When Past is Present
Updates below post.
This July I have the opportunity to meet my father’s family. I am going to tell his/our story and then ask for help because this means a great deal to me and I have no other way to make it happen. Bear with me.
To most people this is commonplace: Your dad is your dad. You know his family, you see them on holidays and during family gatherings for birthdays and other special events. You tell stories about Uncle Joey and his bad jokes, about the time your cousin added salt instead of sugar to a cake recipe and you couldn’t stand the smell of the ocean for a month. Pretty normal family stuff, right? Not for me.
My parents split up before I was 18 months old, irreconcilable differences though they remained friends, something I have always been very thankful for. As soon as I was old enough to know the difference and ask for him, I think I was 3 or 4, my mother invited him over for dinner. Instant love. I remember images of what kind of dining room table we had, or where the windows were in the kitchen, of the feel of the tile and carpet under my feet, those little tactile details. I remember the sound of his voice though not what he said. I remember his laughter, and my mother’s, at my antics. I remember his hugs and how sad I was that he had to go later that evening. We remained best friends until his sudden passing. He was 57.
I was living in southern New Jersey at the time, ten minutes over the bridge from Philly which is where my first husband was stationed with the US Navy. We had gotten married a couple years before, both 18, no kids. We had lived outside Richmond for a year before he enlisted and we moved to Jersey. All of my family and friends were still here in Florida so I was without my normal support group. I had made a few friends, no one close, and was very much on my own.
At the end of our second year, things were not going well and my husband’s indiscretions had me packing and leaving for my own sanity. A family friend flew up, rented a U-Haul, drug my husband up five flights of stairs (literally, still makes me smile LOL) and forced him to help me pack. Within 48 hours I was driving back home to Florida, tail tucked neatly between my legs. My father’s death happened in the middle of this.
December 26th, 1989 I received a phone call from the woman (who shall remain nameless other than JD) that my father had been seeing and living with for several years. Though we were friends, she never had occasion to call me since my father and I spoke often enough. As soon as my husband told me who it was I knew something was wrong. Taking the phone all I could say was “…when?”.
I had been feeling off-balance for a few days that Christmas but I had no clue why. My intuition has always been something I have listened to but, then, I couldn’t put a finger on exactly what was wrong. I just knew that something was coming and that I wasn’t going to like it. My father had gone with his girlfriend to her mother’s; she had cancer and was not doing well so they went to her instead. I had spoken to him the week before since I knew I wouldn’t be able to get hold of him over the holidays. At the time, with everything that had been going on with my husband, I had actually been rude to my father. I didn’t have long distance on my phone at the time so my father had told me to call him collect which I had to do from the lobby of our apartment building.
While I was on the phone with my father, my husband’s superior officer had walked past me so I excused myself a moment to find out when my husband had been released from duty that day. My husband had been cheating on me, something I had not planned on telling my father until I had proof (did two months later). My father clearing his throat on the other end of the phone made me realize I’d taken longer than I should have. He chided me for being inconsiderate, something he had never had to do my entire life. I felt like crap and we started talking again. I don’t remember if I apologized, I am sure I did, but that was the last time I ever got to speak to him. I carried that guilt around for years, always wishing I’d had some way to make it up to him.
The phone call on the 26th was JD calling me to tell me that my father had died on the 23rd. She said she didn’t want to ruin my Christmas. She told me that my father had choked on a piece of food, asphyxiated, and had a heart attack. That she tried everything she could but they couldn’t save him. I think I handed the phone back to my husband or he took it, I am not sure looking back. Then I remember sitting on the floor in the corner of the kitchen and I didn’t stop crying for six years.
I called JD a few days later after the fog lifted to get the rest of the details. In the meantime, she had, admittedly, given away or thrown away all of his belongings. Everything except for a necklace my father used to wear and a black ceramic panther desk lamp; I got those in the mail. All of his books, all of the things he loved, all of the things that he shared with me. Gone. Including him. Other than him the letters he had kept hurt the worst.
I have a half-brother named Mark (Heriff) that my father had been looking for since he was seven years old; unlike my mother, Mark’s mother had not wanted to remain friends, remarried, and returned all of my father’s letters to Mark. My father had kept every single one. He had shown me the stack of letters on several occasions, lovingly tied with a bit of dingy green ribbon, waiting for the day he could hand them to Mark in person. My father never spoke ill of anyone, even when he had cause to, so I know that he wanted only to stay in contact with his son. It hurt to see those letters, to know that Mark was out there and wasn’t a part of our lives. My father kept hope though and kept searching for him.
I found Mark two months after my father died and I had no stack of letters to give him. JD had thrown them out.
When I said “including him” earlier, I meant it literally. She had no idea, or care, where my father’s body was. There are no words to describe the shock but I can tell you that the rage sets in fast. None of my questions were answered except with “it doesn’t matter, that’s not him anymore”. It did matter.
My father died two days before Christmas in 1989. After almost two months, and $200 worth of long distance phone calls, I finally had some answers. I did some research and got hold of the county coroner’s office here in Florida, which led me to a couple of other places, and finally to a funeral home where his remains were being kept. He had wanted it that way, thankfully, but they’d had to cremate him because there was no one to claim him.
Every phone call, every mention of my father’s name, was met with shocked surprise, elation, scrambling to get someone, and another phone call. They had all been trying to get hold of JD for months. She had told everyone, despite once calling me friend and knowing of Mark, that my father had no children or next of kin. Then she disappeared.
I flew down Valentine’s weekend to prove that I was my father’s daughter and take him home.
From the airport, as I couldn’t stand the thought of waiting, my mother drove me two to three hours to the funeral home where the Director met with me personally. I think if he could have scooped me up and hugged me for an hour he would have. I had told him the story leading up to that day over the phone and he was silent, there were no words. I could see it in his face when I introduced myself. He handed me a small, square box with an envelope attached to it. My father. In the envelope was his death certificate. He also handed me a file with the name of my father’s first cousin, the one who is having the reunion in July; since then we have become both family and friend.
I still have my father’s remains. I kept it safe, knowing that someday I would find where he needed to be. I am hoping to take him to his family on this trip. I hadn’t realized that until I wrote this, but I need to do it. It is the least I can do.
I know things are tough for everyone right now, they are for us as well which is why I am doing this (and part of me can’t believe I am). I work freelance which means I do not get a regular check each week. I don’t want to miss this and, as it is, am not going to be able to take my daughter or my boyfriend with me to meet them which is my wish. I am not happy about it but raising almost 500.00 for one ticket is much easier (in my mind) than trying to raise over a thousand for three tickets. The sooner I am able to book it on Priceline the better; two days ago one round trip ticket was 500 with the rental car but that will change.
That in mind, if I can get 100 people to donate just 5.00 or 50 to donate 10.00 I can go. Anything would help though and I would be eternally grateful. In fact, I will happily create small, one-of-a-kind pieces of artwork and mail them to anyone who donates. Add in a note to me with one (1) favorite color and then email me your mailing address. Please send it as a “gift” so that I don’t lose anything to PayPal fees…
Also, as another option, my mailing address is:
Ana Maria Seaton, PO Box 830635, Ocala, Florida 34483-0635
My father’s first cousin is compiling photos, old movies made to DVDs, and other things of or about my father for me. I would like to accept them in person.
As far as JD is concerned, the woman who had been a part of my father’s life for so long, it took me years to stop joking about wanting to deck her if I saw her. In all honesty I didn’t know what I would do though slapping her had been my reaction of choice. Now, I pray for her and wish her well. What you put out into this world comes back to you, I know that well from daily experience.
The whole thing seems surreal to me at times, something I would write in one of my novels, but it did happen and there are even more details that I have not shared that would make it like the epic soap opera it was at the time. This was the heavily abridged version. There was also a court case that he was supposed to have testified in two weeks after his death, JD’s bizarre behavior and renunciation of all she believed in the year before after returning from Tibet with her mother, and the fact that what JD had told me had happened did not correspond with the coroner’s report. She hadn’t helped him…told you, novel. It is part of my past now, though, and I hope to make this trip. I feel it is where I/we need to be.
If you cannot help with a dollar or two, say a prayer that if I am meant to go that it will be provided for. I am grateful either way.
Thank you for listening…