The Ones That Got Away
My name is not Rita. It's amazing how similar Rita and I are—except for the fact that she isn't real. I made her up. I made her up about 30 years ago. And, truth be told, I forgot about her for most of that time. I recently moved, and not just some little move like across town or even to a different part of the state; oh no, I really moved—across the whole country, actually. I suppose I should tell you that I am 40 years old. I wasn't 40 when I made this bold move, though, so don't think it was a midlife crisis sort of thing because it wasn't. At least I don't think it was. I was only 39, so how could it have been?
I should also tell you that I am very sentimental. It seems that almost everything holds some special meaning for me: where something came from, who perhaps gave it to me, what was going on in my life when I acquired it, blah, blah, blah. Not everything can have sentimental value though, can it? Anyway, for someone so sentimental it is quite surprising that I would have thrown out an entire storage container full of correspondence that I had dutifully saved for nearly 33 years. In it was everything from greeting cards, get well cards (more on this later), college correspondence and, yes, even some love letters. I sort of regret throwing it all away, but what can I do? It's gone.
I got rid of quite a lot prior to my move, and being the sentimentalist that you now know me to be, you can imagine that it wasn't easy. Here's the thing. I was putting practically all of my possessions into storage, for what would turn out to be six months, while I eagerly awaited the construction of my new desert home. Once it was finished, I would have to transport all my aforementioned worldly possessions across our fine country. Did I really need to bring my old patio set and shitty grill which, incidentally, ran only on propane when it felt so inclined to actually ignite? Not really. I had a natural gas line run to my patio for the grill. New house, new grill.
Out with the old, in with the new. That was the motto I was adopting. Let's get rid of the useless crap that I had been hoarding. I actually got rid of a full-size sheet set that was so old you could see through it. I hadn't even had a full-size mattress for years, but my grandmother gave me that set when I was 13. She passed away when I was 15. I loved her dearly. How could I get rid of those sheets? I miss her to this day; but, as I sat there holding the gossamery linens some 26 years later, I could almost hear her saying from the great beyond, "Egads, throw the darn things out!" And so I did. I threw out the sheets, and I threw out all written ties to my past. I'm talking about the box of correspondence, just in case I lost you. I do tend to go off on tangents quite frequently—I hope that won't be a problem for you. I'll tell you what. You do your best to follow along, and I'll do my best to always remind you what it was I was talking about.
This would probably be a good time to get back to Rita.
I can almost hear the steady hum of the engines inside the cocoon 38,000 miles up in the air. I say almost because I’m not actually in an airplane, not physically anyway. I’m only up there in my imagination—which is vivid.
To me, this is a gift. I can close my eyes and transport myself to places other than my immediate surroundings. Truth be told, I do this sometimes even with my eyes open; but not when I’m driving—well, not usually, anyway. I have a tendency to see things through what I call the cosmic camera. Within my mind’s eye, I see things from afar. What’s strange is how I sometimes interact with the camera even though it’s not really there—breaking the fourth wall simply for my own enjoyment.
I used to do a fair amount of theater and thought this was where this aspect of my personality came from; you know, being trained to put yourself into some situation and see it from many angles in order to flesh out a character and tell a story. I realize now this is not the case. I’m just a slightly peculiar person with a vivid imagination. Quirky is the word I’m most comfortable with.
My name is Melissa and I’m one of three children born to my parents. I’m the one in the middle. This story begins with my father, Steve—also a middle child. I’m not sure that’s relevant but I point it out just the same.
In my mind, I’m flying east for his funeral.
Why do I insist on taking the red-eye? It’s practical, that’s for sure, but I never sleep. I always think I’m going to, but I don’t. I may doze 10 minutes here, 10 minutes there, but that hardly constitutes a good night’s sleep. I’m in the upfront section of coach—economy class I think they call it. The engines are droning on behind me. I’m sure these are the same sounds on a daytime flight, but at night, in the darkness of the cabin, they create a feeling of isolation. I’m all alone. I’m sitting with about 285 other people, but I’m all alone in the isolated confines of my seat… 8D.
It’s in between the dozing that I just sit there, numb. My father’s funeral. My mind is a torrent of memories and feelings and at the same time it is devoid of any activity at all—as I said, numb.
The death of a parent is an odd thing. We know from an early age that we will outlive our parents—statistically speaking—but that doesn’t make it any easier. Even if you’re blessed to have your parents live well into old age, you know eventually they’re going to pass away, but that doesn’t make it any easier either. Loss is hard. Feelings are complicated. And I’ll tell you what else doesn’t make it any easier: When this loss, this final loss, is the fourth time you lose your father.
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