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Fade to Black

I’m always one to think of “What If” scenarios that are completely bizarre.

Like what if you’re in a Broadway play and you have to sneeze?

What if you’re in a wedding, or getting married, and you have a stomach bug?

What if you urgently have to go to the bathroom while trapped in an elevator, or a turbulent plane?

What if you get trapped in a dream? What if you get trapped in a dream in a dream? Every kid asks, “What if I don’t wake up?” And yet, we always wake up. We mostly always wake up. I had forgotten that I used to deeply fear that fade to black.

Sometimes it’s hard to live with “What If” scenarios if you think about them too much. The truth is, those things rarely happen, if at all. Our bodies seem meant to build responses and walls and immunities to such things happening – where they see fit. And maybe sometimes where they don’t. Human bodies are brilliant creations. Human minds are even better.

It’s why you have to go to the bathroom badly, the second you get home. To comfort and opportunity. As if you didn’t have to go before that very second. As if your body wasn’t just waiting for the right signals to tell you what you already know.

When it’s time. For nearly anything.

Last night I had a vivid nightmare, about thinking, and I was walking down the street in the dream thinking, “How can we live so fully, knowing we could die at any time?” It could happen at any point, yet we mostly live like it won’t. Until it does.

There’s a fuzzy feeling I get, all tied to life and death. It’s like at the very core, I have my most phobic feelings of an eternal afterlife, or lack thereof, and any kind of fade to black. Then surrounding that phobic core, is everything I hold too near – everything related to life and death. Sometimes it’s growing pains. Sometimes it’s sensory overload. Recently, I’ve started to pinpoint when it can happen – when voices are rising and smells are growing stronger and the heat kicks on and the lights are too bright. When my brain is trying to fade to black, and my heart is trying to fade to light. Or maybe I have that in reverse.

What if I have an existential crisis again – which don’t come around here no more (too much) because I live in a world – parenting – in which every little things does matter, and every little thing she does is magic, and it all matters anyway?

All points lead to death, but all points really lead to life – and that is the point of all of it. I have always thought it, although it gains more clarity. And less. Living is the point of life no matter how you can get through it, whether you choose, or are chosen, to swim through, fly through, sail through, ride through, stay six feet (give or take) above, instead of six feet below.

The static and the fuzz in my brain and in my ears are like the wrong station on the radio – fading in and out – or when your movie ends in the VCR and the TV isn’t set to the right channel. Black and white and gray and loud. In a world of vivid color.

Too harsh, too loud, too bright, too much. In a world of black and white.

And I think that’s just the point in which life, death, light, dark, color, black and white, fears, dreams, anxiety, and LOVE, meet in the middle – like different frequencies on the radio – always searching, always moving, and not fading to black.

I’m not sure if the above post was supposed to be the ONLY post in today’s Finish the Sentence Friday prompt – “When it comes to death” – or the one below was supposed to be the only one! After this, I wrote everything below in 2010 when Scarlet was a baby, and this blog was an even newer baby. I wanted you to know something about me, before reading.

Feel free to read one or the other, or both at different times, but just a reminder that anything below this isn’t current:

“I’m going to talk about something important here today and I’m really not sure how it’s going to go. And that’s ok. I’m using my wedding program again as reference. When we wrote our wedding program, I was smack in the middle of a writing dry spell that lasted a few years. I must have rallied everything I had in me to get the program and our wedding vows done. It was just that important. Not to mention, the impending marriage instilled in me a desire to re-evaluate the people who had left my life too soon because I was strongly noticing how much I wanted them there on my guest list and sitting at the special tables during the reception. I had two special parents to walk me down the aisle, and if you count Cassidy’s family, I gained four new parents the evening we got married. Six parents. Six strong, supportive, loving parents. I am so lucky.

And yet, someone was missing that day – my birth father.

I’ve spent most of my life slowly putting puzzle pieces together to solve a puzzle I’ll never actually solve. I’ll come damn close, though. It’s the puzzle of who my father was. I’ve got some flat-ended pieces of my father from here and there as I, like many other puzzle solvers, like to make the border first. I know where he was born, where he went to school, what didn’t work for him career wise, and what worked for him incredibly well. I know that he was handsome, sarcastic, charming and neurotic. I know he could polish off a bag of chips and a half dozen White Castle burgers in one sitting and that running made him puke. I know that those things didn’t help to prevent his untimely death at 36-years-old from a massive heart attack. I know that it happened in front of me three weeks before my 4th birthday and that the whole house shook from the impact of his tall body falling to the floor. I know that when the ambulance wheeled him out, that was the last time I saw him.

I don’t talk about these graphic images to free them from my soul. They’ve been freed many times over. I talk about them to put them out there. No mysteries here. So that’s my good, strong puzzle border. I’ve taken it apart and put it back together many times as I’ve grown older and more truths have been revealed to me. There are empty spots in my border but that’s ok because that’s info I can always find through research. It’s the juicy middle pieces that I’m lacking.

About a year after I graduated college, I took a job as a school photographer in Dover, NJ where I was in charge of class photos. I mostly worked in Morris County schools around where I grew up and it was also where my father taught 5th and 6th grade at Fernbrook School in Randolph. I didn’t get out to the school much but they had planted a cherry blossom tree when he died and also donated a plaque in his name. I knew the school had hired my company for school pictures so I arranged to work that day. I didn’t really know what to expect by going there after so many years. Obviously I knew it would be emotional but I just went there with an open mind. Most of the teachers were younger so I finally spoke with an older teacher who would have worked with my father. I don’t remember his name but I mentioned that my father had worked there and had died and before I could say more than that, he just looked me over and said, “Steven Klein.” I nodded and his eyes got wide.

He said something that resonates with me very often: “I can see him in my mind today as clearly as if it were still 20 years ago.” He also called him charismatic, powerful, and funny. He showed me his old classroom. When I got in my car after work, I had a breakdown that I was able to pinpoint the cause of: my father has always been described to me as such an amazing man and I was his daughter and never got to learn that firsthand. I was robbed. I know we were close and I have scattered memories of spending time with him but I never got to know him through anything but a very small child’s eyes.

I can tell he was a good father and that I loved him very much. I can still feel it in every bodily memory.

I’ll never know what it was like to sit in a room with him. I have his amazing metabolism but we’ve never shared a pizza. I have his sarcasm but I’ve never heard his jokes. I have the feeling of having been loved by a strong father but I’ve never gotten to look at him and watch the good just radiate out.

Every now and then I play a question and answers game with my mom to get to know more about him. It happens in chunks and it’s always relevant to something going on in my mind. When I was scared to go to the doctor to get my heart checked out, I asked all about his medical history. (My heart is just fine)

When I was falling in love with my husband, I asked my mom what it was like to fall in love with my father. Today I referenced my previous post about all my quirks and fears and asked my mom about my father’s quirks and fears. He was a stubborn mule as I am. He got set in his ways sometimes and just refused to try something new. My father wouldn’t snorkel or try lobster. He wouldn’t sit in the backseat of a car and he hated many white foods. If given the choice to snort cocaine or go shark diving, he’d snort cocaine. I’d go shark diving. Anyway, sometimes it’s just fun to play 20 questions with my mom. He died a long time ago and I’m most sorry we can’t just hang out as adults. All I can do is love my daughter the way he loved me and never stop asking more questions about him. There’s people out there whose brains I haven’t picked. His older brother is one of them. Someday. My mom remarried and my dad got to walk me down the aisle. And he raised me. And his granddaughter loves him very much, as do I. I lost a father but I also gained a whole new family.

This is me linking up, as one of my favorite things to do, with Finish The Sentence Friday. This week’s topic is “When it comes to death..” And there’s still time to write yours. Come link up with your spin on any of the matters: HERE.

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52 Comments

  1. Tamara, every so often I find myself thinking about death in general and the knowledge that someday it will happen no matter what as this is how it does indeed end for all of us. That said it is just inevitable, so thinking about it is, as well. But I try my best to not to think too long about it as I do hate thinking about it. However, I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to lose your dad at such a young age. I was fortunate enough not to have my first real major loss until my early twenties with my grandfather passing and still that knocked me for a loop. I guess no matter what age a loss is a loss and can leave us with more questions and doubts though. Sorry, if I am rambling a bit, but this topic just seems to leave me further at a loss for words at times.

    1. Despite his death, I didn’t really experience true loss other than that until my early 20’s. It was BRUTAL. I had lost distant relatives but felt almost numb by it. This was dreadful.
      I’m only sorry we all have to experience it – the hardest thing in life.
      XOXO

  2. wow this was powerful. I can imagine visiting your dads classroom and old colleague must have been world shifting. Thank you for sharing this with us, you have such a gifted talent for writing and expressing how you feel without overwhelming the reader. It’s almost like you hold our hands gently to get us through your thoughts. I appreciate that.

    1. I appreciate SO MUCH that you said that about my writing. It’s funny how we develop as writers, or don’t, but don’t really know how it’s taken.
      Yes, that visit was world-shifting. I’ll never forget it! And I imagine there are other experiences like that in my future.

  3. When it comes death, I know I will be face to face with Jesus. I can’t imagine what this will be like, but I don’t fear it. I know there will be sadness for those left behind, but I have no fear or insecurity about what will happen to me. Now the pain of dying, that is something I have anxiety about. But mostly, I’m at peace:)

  4. Oh Tamara, I am sorry. I am glad that you met that teacher who knew your father. I think that is how I have learned the most about the people I love, through others. Silly, but true, because sometimes we are so shy about opening up about ourselves. I am glad that through the heart ache you gained a whole new family that helped in the healing. Hugs my friend.

    1. Thanks, Jen! It’s so strange that my whole life went in a different direction with the new family – Brady Bunch! And that’s really all I know, and in every way but losing my father, I’m thankful to have the family I have.

  5. I too have been thinking of those lost with All Souls Day just recently passing. In my culture it is a time to remember and celebrate the lives of those that have left our world, hopefully for a better one.

  6. I think having a solid understanding of what happens after death is an important thing in order to truly live. That’s why I don’t fear it. That’s why life is sweet, whether long or short–but preferably long. My father passed away when my oldest was 4. He’s the only one that has any recollection of his grandfather, and yet his grandfather still lives. I believe he’s there, just beyond view, encouraging, guiding, whispering hope in our ears.

    1. Preferably long indeed.
      I struggle with understanding what happens after, because no one really knows, but I think maybe we can feel it?
      I’m so sorry about your father. My daughter remembers my grandparents, but my sons – three years younger – doesn’t.
      I also like to believe they’re all still here, beyond view.

  7. I going to go back up and read the second half. But wanted to comment on the “what if” scenario because it’s funny. the other day I was in the car and Christopher was pushing the Walmart cart to a cart area but he left the back door open. In the 30 seconds it probably took him to come back, I imagine someone jumping in the backseat on hold a gun on me and telling me to drive. So when he gets back in the car I said, “Do you know daddy’s phone number? You need to know it. What if someone just jumped in the back of my car and told me to drive off.” I said, “If you see me pulling away find somebody and tell them to call 911 and then you need to be able to call daddy.” He looked at me like, “Oooookay.”

  8. Now I’m commenting on the second half. That was so beautiful! It’s wonderful you got to meet someone “a stranger” that remembered him so fondly. I’m also happy that you gained another family and then later two more sets of parents – especially wonderful for Scarlet and Des too.

  9. I had no idea your dad died so young. Life and death are such weighty topics. I used to toss and turn over them when I was a child, truly tortured by the idea of death. Your dad sounds like a lovely person and a teacher, so obviously more of a saint than me. I do not have the patience. I’m so sorry you lost him so early.

    1. Same here!! Sometimes I still feel tortured, but more at peace too, if that makes sense.
      Most people are more of a saint than me! And hey, you homeschooled at all! I wouldn’t last a single day.

  10. Amazing photos, once again.
    I’m so sorry to learn about the loss of your father. He was so young. My kids lost their dad when he was 38 and they have only the memories that I’ve told them. Those memories keep him alive, if that makes sense. And with regards to the first half of your piece – I’ve often thought about what if you had to sneeze in a play. My scenario has me “dead” or “out cold” on the floor, centre stage, and in full view. Don’t think I could hold it in. You?

  11. Gorgeous again, friend. The school memory is priceless and I’m so glad that you get pieces of your dad from others like this. I can’t wait to read about when you talk to his older brother. And yeah, the whole fear of dying is big and huge for me although mostly, I’m swept in the colors and the blacks and whites of life, and living the moments.

  12. So much goodness here. Losing a parent is so difficult, and it’s always wonderful to see them through the eyes of someone else with memory to share. I’m definitely a what if person, and I know I’ve wasted way too much time living that way. “Living is the point of life” – so, so true.

    1. I figured that quote out when I was a kid! I was like, “I know the point of life!” Everyone would say, “Oh.. and???” It’s LIVING!

  13. I often wonder if it had been better had my father died… and not just simple left us. Which is worse, when an empty place is still just and empty space when all is said and done. Although, I highly doubt should I meet anyone who knew my father, there’d be many kind words or good stories to be shared. I fear too much of my childhood time was often wasted on what he would think of things I was doing — how I would share my tiny world with him, were he there to see it. Or have a care too. Yeah, death… and all that can probably be filed under the title, Excerpts From the Book I’ll Never Write.

    1. hm.. are you sure you’ll never write it?? It would be amazing.
      That reminds me of heartbreak. Often, it can feel as badly as when someone dies – but even worse at first, anyway – because someone left you or chose not to be with you, but is walking around clear as day. Heartbreak is awful, is what I’m saying. Loss is awful in general.

      1. You know I’ve been thinking about this ever since I left the comment…. yeah, I do that. Busy brain ya know? ha. And I think in the end I am actually quite lucky…. I mean I got to go on and live a pretty darn good life. I have my great loving little family. I have faith and passions and friends. But most importantly what I don’t have, is regrets. I highly doubt he could say the same. So, in the end, I think I’m good. I think it’s a wonderful life 🙂

  14. This one tugged at my heart as I read it. I don’t know what it’s like to be without my father. My husband lost his when he was 20 and I could see the pain in his eyes when he found out. I can’t even imagine.

    1. Oh man – that’s right. You knew your husband young. There’s nothing like it. I’m so glad your awesome parents are well and even near you geographically!

  15. This is the first time I’ve really read the story of your father. You really put your heart into it and I just wanted to be there to give you a hug. I lost my father almost 4 years ago but even today it still hurts and I know that it does for you too, no matter how long ago he’s been gone. There’s always a small part of you that wish that he was still there to see you grow up, see you get married, play with his grandkids. I’m sure everything you heard about your dad is true, he sure looks charismatic and charming in his photos, and you’re just like him in every way. Here’s to a fabulous week ahead!

    1. I think I almost knew you then? I think we “met” when Madison was almost one. And Des was a few months behind! The cuties!
      Thanks for your beautiful comment.

  16. I hadn’t read the second half of this post – I didn’t know you then. I can imagine how wonderful it is to learn about your father from people who knew him, yet bittersweet to not know those things firsthand.

    I create bizarre “what if” scenarios too – I’ve actually thought about the sneezing on Broadway one!

    1. I’m so happy you read it this time. It was important for me to publish it again!
      I am so happy other people think of the sneezing on Broadway thing!

  17. What a beautiful, sad and yet such a powerful read.
    I lost my Dad 3 years ago to Cancer. I couldn’t imagine life losing him sooner. I can’t begin to imagine what you felt.
    *hug*

  18. I’m so happy you got to connect with someone that knew your Father. I’m one of those cryptic people that thinks about death often and losing my Dad is one of my biggest fears. Reading this post made me realize I have to live in the moment and enjoy the people I love right now. I’m sending you a virtual hug and lots of great energy 🙂

  19. You are such a great writer. Not an easy piece to read.

    When I have the power to choose, I always go with the more life-affirming “As if” rather than “What if.”

  20. I read both posts and I must say, the second had me riveted. I can relate to so munch, although I had my mom for thirteen years longer than you had you dad. Still, I really never got to know the adult version, and I’ve always yearned to know her better. She was so private, almost secretive. And I have spend my whole adult like searching for pieces of her puzzle. Going through old boxes, reaching out to family and long-lost friends. My mom was a teacher too. I’ve gone back to the school where she taught (before I was born), but it’s not a nursing home. I post on the school’s alumni FB page, and was astonished to find people who remember her (former students). They shared funny stories with me that made me laugh – and feel robbed. Beautiful piece Tamara. Thank you for sharing it.

    1. My sister recently went out to dinner with a bunch of my father’s old students. Crazy. He passed away 32 years ago! And they were only children then.
      Teachers make a difference in ways I can’t fathom.
      Thanks for sharing your own story! Puzzle pieces.. that’s what it’s like for me.

  21. I think both posts are beautiful, moving, and inspiring- my heart grows very heavy when I read about your dad, but I immediately shift toward joy in knowing how incredible your life is, despite this significant loss. You are thriving and building this amazing family full of love and magic and excitement and JOY! You are constantly creating more works of art with your photography and your words- exactly where you need to be, and totally in your element with ALL of those things.

    You are living fiercely, and I am SO glad for that. I can only imagine how proud your father must feel- of the woman you have become and the life you have built for yourself. JOY. Joy in your art, your goals, your family, your friends, your success, your marriage, your dreams, and your adventures! JOY.

  22. This is a poignant and vulnerable post, Tamara. You’re weaving a wonderful tapestry of love, magic and memory and this is how you remember and pay tribute to your father. xo

  23. Awww I just cried!!! I’m such a cry-baby. I’m not even sure what to comment here today but know that I have tears while reading this. So much love.

  24. Well…that one left me with tears a bit. But what a wonderful man he was if so many people cared so much about him. And what a wonderful legacy he has.

    1. My sister recently went out to dinner with a bunch of my father’s old students. Crazy. He passed away 32 years ago! And they were only children then. That brings the tears! Whoa.

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