January 24, 2017

Now, you feel loss everywhere: At the airport. Christmas morning. New Year's. It's what keeps you up at night. It's what scares you after yet another dream about Papa. (Though the panicked stress-induced dreams have been replaced by mundane ones of him doing things for you. You can't decide which is worse.)

If you close your eyes hard enough, you can see how Papa smiled at you peacefully that day on the subway. He gave you his seat. You can see his grand silhouette against your apartment window, checking the snow's progress. You can see his reflection in your own mirror, happily posing for another picture.

If you close them harder, you can see the ambulance. That eternal drive to the hospital. You can feel just how much you hated the doctors, that hallway, the nurses, the snow, the godforsaken traverse, every person who was allowed to laugh on their way to brunch, how much you hated all of New York.

If it's quiet, you can still hear the sound of Mom's voice when we pulled over. You can remember that awful call you made to Didi. You can imagine the stranger telling you it would be okay. That he would pray for Papa. Like a child, you remember hating him too.

That night, when you sat in someone's living room, surrounded by all those living except your father--whose voice you had heard just hours ago and was the only important one worth remembering--you weren't sure how another minute would pass without him. You didn't want another minute to pass without him.

And then, somehow, unknowingly, a whole year did.

Central Park, New York. January 23, 2016

Central Park, New York.
January 23, 2016

The After.

Last year, I read a book where the narrator divided her life between two sections: the Before and the After.

It felt dramatic--capitalizing whole pieces of time into separate segments seemed irrational and obsessive.

But now I know. Because this is the After.

I've started teaching at a new school, and I have never been more aware of the After until the new subway route, the new walk, the new faces. New subway delays, new methods of getting lost, new coworkers. Slowly, all of this is becoming routine.

But these walks and people and places will never know the Before. In fact, no one new I will ever meet will know how I associate every single Toyota Corolla with my dad. They won't know about our texts, all of which ended in an "ok." And honestly, I don't want to tell them. Sometimes, it feels like no one new deserves to know because no story will do him justice.

I like to keep my memories safe, wrapping them tightly around myself. The only rule is this: these memories cannot be seen every day. It's not allowed. If ever tempted, you allow yourself to do anything else--clean dishes, write a card, choose a Netflix movie that doesn't have a premise based on death (are all movies about someone dying? I think so.), cook...rather, just think about cooking instead.

Forever holding on. Madison Square Garden, New York. May 27, 2015

Forever holding on.
Madison Square Garden, New York.
May 27, 2015

But every few days, like clockwork, I allow myself to open the door. I allow myself to get washed over completely with things that can't happen again. It can last a minute, sometimes an hour. On good days, it's over within 15 minutes. Then, gently, I shut the door, promising to return, not right away, but soon. In a few days.

I'm not sure if this is considered healing, but it's how I've managed to get to autumn. (Today, a friend mentioned making plans in January, and I caught my breath. January? Again? Wasn't the last one enough?)

It's a shitty realization: no matter who I meet in the future, they'll never be introduced to my dad. Never know his hospitality. Never get to see him be a good sport. (A man scared of heights agrees to take a gondola 2,000 feet high. How am I supposed to explain that to anyone?)

I'm terrified of ever having children who may grow up in a world without him. It's ridiculous that all of his things--briefcase, ID card, wrenches, gloves, turbans, snow shoes, pens, magnifying glass, colognes, can continue to exist without their owner.

I've found the sharp line between the Before and the After. The After is a few shades dull, a little out of focus, and severely crooked. It's not terrible, but it's barely acceptable. And it's all we have left.

A Lifetime of Firsts.

Papa didn't believe in Band-Aids. Whenever he had a cut--a reoccurring instance as he was always working with his hands--he preferred to use New-Skin. This liquid bandage, looking an awful lot like clear nail polish, "sealed" his cut and allowed him to go right back to work in the kitchen/garage/yard.

The day of Papa's bhog at the Gurdwara, I ended up peeling my own skin off instead of a carrot's. It was a deep cut that wouldn't stop bleeding despite all the turmeric rubbed into it.

When I got home, I found that bottle of New-Skin. Papa swore by this thing, I thought. I should use this. Determined, I opened the bottle, got a good amount of liquid on the brush, and coated a layer onto the cut.

And it burned. A lot.

This was worse than a swipe of an alcohol swab--THIS WAS TORTURE. What the hell was in this bottle? Papa never once flinched when he used it! This is some serious false advertising, and I'd like to speak to your manager. 

I panted, and after a few seconds of crazy-eyes, applied a second layer. It hurt, but much less. The third coat had the ghost of a burn. The fourth felt like nothing at all.

Somewhere, circa 1994.

Somewhere, circa 1994.

In these past few months, everything new, everything done for the first time feels like that first layer of New-Skin. It makes me want to squeeze my eyes shut so hard that the world implodes and emotions become irrelevant. It makes me want to take my brain out and leave it off the read so I can just stop thinking about every single moment I was robbed of having. It makes me want to scream at whoever is in charge and point out exactly how I was cheated on that January afternoon.

I am stuck in a revolving door of Firsts. The scabbing and healing seem distant because each First seems to burn a little stronger.

The first time we set the table for three.

The first Saturday waking up to silence.

The first time we changed the car's oil.

The first time I saw a movie and felt the absence in the seat next to mine.

The first time someone called home asking for you.

The first time I dreamed about you (we were crying and saying goodbye at Sam's Club).

The first time I felt--and can't stop feeling--the inevitable mortality in everyone and everything.

The first time I was sick, standing at Duane Reade, and all I wanted was to cry in the aisle because I couldn't call you.

The first time that new lawn mower wouldn't run.

The first time I felt helpless.

The first time I felt overwhelming responsibility.

The first time I figured out that new lawn mower.

The first time we tried one of your recipes and it just didn't taste the same.

The first time I hung a new painting and realized that all the tools were in my hands.

The first beer on the deck.

The first time Mom packed away your winter clothes, knowing it would also be the last.

The first time I bought shoes without consulting your opinion.

The first time I laughed so hard that I felt guilty for feeling happy.

The first time I checked flights and realized we will never stand at the Grand Canyon (or the cliffs of Ireland or the coast of Australia) together.

The first time I caught sight of your snow boots, untied, slightly worn, still in the hospital bag.

The first moment I realized I am no longer allowed any new memories or photographs with you.

The first time I knew I couldn't do this alone and all I wanted was to just hug you and smell your cologne and feel safe and see you smile and have you laugh at my dumb jokes or just want to know if you're proud of us or if you think I can do better or if I'm a good person or if there's another Bond movie we never watched together.

The first Father's Day.

Vancouver August 2014.

August 2014.

When I Miss You the Most

There are a few moments in my life that I can't forget: the cold bleachers at my sister's outdoor graduation at University of Michigan; the sweat-through-my-pants heat at the Taj Mahal; the downpour during move-out day at Iona; the 2,000 ft. elevation to Whistler Mountain; the second I saw my dad's heart stop.

People cope with death in various ways, and in the past two weeks, I've seen them all. But there's a difference between dealing with a looming death and one that is unexpected.

My dad wasn't diagnosed with a terminal illness, he wasn't in an accident, he wasn't old. My 53-year-old dad and I shopped for sweaters at Uniqlo and ate pizza three hours before I called 911 on 97th and Amsterdam.

And this is why accepting that my dad isn't alive is difficult. I still think that if I close my eyes hard enough, if I just squeeze reality out for long enough, this nightmare will remove itself and I will be back to binge-watching Parks and Rec with Papa.

People say to be strong, to celebrate Papa's life, to live how he would have wanted me to live, but I keep thinking about holding his hand in the Emergency Room and realizing that it wasn't holding mine. I was too desperate to let go.

In an instant, I went from mourning the loss of love to mourning the loss of life. I yelled at doctors and nurses, demanding them to try something else because my dad is only 53, no, he's never had a heart attack before, yes, I was there, yes, he was driving, no, we're okay, please try something else, please don't stop trying, why did you stop, what do you mean the CPR isn't working, please do something else. 

I stared at my dad's hand, desperate to memorize his fingers. I made promises to God if only He would make these fingers move. They didn't. I felt the ground give way. I've been falling since.

And since then, I've been coping by keeping myself awake, forcing myself to read, gluing my eyes to a screen and designing a layout for a newspaper I had almost forsaken. I try to write about the different strains of sadness, anger, guilt, emptiness, and heartbreak. I exhaust my brain until it has no choice but to sleep.

This doesn't always work. 

Chester, NY July 4, 2014

Chester, NY
July 4, 2014

We have received a lot of love and support, Papa, so don't worry if you think we're alone. Your humorous personality and kind heart have left us with excellent company. But I still go to your closet and smell your shirts. Your cologne makes me think of you coming home from work and putting away your lunch bag. Your lunch bag sits in the closet now. I avoid looking at it.

Papa, since you saw last me, I had made so many plans. I finally felt in control of life. I've been proven wrong. Some stars or fate or destiny dealt us the worst cards and I'd like to set that deck on fire.

I've cancelled tickets, buses, conferences, flights, vacations, giving each the same reason: "My father passed away, so I can't attend." Each time I hear myself saying those words, I become closer to a reality I'm unwilling to accept.

Do you know that I still imagine you cooking eggs, asking me to pass the pepper? Do you know how much I miss the sight of you checking the mail, reading glasses perched on the edge of your nose? Do you know how tired I am of filling out forms and writing your name next to the word "deceased"? Do you know that I hate when people talk about you in the past tense? Do you know how many hugs I've gotten in the past two weeks? Do you know that none of them feel like yours?

I am coping by trying not to remember how you would ask me to recommend something on the menu. I try not to imagine you getting ready in the mornings with your ironed shirt and matching turban. I try to forget how easily we joked around. I pretend you wouldn't have found it amusing that the funeral director reminded me of April Ludgate. 

None of this works either. 

So, if you're wondering when I miss you the most, Papa, I can narrow it down to the time between when I wake up in the morning until right before I fall asleep.

"Looks like I'm in The Revenant." East Harlem, NY. January 23, 2016

"Looks like I'm in The Revenant."
East Harlem, NY.
January 23, 2016