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An Excerpt Of My Next Book “One Last Word”

September 21, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

My next book (One Last Word) will be published soon (no publication date yet).  One Last Word is the story of my search to understand my Dad in life and in death.  Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter.

*****

“There is still something to be said for painting portraits of the people we have loved, for trying to express those moments that seem so inexpressibly beautiful, the ones that change and deepen us.”
Anne Lamott, Bird By Bird:  Some Instructions on Writing and Life

“My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours…to lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished.”
Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets

*****

I sat next to Samuel, my six-year-old son, at the kitchen table while we ate breakfast.  Most mornings, he kept quiet, preferring to ease into his day by playing with his toys or watching TV before school.  In his silence, I did most of the talking.  But Wednesday, May 11th, would not be a normal morning breakfast.

“Are you going to have lunch with me at school today?” Samuel asked.

At the beginning of the school year, Samuel had learned that Angela, my wife, and I along with his grandparents could eat lunch with him in the school cafeteria.  When he came home that day, he asked me if I’d have lunch with him at school.  I’d promised to do so, but in the eight months since that day I’d yet to follow through on my word.  With only a few weeks remaining in the school year, I was running out of opportunities.

I knew if I didn’t have lunch with him at school, he would never forget.  I could still recite the promises my parents had made and then broken to me.

“What time is lunch again?” I asked.

“Ten twenty-five,” Angela answered for him.  She stood at the kitchen counter packing Samuel’s lunch.

“Who eats lunch that early?”

Seriously, ten twenty-five?  That’s brunch, not lunch.  I was about to open my mouth and offer my opinion on the school’s practice of scheduling lunch at that time of the day when Angela spoke up.  “Kindergarteners eat lunch that early.”

“Are you coming?” Samuel asked again, pointing his spoon at me, flinging droplets of soymilk at me in the process.

I smiled at my son.  I had no choice.  I’d made a promise to him and I needed to keep it.  “Of course I’ll be there.”

My Dad would never have eaten lunch with me in the school cafeteria.  Just as quickly as this strange and random thought entered my mind it left.  Where had that thought come from?

Angela took Samuel to school and I went to work.  I called her an hour later.  “What am I supposed to do to have lunch with Samuel?  Do I bring him lunch?  How do I even find him at school to have lunch with him?  And really, who serves lunch that early?”

In twelve days, we would celebrate our nineteenth wedding anniversary.  In that time, she’d grown accustomed, I think, to getting barraged by questions from me.  Whether she liked it was a different story, but she didn’t appear to let it bother her.

“Go to the office and sign in.  Then go wait in the hallway by the cafeteria.  When his class arrives for lunch, follow him into the cafeteria.  You’ll eat lunch with him at a separate table from his class.  He knows what to do so you don’t have to worry about it.  As for food, I packed him a lunch.  You don’t need to bring him anything.  As for yourself, you can buy your lunch in the cafeteria or you can just sit with him while he eats his.”

I pulled into the school parking lot at ten-fifteen.  While I walked from the parking lot to the office, that same strange and random thought from earlier in the morning, that my Dad would never have done something like this, popped into my mind again.  Where was this thought coming from?  Why did I keep thinking about my Dad at this moment, about something he wouldn’t have done?  I shrugged it off and kept walking towards the office.  I knew that the next time I called Dad, he’d probably laugh about me eating lunch in the school cafeteria with Samuel.

I registered as a visitor in the office as Angela had instructed me to do.  To ensure that everyone knew I was a visitor, the administrative assistant gave me a bright yellow sticker emblazoned with the words “VISITOR” for me to put on my shirt.  From the office, I walked down the hallway and stood outside of the cafeteria.  Two other classes arrived and seemingly every kindergartener stared and pointed at me as they passed by.  I pretended to ignore them by looking down the hallway for Samuel and his class.  When he rounded the corner, I spotted him at the back of the line.  It helped having a tall kid.  When we made eye contact, he smiled and waved at me.  I smiled and waved back.

I felt tears forming in my eyes.  What was going on?  Was I on the verge of crying?  Here?  In the hallway?  In front of a bunch of kindergarteners?  Because I was having lunch with my son?  What was wrong with me?  Where were all these weird thoughts and emotions coming from today?  Was I not getting enough sleep?  I managed to reign in the tears.

Samuel’s teacher gave him permission to exit the line and enter the cafeteria with me.  His eyes focused on my hands.  “How come you didn’t bring me lunch from McDonald’s or Chick-Fil-A?”

“They don’t serve lunch this early,” I answered.

I didn’t know whether my statement was true or not, but it seemed reasonable to me.  In order to buy him lunch, I would’ve had to purchase it at ten in the morning.  Nobody served lunch that early.

“You should check with Grandma.  She always brings me something when she comes for lunch.  She knows which places serve lunch early.”

So much for reason.

“I’ll try to remember to do that next time.  Besides, Mommy told me that she’d packed your lunch for you.  I didn’t want it to go to waste.”

“I could’ve eaten it tomorrow.  It’s just a sandwich.”

At six years old, he had an answer for everything.

“Like I said, next time.”

Samuel led me to the visitor’s table where we sat across from one another.  Between bites of his sandwich and chips, he pointed out his classmates, identifying the ones that were his friends and the ones that weren’t.  Most of the boys were his friends and all of the girls were not.

When the lunch period ended, we walked down the hallway before parting ways.  He returned to his class while I went to the office to sign out.  As I walked out of the building, tears again began to form in my eyes.

What was going on with me?

 *****

That night I stopped at a hospital to visit some friends who’d given birth to their second child.  Outside, dark clouds were forming, warning of an ominous thunderstorm.  A few drops of rain had already started to fall.  Before leaving the car, I grabbed a windbreaker and put it on.  Knowing that the cell phone reception in this particular hospital was sparse, I put my phone in the front pocket of my windbreaker.

I took the elevator to the maternity ward and found the room.  The mother stayed in bed while the father sat on the couch talking on his cellphone.  I wondered how he was able to get cellphone reception in this hospital.  Her parents sat at the other end of the couch taking turns holding their new grandchild.  The couple’s oldest child, a two-year-old boy, played on the floor with his new Tonka truck. I stayed for just a few minutes, long enough to congratulate the family on the birth of their daughter.

Walking down the hallway, I pulled out my cellphone and checked the time.  It was five after six.  I also saw that I’d missed a call from Jason, my brother.  He hadn’t left a message, but we rarely did so for one another.  If we saw that the other had called, we would return the call when we had a chance.  As I stepped outside into the rain, I wondered if I should call him back at that moment or later.  Under normal circumstances, I might’ve waited until I got home, but the last week hadn’t been normal.

  **** *****

I sat in the car and stared at the phone, wondering what to do.  To call Jason, I only needed to push a button, yet I couldn’t make myself push that button.  I was puzzled by the fact that I couldn’t push that button.  What was wrong with me?

I looked out the car window at the rain.  The instant I looked away from my phone, it rang and Angela’s name was displayed on the caller id.  I answered the phone.

“Your brother just called me,” she said.  Jason rarely, if ever, called Angela.  She continued speaking, but I wasn’t sure that I’d heard what she said correctly.  I must’ve misunderstood or she must’ve been confused.  Again that day, I was crying, but these were different tears.

“What did you say?” I asked.

“Your brother just called.  He said your Dad died.”

I said something along the lines of, “Let me get back to you,” and I called Jason, hoping and praying that she’d gotten the message wrong.  Maybe Jason had said, “Dad is about to die,” or “Dad looks like he’s dying.”  But none of that had happened.  She’d conveyed Jason’s words exactly.

 

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Categories: One Last Word
  1. Travis Dikes
    September 22, 2012 at 10:56 am

    I remember that day, i can’t tell you what day of the week it was, the time of day or even the month, but, i remember that day. I knew something was wrong, just because Jason answered the phone, which he never did, when i called your Dad. I had that feeling, but I didn’t want to believe it when Jason told me that Coy had passed away. When i should have been consoling Jay at that time, he was having to console me. Many times, i’ve felt ashamed for not being stronger for you boys, and thinking of my own grief. But,,,i want you to know that i love and respect the three of you just as your Dad did. I don’t have to tell you how much i love and miss Coy..Not just being my “BIG” little brother, but, one of my closest friends.

    • Chris
      September 22, 2012 at 7:16 pm

      No need to be ashamed- it was an incredibly difficult day. Thank you for the kind comments. We don’t get to see you often enough, but we think the world of you.

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