Intersections – Finding Ghosts
By Nicki Salcedo, contributor
I’m the last person who gave my father a kiss. It seems like a sweet sentimental thing, but it wasn’t. He asked for the kiss after dinner, and I gave it to him grudgingly. He was a demonstrative man. Big personality. Big laugh. Big hugs.
I like quiet and space and distance. I gave the kiss with the petulance of a teenager.
Dad, why do I have to kiss you? I live 15 minutes away. I will see you tomorrow. It isn’t like you’re going to die tonight.
I thought these things, but I still gave him a kiss. His skin was always soft. Even at 80 years old, his cheek felt like a newborn. Everything about him was different from me. My skin is dry and cold like a cadaver. I touched my cool lips to his baby skin, and we both laughed.
My dad turned to my husband with a smile. We’d brought dinner for my parents. My kids ran through the house. My husband bought a bottle of wine special for my dad and found his favorite cookies from a nice bakery in Virginia-Highlands.
“You’re so good to me,” my dad said to my husband.
Before we left, I watched my father climb the stairs to go to bed. I stood at the bottom feeling a little worried. Enough worried that I wanted to see him make it to the top. My father had nine lives. I’ll be lucky to survive this one.
That was the night of his last life. That was his last kiss. That was two years ago. I see that last day so clearly because it has flashed before my eyes a thousand times.
When I think of my dad, I also see another day. One I’ve never talked about.
A friend of mine had a miscarriage this year. She was carrying twins. I told her that I’d had a miscarriage if she wanted to talk. She did. I didn’t. The words I needed to say hadn’t come to me.
I had decided to erase the memory of that terrible day. I made sure I forgot the date. Except when I look at a calendar, all the days since have been marked with a red X. If I had to guess, it was nine years ago. I’m not sure exactly. I couldn’t tell you the month or the date that it happened. It is truth when I say I don’t remember the details. It was a Friday. That’s all I know. For a long time, that’s all I would say.
“One in four pregnancies end in miscarriage,” the nurse said. This was the first time I heard how often babies are lost.
When they told me the baby inside me was no longer alive, I already knew. The daily sickness I had experienced disappeared suddenly. My back ached in a foreign way. I’d been pregnant before. I didn’t want to believe anything was wrong. Sometimes your body knows things your mind will not accept.
The nurse gave me orders with military detachment. The short version is that I was ordered to wait. It was a Monday. The unspoken thing would happen on its own, without any intervention. I had to wait. And be normal and go to work and do laundry and be a mother and wife and smile at strangers and wait. I didn’t have to wait for sudden burst of grief and anger and isolation. Everywhere around me, people became like ghosts, and I was all alone.
By Friday, the unspoken thing began. I was at work. The usual people I trusted with my secrets were also at work. So I called my Dad. I told him I was sick and asked him if he could meet me at home in case I had to go to the hospital.
“Of course,” He said. He called me Sugar. He didn’t know that I was pregnant. I hadn’t told him.
My parents have always had keys to my house. I heard him open the door. My father didn’t ask why I might need to go to the hospital. He didn’t ask why I had made a bed on the bathroom floor. He didn’t ask me why I was crying. He was a smart man. He probably knew.
Eventually, I crawled into bed. My dad knocked on the door and put a plate and drink on my nightstand. He made the best sandwiches. He liked good bread with lettuce and tomato and lots of condiments. I heard him go downstairs and the careful clanging of dishes and the hush of the TV. I peeked out from under the covers and the sandwich brought fresh tears to my eyes.
My entire life with my father has been reduced to two days. I never think about death. I think about stairs. I cling to the small objects that trigger my memories. A bottle of wine and a kiss and a sandwich. I brace myself for his absence. We are still telling people that my father died. Just this week, my sister ran into a family friend we’d lost touch with.
“He didn’t know about Dad,” she said. Her voice sounded like it did two years ago when the grief was still shock. How long will we have to do this? Losing and finding him over and over again. I guess forever.
“Intersections,” the book, is a collection of columns from Decaturish.com and beyond. It is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a novelist, blogger, and a working mom. Her column, Intersections, runs every Wednesday morning.