Maybe it's the first day of the worst month I remember in my life, because there are definitely worse days to come as far as memories are concerned, but the first is just like a knife in my guy. Oddly enough it should be a fantastic memory, June 1st is the day I graduated from high school. The whole big deal, celebration, first day out of imposed torture and random mistreatment by those who are intent on teaching us things we're convinced we'll NEVER use in the REAL world. Thinking back, it was a great day, but now it's marred as the first day of the month of memories. I had plans. I was going to attend William & Mary and get a law degree. I wanted to defend the innocent, make the world a better place and all that. I had a great boyfriend, best friends, big plans.
All that changed too quickly.
I'd just turned 17 two days before, so I had a whole year head start on college and the rest of my life. I was going to get a summer job and make some money to pay the insurance and such on my little Chevette. I was going to lay out in the sun and go for picnics in the park with the boyfriend Tommy. I was going to take my mom and dad to the beach for their first vacation ever. It might seem small to some people but at 17, those are the things that make you feel alive.
My Mom and Dad were both legally blind. My mom had once been an x-ray technician at MCV. She eventually filed for disability as her vision got too bad to navigate to and from work on the city buses. A lot of people these days see the term "legally blind" as something not debilitating. I know people who have been diagnosed as legally blind and still drive. That wasn't the case in the late 60's. Back then my Mom's vision was 20/200 with corrective lenses. I still don't know how she managed, but she did She's a strong woman.
My Dad worked at a little place called Nelson Electrical. Funny, I always thought he'd hung the moon and stars, even after all his faults came clear. In June of that year, 1981 - he'd only been home a few months. Yeah, he left home for oh, three years I guess, living with someone else. It didn't matter to me when he'd come home that he'd pretty much missed the pivotal years that made me the person I was at the time. He was my Dad and he was back home.
When I was little, we used to ride our bikes everywhere. Since neither of them could drive, everything to me was an adventure. The grocery store was a walk maybe a half mile with me riding on his shoulders. We had one of those metal carts with wheels and he'd drag it behind him with one hand, holding my Moms hand with the other while I sat on those Atlas shoulders and looked down at the world. On the way to the store once a week I'd get Hardee's french fries. I don't remember why, but I'd keep them in the bag all through the store and only eat them on the way home riding on his shoulders. Funny the things you remember even after so much time has passed.
I remember my Mom used to get so irritated because he always wanted to go bike riding on Sunday. Sunday was church day. Morning and evening services. That only left a few hours in the middle of the day to ride. Every once in a while I'd get lucky and he'd talk her into letting me skip evening services and then we'd ride all the way across town. Those were truly better days. Spending all that time with him while we rode around town, I learned a lot about my dad and the kind of person he was. He'd always get me Slurpees for the ride and then laugh at me when they were gone five minutes later.
Once I'd graduated, I would get up early to take him to work and then go to pick him up and bring him home at the end of the day. He and my Mom had bought the Chevette for me new, I think it was $5,500 right off the lot. I felt like a Queen in that little car and my Dad? For all his grown up responsibilities and such he was like a little kid. His Mom had never driven either so I was the first one in our little family who was able to drive and I vowed to myself that he or Mom either one would ever have to walk anywhere ever again. I still recall all the evenings he walked home in the pouring rail, three blocks from the bus stop to the house, and me standing at the door waiting until I saw him so I could run down the street with an umbrella to walk him the rest of the way.
For two weeks life was perfect.
Fathers Day was coming up, I had his gift and card ready, wrapped and waiting. Funny now I don't remember what day of the week anything else happened. I just know it was a weekday. My mom asked me when I woke up that morning if I could take my Dad lunch. He'd forgotten his little brown bag. Another opportunity for me to drive? No problem. I got dressed in my white carpenter jeans, don't remember the top but it was mostly white too, and drove the few miles to drop off the forgotten lunch bag. The shop was dark by most company standards and cool, cinder block walls keeping the majority of the heat out in the early summer. It would get hot enough to challenge hell later in the year, but that day it was nice inside. Tommy was working there too so I got to see my Dad and my boyfriend at once.
I spent probably a half hour or so there and when I got ready to leave, I hugged my Dad. He tried to hold me at a distance. I was wearing while and he was dirty and had grease from the transformers he worked on in smudges on his hands and clothes. "You'll get dirty babydoll"
"I don't care, I love you."
"I love you too."
That was the last time I saw my Daddy alive.
Great. Now I'm sitting here almost thirty years later bawling like a baby. Some people I'm sure would give their soul to have such a perfect ending with someone they love. The memories fade, but I'm not sure the month or the day ever gets any better.
I got home from taking lunch and decided to spend some time laying out in the sun. That was big back then. I don't know how long I'd been out there when my Mom came outside and told me I needed to get dressed. She was calm so I didn't worry about it then. She said that old man Nelson had called. There'd been an accident at work and they were taking my Dad to the hospital. That's all. Nothing to worry about right? He didn't sound upset, so we had no idea.
I changed clothes and showered, and drove all the way to MCV Medical Center only to find out he hadn't gotten there yet. I don't remember Tommy at all that day. I would think that he'd have come to the hospital in the ambulance with my Dad, but he wasn't there so I guess Nelson made him stay to finish out his day. I just don't remember. I just remember how long it took them to get my Dad there. I remember the doctor coming out and telling us he'd been electrocuted. I remember him saying they were working on him. I remember still not being all that worried because no one else seemed to be. Then I remember that doctor, even then he seemed like he was too young to be a doctor.
"I'm sorry. We were unable to resuscitate Mr. Pond."
What? It took a minute to register. I didn't cry. Not a single tear. Someone was there by that time, I don't remember who it was, but they drove us home. Someone else went later and got my car and brought it home for me. The next few days were a blur. I held onto the Fathers Day card I'd bought like a life preserver. I was strong. Made sure there was food out. That people had drinks and there was coffee made. And I slept. I slept a lot. In my dreams Daddy was still there with me, riding bicycles and buying me Slurpees. The first tears I cried were right before they closed the casket and I leaned over and kissed his cool waxy cheek to tell him goodbye.
June 15, 1981.
Someone else died that day. Electrocuted like my Dad had been. I hated him. He'd worked for Vepco, the big guys on the block. He wasn't blind, and made a lot more money than my Dad doing the same thing. But the reason I hated him was for taking that spotlight, making the world mourn for anyone other than my Daddy.
I still miss him like it was yesterday. I can steel feel his whiskers against my cheek when I told him I loved him in the parking lot of Nelson Electrical Company. I can still see him loping down the street on the way home and right now? I can still remember his face. I hope that never changes.