A texting line in difficult times
I chose my college based on the vibe of the people in the Facebook group that admits students to the school. This blond boy commented on my intro post and said that he liked one of my favorite artists too, and my friend told me that’s proof enough – if it is, it sure is. there are many more.
My father thought it was a bit silly to make decisions based on “vibes,” but he supported my choice. That was when we drove to New Hampshire in August, when he told me about his freshman year of college and all the nicknames his new friends had given him. He was very excited for me. Some time later, he learned he had pancreatic cancer, so we started spending more time together.
My freshman year of college, during the first year of the pandemic, was horrible and isolating and all about making the best of it; My classes are online, and I eat soggy takeout meals from the dorm’s upstairs dining room with two of my friends. I feel guilty about being away from my dad and not even enjoying it.
That spring, I used Tinder for a few weeks because I was embarrassed that I hadn’t experienced a great Love. I matched up with the blond, and we chatted dryly about our hometown, then stopped talking; I forgot who didn’t reply to anyone.
Summers are baseball games with my dad and beach days it’s almost forgotten that he’s even sick. But then summer ended, and I went back to school.
In the fall of my sophomore year, Covid restrictions were eased. I spent my time in cafes. I saw the blond boy in front of the library door while I was on the phone and again in my dining room while his friend played Taylor Swift. I went out to parties in little shirts. I saw him selling discs on a quad for his radio show and laughed at one of his jokes while he awkwardly tried to sell an album to someone else.
I called my dad, who was recovering from a major, unsuccessful surgery, and told him that my classes made me feel giddy. He is very happy. He wanted me to go to school, so I–knew he had my mom around. Although they are divorced, she has been by his side since his diagnosis.
But then Thanksgiving came, and he had to be hospitalized, and it was obvious that the day-to-day medication had a time limit. Nothing but hospice care. I arranged the final remotely and booked a plane ticket home to hold his hand.
My life became spent with my father and also waiting for him to die. I smashed rocks, refilled the syringe and watched him sleep. I listened as Mom instructed his nurses, and I whispered to my sister about where his cat was going. I ate takeaway and more ramen than I ever had in college. I chose my face. The four of us watched movies, listened to music, made jokes and cried a lot. I didn’t sleep. Everything was wasted away.
On Christmas Eve, I posted a song that I liked on my Instagram story. It feels dishonest to post something so trivial; I was anticipating grief. That blond guy, who was on the radio show, replied, saying he liked the song and asking what I was doing.
“Watching a movie,” I replied. I’m not referring to the hospital bed in front of the TV.
He told me about his family tradition, which sounded lovely; they sound like what my family used to do.
I worry each message will be the last. And then I would have to sit by my father’s bed, fill up the syringe and fix the pillowcase and cry non-stop. I felt so ashamed that I had abandoned two months of his care with a flirty text. But our passages made me laugh.
When my father passed away, I was bathed, condolences. The radio guy was the only one I texted back. Something about an article he read, the new Big Thief single, or whatever silly thing we come up with. He sent me a voice memo to tell a story that was too long to text, and if calling him didn’t feel like breaking some texting rule, I did. just to hear more of his voice.
The radio guy asked me out for coffee when we got back to school. It will be a week and a day after my father dies. I flew back to school, carrying photos and mementos from my father’s house, including his coat that I had taken in the last sweep, rushing to find the necessary mementos .
I stood in the bathroom 10 minutes before our coffee date and felt like vomiting. I worry about my voice and get pimples on my forehead. But we stayed there sipping lattes for three hours, and I liked the way he smiled. Leaving the cafe, I looked down at my dad’s coat and noticed that the zipper was broken. The only coat I have for the winter is my dead father’s one that’s broken.
I told the radio boy that it was broken, and he asked why I was wearing it then. I have no answer for him. We didn’t hug, but we lingered outside the cafe for another half hour while I shivered.
Our first kiss was on our third date in a blizzard. I was hesitant to kiss him because it meant I was starting something I could lose. A few days later, I told him I was scared to go out because my dad had just died and everything scared me.
I don’t think he didn’t know what to say, but he told me it was okay. He said he’s sorry. Then he said something to make me laugh.
Everything about him feels light, like he’s holding my hand and pulling me into a world where people don’t die and everything is so exciting. But it didn’t look like my world, so I stood there, torn. I need my grief, but I can’t take it either.
My mother is the devotion itself. She was the one who was with my dad at every doctor’s appointment, the one who sat with him in every hospital, the one who made him laugh, the one who held his hand. My parents finally got back together just in time to lose each other. When we were cleaning out my father’s basement, she told me that I should marry someone I could laugh at. She said that’s what she’s always had with my dad.
The radio boy started popping up everywhere, and I started looking for him. Between classes, he would come over to say hello and lead me to the next class. He’ll bring me the best focaccia on campus, or we’ll go out for coffee. He played guitar for me in his dorm, because of course he did, and I listened – painfully aware of the trope we were both playing and wondering if it all felt feel a bit too much or not.
I worried that I was building up the pain, rushing after it, gluing the broken parts of me back together so I could move on – trying to be “just like before” and realizing that that doesn’t exist. I worry that someone like this boy that I take care of will be careless, and I will be broken.
My grief doesn’t seem right to me; it’s a bit blurry when I stare at it in the mirror. It doesn’t wear all black; he’s wearing my boyfriend’s sweater. I grieve as I imagine the way my dad made fun of my boyfriend’s name, asked him about his favorite band, and told him not to hurt me. My grieving will miss my father for the rest of my life and will urge me whenever something good comes, telling me to worry, because anything can go to waste.
Soon to know you, midnight stormy, I hate thunder. The radio guy told me he wasn’t going anywhere, which made me feel safe and a little sick. Even though I was scared and wanted him there, I still felt I understood him better. I don’t think he has the right to declare that he will stay put. Nothing is certain, and that is worse than thunder.
But now he’s not going anywhere. I stay home in the summer and miss him no matter how we FaceTime. We told our mother about each other. I know he puts down a dirty bottle when he needs to study. He saw me folding the laundry, and I’m still terrified of the loss.