This weekend I took a walk with my dad. Normally, we take our walks at the cemetery where my mother is buried. That might sound a little weird, but it’s actually a great place to walk. It’s peaceful, somehow.
Every time we go to the cemetery for a walk, we have an unspoken ritual. Dad parks the car in the same spot, by the same tree. We walk over to the grave, sometimes with flowers from the yard to put next to it, more often, not. We stand there for a minute. Nothing is said. I look over at him. Then he says, “Ready?”
And we walk.
This past weekend, we didn’t walk in the cemetery—there’s a new trail along the old railroad lines that he wanted to show me, so we took our walk there—but it still felt like our old ritual.
When we take our walks, sometimes, it’s just a walk. But sometimes I get out all the things I want or need to tell my dad, but can’t seem to otherwise.
Our most memorable walk was when I was 19, the summer before my sophomore year at IU. I was living at home for the summer, and it was more than a little rough. Not rough living with my dad, because he’s the bomb diggity. It was rough living in that house without my mom. It was the ultimate, final smack in the face that she was gone. I'd catch myself looking for the cord to her oxygen tank almost every time I walked in the house. I was miserable and grieving and 19. What a terrible combination. Well, one night I combined all those feelings with alcohol, and let’s just say I bit a curb.
Facing my dad the following morning, with my busted lip and missing front tooth, I’ve never felt lower. Every part of my body hurt from hangover and regret and fear. I was supposed to go back to school in three days. I had no tooth. I was terrified. And it hurt.
He knew something was wrong as soon as I walked in the kitchen. I didn’t say anything, I just started crying, pointed at my tooth, and waited. I don’t know what I expected—my dad never yells. But I guess I expected an interrogation, something! Like: “What the fuck happened to your face, Al?”
He didn’t do that. Instead, he looked at me. He turned around for a minute, then turned back around, shook his head, and said, “I’m glad your mother can’t see this.”
I couldn’t have felt worse if he had smacked me in the face. But I deserved it. I was lucky I had survived that night with only a broken tooth. In retrospect, I think of it as my mom smacking me in the face, trying to get me to pay attention.
Most of that day is a blur—I couldn’t really eat anything, and even taking a drink of water sent a sharp pain shooting through my broken tooth into my gums. But what I remember was when he said, “Let’s go take a walk.” Normally, he asked if I wanted to take a walk. Not that day.
As we started walking that day, I waited for him to start asking for details. My mom would have wanted the details. But he didn’t—he just started talking about how we’d get my tooth fixed the next day, a Monday. I cried for most of that walk.
When we were leaving, my dad hugged me and said, “You’re going to be okay.” We both knew he was talking about more than my tooth.
This past weekend, we didn’t talk about anything too extraordinary on our walk. It was just a good walk with my dad. There was something I wanted to tell him, but I couldn’t quite get it out. I don’t know why. But it’s not that big of a deal. I figure there’s always another walk.