Today’s challenge is to write about your least favorite childhood memory. For me, this is easy. Not because the memory is easy. It is my most painful memory, and this is perhaps the most difficult thing I’ve ever written. But it’s easy in the sense that I don’t have to figure out what to write about.
When my dad turned 40 we threw him an “Over the Hill” birthday party. Everything was decorated in black and featured tombstones with the letters “R.I.P.” I have a photo of him standing in front of a cake, me holding his hand, while pointing to the tombstone with a goofy smile on my face. It was all a great joke.
Until a few months later when he woke up in the middle of the night with what he thought was a migraine. A migraine so terrible he told my mother to either shoot him in the head or take him to the ER. That night our lives changed. We learned that he had brain cancer and had six months to live. And bad memories started piling up on each other like stinking garbage in the dumps of Rio.
There were memories of him seizing on the floor in our kitchen, while I sat by his head, watching helplessly. Memories of him trying to carry my baby sister down the stairs in our home–we were all so terrified he would drop her, but none of us wanted to tell him he couldn’t hold his baby girl when every time might be the last. Memories of a hospital bed being rolled into our living room as a makeshift bedroom was erected next to the front door. Memories of well-meaning hospice workers handing me ridiculous books about kids who had leukemia, which I read diligently and catalogued under terrors that my father would endure. Memories of us four kids being split up and sent to different homes to live as six months stretched into eighteen months and my mom dashed between work and the hospital an hour away that had become his new home. Memories of visiting him in that cold hospital room when he looked like a different man. When he could no longer speak. When he didn’t even know who I was anymore.
But the worst memory, the memory that still haunts me, is that day my pastor sat beside me on the porch swing at his house. I was staying with him and his family, and he was getting ready to leave for the hour long drive to Peoria where my father was. He was going to visit dad and wanted to know if I’d like to come along. I was playing with his daughter and I was having fun–escaping, for a few hours, the pain of being daddy’s little girl when daddy no longer remembered who you were.
“There’s no pressure,” he said, “you can stay here and play.” And I so I choose to stay, and for a few hours I forgot about the pain. I filled my eleven year old head with dolls and toys and other nonsense.
That day my father died.
That day when I choose not to go, when I choose to have fun . . . That day was my last chance to see him, to hold him, to tell him that I loved him and I would always be his little girl. That day I made such a cheap, meaningless choice. And it is one I can’t seem to forgive myself for.
You can read about my friend Karla’s memory here.