It was going to be quite a year. Mama bought me new shoes and new jeans. After one week of school, I was a beloved comedian.
I’d sit in the corner of the lunchroom, telling well-prepared jokes with devastating punchlines. I got invited to a pool party. The girl who invited me called me adorable. Adorable.
It was a decidedly good year.
Until he died.
When they broke the news of Daddy’s death, I wanted to run so hard my legs might fracture. I tried. But they wouldn’t let me out the door.
The funeral home called a few days later. I answered the phone and eavesdropped while Mama talked to the man.
“Courtesy call,” the voice said. “He’s been cremated. Come and get him when you’re ready.”
Come and get him.
The strongest human I’d ever known; the man who taught me to walk upright, to throw baseballs, to tackle low, was ready for curbside pickup.
I didn’t eat supper for weeks. I laid in bed and looked at the ceiling. I held one of Daddy’s dirty shirts against my face.
For the first few nights, I cried myself to sleep until my eyes went numb. After that, all I did was sleep. In fact, once I slept sixteen hours.
What a year.
I’m an adult now. I have mediocre insurance, and a dog who eats better than I do. I don’t sleep nearly as well as I used to. But I’m happy—more or less.
Then, I met him.
He’s young. He shook my hand like a kid twice his age. A sixth-grader with dark hair, long legs, and hunting boots. And even though he didn’t say it, I’ll bet he likes fishing.
His father died last year. There was something about the way the kid said it. Something behind his look that I recognized.
I pressed the issue.
“He swallowed a bottle of pills,” said the kid. “My aunt found him in his car.”
The kid went on to say he’s read some of my stuff—about my father’s own self-inflicted death. Then, he looked at me with serious eyes.
He asked, “Do things ever get better?”
It was a simple question. But my mouth didn’t work. I couldn’t find a single answer because the truth is, I have none.
Still, I wanted to tell him about marathon sleeping, about how the world looks gray even when it’s sunny. I wanted him to know about the four years it takes to regain your appetite. About fear.
I wanted to say that it’s okay to be your own Daddy on holidays, graduations, and weddings. And that it’s alright to talk to ghosts.
Instead, I only stuttered.
We shook hands again. He walked away with his mother. That was several hours ago. I haven’t stopped thinking about him since.
Yes. Things get better, friend. Much better. I promise.
And on that day, you’ll stay up half the night writing something like what you just read.