Wednesday
Oct102012

Big Ray

By Michael Kimball


 

Bloomsbury
October 2012
978-1408828052


 

My father probably died on January 28th, 2005, but I wouldn't know he was dead until a few days later when my sister called to tell me. My father lived alone and nobody else knew he was already dead either.

**

January 29th, 2005 would have been my mother and father's 45th wedding anniversary—if my father hadn't died the day before, if my mother hadn't divorced him ten years before that.

**

I turned thirty-eight years old on February 1st, 2005, but my father didn't call me to wish me a happy birthday, which was odd because my father called me nearly every day. I realized he hadn't called for the few days before my birthday either, which was also odd, but I thought my father was probably just waiting to call me on my birthday. It wasn't until the next day, February 2nd, that I realized my father hadn't called me because he was dead.

**

The evening of February 2nd, I walked into the house and I heard somebody talking. It was my sister leaving a message on the answering machine. I thought she was probably calling me to wish me a happy birthday, but her voice didn't sound right, and I couldn't understand what she was saying. I picked the telephone up and started saying my sister's name. I repeated it until I got her attention. I knew there was something wrong and I was letting her know I was there.

**

I couldn't get my sister to tell me what was wrong. She was crying and I couldn't get her to stop. She was sobbing and then she started saying my name. She was repeating my name. She was getting ready to say something difficult. My sister caught her breath. She told me our father was dead.

**

I don't remember what I said back. I just remember how hot my face felt. The skin on my cheeks and my forehead suddenly felt wet. I felt like I was running a fever. I felt like I had gotten very sick very fast and I was going to throw up. My chin started to shake and my eyelids fluttered. My eyes couldn't focus. I remember looking around the room like I didn't know where I was anymore. Maybe my eyes were looking for my father even though my brain knew I was never going to see him again.

**

The rest of that telephone call is difficult to remember. I think I might have said, No—as if I was disagreeing with my sister, as if I could have brought my father back to life just by denying he died. Or I might have said, Oh no—as if it was some kind of accident that could be fixed and didn't really concern me. The more I think about it, the more I think I said, Oh no—which seems so stupid now, so inadequate. I'm sure my father would have been disappointed with my response, if he had known what it was. My father was disappointed with so many things about me.

**

I remember how I wanted to hang up the telephone. I wanted my sister to call back and say something else. I wanted her to sing happy birthday to me.

**

I asked my sister what happened and she said she didn't know. She told me she had spoken with the police and the coroner's office. She would call me back when she knew more.

**

I hung up the telephone and I stood there looking at it on the wall of the kitchen. My wife had come into the kitchen and she was standing next to me. She must have known from the tone of my voice that something was wrong. She put her arms around me and we stood there in the kitchen holding onto each other and not saying anything.

**

I stared at the telephone on the wall. I waited for it to ring again.

**

It was a couple of hours before my sister called back. She told me she would go to the funeral home in the morning. She said there wasn't anything else to do until then. I remember how I just agreed with her. There wasn't anything anybody could do.

**

I went into the bedroom and lay down on the bed. My wife followed me and lay down beside me. My father was dead and it felt like the whole world had changed. My wife held onto me and I lay in bed with a pillow over my face. It was all I could do right then.

**

After I found out my father had died, I cried so much that first night my face got puffy, my eyes prickly and dried out. I felt wired with grief and I couldn't sleep. It was physically exhausting to have a dead father.

**

My father's obituary lists February 2nd, 2005 as the official date of death even though that's just the day my father was found dead. The obituary also notes that my father was a member of the Waverly School Board and that he enjoyed playing cards, hunting, and fishing. It is sad. Those are the most notable things about my father that could be written in an obituary.

The obituary then lists the family that preceded my father in death and the family that survived my father. I'm one of the people who survived.

**

My father was sixty-five years old when he died—plus nine months, plus about three weeks, plus another few days. I can't be exactly sure because my father had been dead for a few days before anybody found him. My father died alone in his one bedroom apartment and I still feel guilty about the fact that it was five days before anybody knew.

**

We found out my father was dead because he hadn't paid his rent. The apartment manager sent one of the maintenance men to check on my father in his apartment. The maintenance man noticed that my father's pickup truck was parked in front and a few newspapers were piled up around the apartment door. The maintenance man listened at the apartment door and heard the television turned up really loud inside. He said he knocked, but my father didn't answer, which the maintenance man thought was odd, which was why he thought something was wrong. The maintenance man didn't know the volume of the television was up so loud because my father didn't hear well, which was only one of the many things that was wrong with him.

**

The maintenance man didn't want to open the door to my father's apartment by himself. He didn't want to be alone if he was going to find my father dead, so he went back to the apartment complex's main office and got the apartment manager to go back to my father's apartment with him. They opened the apartment door together and they saw my father lying on the floor in front of the couch in the living room.

They said it looked like my father had just fallen asleep watching television. They said they called my father's name a few times and he didn't answer them. They noticed that the remote control for the television had fallen out of my father's hand. They said my father wasn't moving and it didn't look like he was breathing. They said there was a smell, but they didn't know whether the smell was from the apartment, which was old for an apartment, or whether the smell was from my father, who was old for a person but not so old that he should have already been dead.

**

The maintenance man and the apartment manager didn't go inside my father's apartment. They closed the apartment door and called the police, who responded not long after that and confirmed that my father was in fact dead. The police said my father had probably been dead for a few days and he probably hadn't been murdered.

**

Based on the unread newspapers, the police guessed that my father died on January 28th, 2005. That was the earliest date on any of the newspapers piled up around his apartment door. Of course, the police weren't sure he died on that day. My father could have died the evening of January 27th—after he had picked up that day's newspaper. Or it could have been January 29th. It's possible my father hadn't opened the apartment door to pick up the newspaper on January 28th.

Whenever it was, I'm glad my father didn't die at the beginning of the month. I don't know how long it would have been before somebody found him.