My dad died twenty years ago today.
I didn't think the 20th anniversary of Lewis' death would be anything more than a notation on the calendar, perhaps looming slightly more significant in the mind, given our propensity to fixate on the multiples of five and ten-year milestones. Cue my surprise this morning, when, on the way to work, I was listening a song that -- for whatever reason -- reminds me of dad, and I broke down crying. Had to spend close to ten minutes drying-up in the car before heading to the office. Wore sunglasses, even though it wasn't that sunny outside, to cover the puffy eyes.
This morning, I thought about the concept of stolen time. The idea that someone dies at what we deem to be too young of an age, and how they really should have lived longer. In truth, we all die when our time comes, and it's different for everyone. When someone passes away aged seventy-five or eighty, we rarely think to ourselves how they should have had more years. Lewis was fifty-two. He would be seventy-two today. In truth, given our average lifespan, he could still be here, and then August the 21st would be a mundane day on the calendar like most others.
When I think about those lost twenty years that Lewis never had, I think (selfishly, of course, because that's how we often think) of how much my life has changed. Twenty years ago, I was twenty-one. My job was as a retail clerk. I lived alone with my cat in a modest abode and, while I was 'out' to a lot of people, dad was not one of them. He was still prodding me to make the moves on my married, female co-worker. My Saturdays were spent DJing a dance show on the radio, and my weekends were spent going to Chester Street Bar. In many ways, it was a decent life, though I'll never forget the talk dad gave me, during his last year, where he made it pretty clear he thought I could be doing better.
Twenty years on, and I am married, to a man. We own a home together. I have a long-term, steady job, and serve on local boards that benefit the community. I've been elected to local office more than once, currently serving on city council, in a leadership position that my father seemed to so desperately want me to attain in some form or fashion. "Be a leader, Matt, don't be a follower," he told me during the aforementioned talk. And, I've traveled more and explored more states and been to two different countries outside the U.S. in the last twenty years. So, this is what my life has become since Lewis passed. I wonder if he would approve?
When I frame the intervening two decades in that "stolen time" point of view, and look at how much my life has changed, it makes me both sad and angry (at fate, I guess?) as to how much more life dad could have enjoyed. He could have seen my younger half-brother grow up. He could have, hopefully, continued to enjoy his marriage to Denice. Maybe he would have traveled places? Retired from his hard labor construction work and just, well, lived? Instead, Lewis has spent the past twenty years being a corpse buried six feet in the ground. Nothing about that has changed since August of 1997, but again, as I mentioned before, anniversaries have a way of making such realities hit home a little more.
The antidote to all of this, as I was sitting in my car parked in the garage at work, wiping away the tears that had come earlier, was to text my mom and ask how she was doing. Instead of wallowing in self-pity over a dead man, I contacted my mother who is still alive, still able to be communicated with, and whom I love very much. It wasn't a terribly deep conversation... just a few texts asking how we're doing, chatting about a TV show we both enjoy. And then, it was time to walk from the garage to the office. The antidote worked. I felt better.