, you’re gonna have to learn to meet me halfway, you know?’ He would sarcastically advise whilst handing over a crisp note.
If Marcia was ever in earshot of our exchange, she would tell him he could afford it and she would tell me to enjoy my youth whilst I still had it. Plus she would always compliment my outfit and makeup choices. I was always flattered, so of course, I liked the woman. But there would be absolutely no need for her to reach out to me unless Dad told her to do so.
I refreshed my inbox.
Still no response from Dad.
As long as I’d known him, technology had always been a permanent extension of his physical existence. As time has trimmed the bulky mobile down to the now much-coveted blackberry, I couldn’t remember a period where my Dad wasn’t always super connected. When it came to being tech-savvy, he was always the one teaching me. So this delay in response was very unlike him.
I sat back in the swivel chair and pondered my options. Whilst thinking, I glanced around the empty apartment. It was beautiful.
It was the perfect blend of Ikea and imagination. I guess it helped that my host mother Giusi was a highly trained architect and skilled interior designer. The space has a swish practicality to it. Whilst grey and white marble floors screamed grandeur, it was also just very practical for a family of four, an au pair, cleaner, and house dog. Although it was open plan, smartly placed pillars enabled the space to feel divided. The kitchen was stark white and modern. There were no handles to cupboards or draws. Every door closed silently and every appliance had its place. The one appliance I had taken too was the espresso machine. Prior to living in Italy, I had turned my nose up at coffee drinkers.
Most especially my father. A dedicated caffeine consumer, his day couldn’t begin without a black coffee.
‘Its the elixir of life, Cand. The elixir of life. One day you’ll come to wonder how you were ever without it.’ he would advise.
And he was right.
Now tucked away in what could be considered a cave of a study which was next to the kitchen, I racked my brain with what to do next as I still hadn’t heard from him. There was no point calling his mobile because if he hadn’t yet responded to my emails then I could only assume he was parted from it. Which I still found strange but perhaps there was a first time for everything.
Standing up, I hastily walked to my room and snatched my mobile off the dresser.
Even though there was the potential that I could speak to her. I decided to call his house number
‘0-2-0-8-5-2-0-5-5..’ I spoke aloud whilst punching the number in.
He had helped me memorize his house telephone number when I was seven.
Ever the quick thinker, I let him know what a waste of time this boring lesson could potentially be should he ever decide to change it.
He promised me he would never.
And he had stuck to his word.
The seconds and perhaps minute it took a long distance call to connect didn’t usually feel so strained. But for some reason time felt like it was an elastic band slowly being stretched to its capacity. I knew that as soon as I heard the first ring the tension from the band would be released all normalcy would be restored.
But the first ring never came. Instead, I was greeted with the engaged tone.
Momentarily my breath became trapped in my throat and it became hard to exhale.
In all the years I had known and used that number it had never been engaged.
Now the heat of the train was upon my neck. The bells had become so loud that all other sounds ceased to exist. I knew well and good that I should make haste and get off the tracks but I was paralyzed.
Without proof, without any tangible reason, my mind went to the most absurd corner of its room and quietly declared.
‘I think he’s dead’ my mind whispered
Whilst I was slow at getting off the track, I outed that idea with the swiftness of a 100meter gold medalist.
‘Dead? What do you mean dead? I mentally shouted back, the question itself being rhetorical.
‘Candice you are letting your imagination get the best of you. Something is out of place but let’s be realistic, you only spoke to Dad a few days ago. He was great. Happy even. He said he had just gotten over a cold. He is excited to see you for Christmas. That plan just doesn’t die. And plus, you’ve never even met death before. Do you really think this is what it looks like?’
I waited for my mind to present its counter-argument.
‘Exactly’ I exclaimed, sure that my imagination was just running wild.
But not sure enough to not seek a second opinion.
I decided to ring my Nan, my maternal grandmother. No matter how I looked at it there were a few questions that needed answering. But for some unexplainable reason, I couldn’t bear to call any one of the dozens or so of his colleagues who had reached out. Although I knew I was incorrect in my overzealous thinking, if I happened to be correct, which was impossible - but if that impossibility was likely to mutate like that of a cancer cell, I did not want to hear the worst from a stranger. My Nan had always been brilliant at remaining calm and collecting every thread of evidence before she allowed herself to expend energy on a reaction. A Bajan born hard working woman, she had migrated to London in the late 50’s. Like most coming from the sunnier climates, she quickly realized she had been sold a dream and not only was the cold snap almost unbearable but it was clear that England wanted the workmanship of black Caribbeans but not necessarily the people themselves. Having no money to return home, she put her head down and steeled herself against every racial slur and unfair pack packet. Having raised me in tandem with my Grandfather since I was a baby up until I was eight years old, she knew all too well how to quiet my vivid imagination. Right now I needed someone to keep me in check. And she had always been the one to provide me with that.
It’s not until after I had dialed her number and was waiting for her to respond that I realized my hand was shaking. And I was pacing. Wendy had left her dog bed and had come to join me in the open living space. Perhaps she could sense my apprehension. She curled up underneath the swivel chair and watched me without expression.
‘Hello.’ my nan answered
‘Nan, Nan it’s me listen. I know this is going to sound crazy. But I need you to try and get in contact with Dad. I think he’s dead.’
There was a slight pause which gave me time to notice that I had begun to cry.
‘What are you talking about?’ asked Nan with a nervous chuckle.
In retrospect, it must have sounded like the epitome of madness. I hadn’t given any reason or explanation, I had not warmed up with the evidence I had thus far, I had just dived in with only my intuition as back up.
‘NAN PLEASE DON’T MAKE ME REPEAT MYSELF!’ I was now shouting with frustration.
‘I’M GETTING ALL THE STRANGE EMAILS, HE WON’T RESPOND TO ME AND HIS HOUSE PHONE IS ENGAGED. PLEASE CAN YOU HELP ME FIND OUT WHAT’S GOING ON OR NOT?’I demanded, breathlessly.
Wendy was now at my feet circling me, her tail wagging aimlessly.
After a few moments, she conceded.
‘Alright, alright. Calm down. I will try to call and find out what is happening. I think I have his number in an old diary somewhere. I will call you back.’
‘Thank you.’I cried as I ended the call and let the phone fall onto the kitchen countertop.
I wanted so badly to pull myself together, to buckle to the idea that I was overreacting and at the worst, he had got into an accident. Because really, who would tell someone’s only child that their father was dead via email? No one was that void of emotional sensitivity, surely. Ok, they didn’t want to tell me via email but still, who would reach out, knowing that said persons child, was in a foreign country where she already felt isolated and alone, to get her to call them back only then to hit her with a blow so hard, that she would potentially never recover at all? Again, I just didn’t think that anyone would think that as correct. In a few moments, this would all be cleared up, I’d make another espresso and may even head back out onto the balcony, and giggle about how foolish I had been.
I did not dare count the minutes between me calling my Nan and her calling me back.
Time would only exacerbate the pain.
So it could’ve been five or perhaps twenty minutes later when the sound of my phone being made to waltz across the kitchen countertop by its own vibration, made me lift my head heavily.
Snatching the phone off the counter I pressed the green button with trembling digits.
The call was connected.
Although she had yet to utter a word, I could tell she was there.
And her silence spoke volumes.
There seemed to be a cosmos-sized space between the first breath and first word.
‘Candice, I’m so sorry.’ she whispered.
And that's all she needed to say.