I never talked about my dad’s death until I was eighteen.
Who covered our windows?
Why is it so black out?
What time is it?
Is it the middle of the night?
I pull out my cell phone, pushing the button with one eye open to see what time it is.
It is still dark.
“Caw, caw.” I hear Keith talking in the bedroom.
“Eeeeh-aa” His twin sister Lauren squeals.
“Ba ba ba.” Boom.
Patter, patter. Little hands on the window. Giggles.
I roll over, drop my legs off the side of the bed and push up with my arms to sitting. Since early in the pregnancy when I discovered I had significant abdominal muscle separation from having twins, I get up this way. A physical therapist demonstrated it. Now almost two years later I’m still healing my stomach.
My bare feet hit the soft lime green wool rug I bought when I moved into my first house. Thirteen years later, I still love it. I reach down and grab my green North Dakota sweatshirt, slipping my phone in the front pocket.
“Good Morning! Mommy’s here!” I say, pushing open their door. Standing in their beds, they jump up and down, teeth baring smiles, little laughs escaping. They lean together where the two cribs meet. Most of the time they are right by each other.
While making my Americano, I think about my dad. Today is the day he died. November 2. It’s also All Souls Day in the Catholic Church.
I grew up Catholic and Lutheran.
When I was younger, I told myself it was fitting that he died on All Souls Day.
But I just told myself that.
It was not fitting that he died at all. He could still be here. That would be more fitting for me.
I think about my mom’s partner Chuck. He came into my mom’s life five years ago. Kind blue eyes, a gentle voice, calm. He’s always doing little things for us and he treats us like we’re his own kids. My children love Grandpa Chuck.I can’t say I wish I had a better stand-in.
This is what we have now, and it is good.
Every year when September hit, I’d go into a funk. Hiding inside myself, talking less.
In undergrad at the University of North Dakota, I’d sit in the dark in my dorm room listening to music- Tori Amos, Counting Crow and Live- letting tears roll out of my eyes, without anyone knowing. Blackness from the windows darkening my soul. Feelings bubbling out of my pores. Everything I’d suppressed since I was seven finally seeping out.
I never talked about my dad’s death until I was eighteen.
Composition 101 was required. I hated writing. I was terrible at it. I didn’t know what the teachers wanted me to write and wasn’t creative like other people. The first day of class at Merrifield Hall, we all sat with our desks in a circle- a small class of about sixteen students. I wouldn’t be able to be anonymous in here. I shuddered inside.
Our instructor was Lisa Lewis-Spicer. Thin and stylish, with long black hair and dark eyes, she didn’t look like anyone from North Dakota. She spoke with punctuated words and wore long flowing skirts and bracelets that tinkled. On the first day she told us we’d have to write four long pieces in this class. I didn’t know how I could do it.
One night, about halfway through the term, I started to write about the day my dad died. Typing it up alone on my old Apple IIC computer in my dorm room, I struggled to see the screen though all the tears that were falling. I wrote and wrote, printing the final product on my bubble-jet printer. I ripped off the holed edges of the paper and slid it into my backpack.
The next class meeting, we split up into groups of four. Lisa told us to read our pieces to each other, so we could critique them. We’d done this before, I knew what I was getting into. When it was my turn, I could barely breathe, my hands shook and my voice broke. I started reading, blinking back tears. When I was done, one girl with long bleached blonde hair told me, “That sounded fake, I don’t think the beginning was believable.” I stared at her and thought, “You have no idea”. But said nothing.
I handed my assignment in. The first time I’d exposed my soul. My teacher wrote, “You should submit this to the Dakota Harvest.” (The freshman composition 101 journal, published yearly). It could’ve gone either way, but with her positive guidance, writing became a tool for me to express what I couldn’t say.
So today, the dad he died thirty-three years ago, I drop back to my words. Fall. The time of darkness and death, finally has been resurrected.
Last year, fall was filled with newborns. My son and daughter arriving at the end of August triggered rebirth, renewal, regeneration. Fall, filled up with new life and new hope. I welcomed dark days, since they helped my littles sleep in the night and wake in the day.
This year, the days shorten and I rejoice in the darkness, how it feels like an otherworldly hug, urging me to stay under the covers, to turn in early at night, reading and writing under the glow of the lamp. The days shorten and I’m relieved I have more time to nurture my insides. Less time to look outside, where I should be going, what I should be doing. More time to just be here now, in this space.
I look up at the inky sky at night, wondering what we’re doing here on this planet.
My children’s faces imprinted in my brain. The little puffy pink baby lips, white perfect teeth- Lauren’s squared off at the bottom, Keith’s rounded. Lauren’s baby blue eyes and Keith’s dark grey. How they toddle around the house, leading with their bellies. Falling and getting up without even noticing the stumble, as if it’s part of walking.
I wonder how long we’ll have together.
I wonder what life is about.
With two babies, I don’t have a lot of time for existential musings, but when they are sleeping and the house is quiet, my brain sometimes wanders.
Where is my dad?
Does he know I had children?
I don’t really believe in heaven. I don’t know if I believe in an afterlife.
It makes me feel sick to my stomach to think about it. I can’t comprehend it, I can’t reason it out. I try to block out the thoughts. I look at my children and a picture of my dad when he was about two. Does Lauren have his eyes? Will they look like him? He looked so sweet and earnest in his navy corduroys and sweater tucked in.
I juggle them around. I lay on the floor to do my stomach exercises. Belly laughs and giant grins, they both come running. “Mommy’s a jungle gym,” I imagine them thinking. They crawl all over me. I am covered in love. My whole heart swells. I thank my dad for coming to earth, to make me so I could make them. I thank him for having two names that I could name my kids.
I think that life has a track and we don’t have that much control.
I’m happy with my track even if my dad had to go too soon. My babies, the laughter and light, they fill the darkness of fall and loss. They covered the hole in my heart. I don’t want to hold them to this, they don’t owe me anything. But they have already done more for me than they will ever know.
Sara Schultz is a writer, optometrist, and mama of toddler twins. Her writing has also appeared in The Sun and Hip Mama, she is currently working on a memoir. She loves hiking in the woods with her twins, biking around town and fresh coffee. She has lived all over the United States and overseas and finally found a home in Portland, Oregon.