It is dark. Early morning. I pull my airport rental car to the curb and throw the gear shift into park. I am hoping nobody will think I am a weirdo, parking in this residential area before sunrise.
I look out my windshield at the nondescript house and keep my eyes on the garage door. It has been a lifetime since I’ve been here. Many lifetimes, actually. I almost didn’t come this morning.
But I had to see this place. In fact, as soon as my plane landed it was all I could think about. I couldn’t sleep last night, I tossed and wallowed in my sheets.
So I got up early, before the hotel staff started serving the systematic hell they call “continental breakfast,” I crawled into my rental, and I followed empty highways until they led me here.
Parkville, Missouri, is a small town. There are about five thousand living in Parkville proper. There are antique shops, galleries, a little historic downtown. It’s your quintessential American hamlet.
The town was founded in 1836, and was originally called “English Landing,” it was once a port on the Missouri River for tobacco and hemp. Today, I’m told it’s the kind of place where old guys from the American Legion chew the fat and tell flagrant lies about the fish they’ve caught.
My father ended his own life in Parkville. He did the horrible deed in his brother’s house. Nobody saw it coming. They found his body in my uncle’s garage. And the sad irony is, if you’d known my father, you’d know that he probably chose the garage so he wouldn’t make a mess inside the house.
Strangely, my father talked to me on the phone only minutes before he pulled the trigger. He said he loved me. It was just a casual call, and it was a nonchalant “I love you.” The words were said the same way he might have said them after baseball practice when he’d fuzz my sweaty hair.
“Love you, Speedy,” he used to say.
That was his nickname for me. Speedy. My initials are SPD, so I was always Speedy. This nickname was sort of like calling a 350-pound man “Tiny.” I was non-athletic, chubby, with a crippling addiction to Little Debbie products. I was anything but speedy.
But on Daddy’s last phone call I was still “Speedy.” He told me he wouldn’t be seeing me for a while. I remember this phrase very clearly. Although I didn’t know what it meant.
A few hours later I was outside playing in the woods of a completely different county. I was doing kid stuff. Fun stuff. I was cheerfully ignorant of real life and all its woes. Meantime, the report of a single rifle was sounding in Parkville, shattering the stillness, and my father’s soul was leaving this earth.
Anyway, that was a long time ago. At this stage of living, I have learned that when something bad happens in your life it’s like throwing open your living room window during a hurricane. Rain and wind are going to screw up your interior.
Your open window is going to get everything wet. Your furniture is going to be ruined. Your house is going to get screwed up. Your life will never go back to the way it was.
Once that window opens all you crave is for closure. You want this window to close. You pray for it to slam shut. You yearn for this.
But closure doesn’t happen. Even after the storm is long gone, your window will stay open. And even though all you want is to experience this sense of closure, life doesn’t do things just because you want it to. Closure is a myth. And therein lies the gift of tragedy.
After many years, you finally realize that you don’t actually want to shut the window to your pain like you once thought. You slowly come to understand that covering this open hole would be a grave mistake.
Because even though this gaping window once ruined your life and made you hurt, it’s the dull hurt that keeps you human. That low-grade lingering pain is what makes love richer, and joy brighter.
It is this pain that gives you superpowers. Empathy. Thoughtfulness. Hope. Loyalty. Love. Pain can tenderize you if you let it, and it can make you feel. Really feel.
This pain is what causes you to unexpectedly cry when you hold a newborn baby. This pain helps you see lowly people who are often invisible to others. It is this pain that will make each simple sunrise seem like an event that was preordained just for you.
As it happens, I am looking at one such blessed sunrise right now. A breath stealing, arresting sunup. The large orange orb lifts itself above the roofline of this small, nondescript and faded house where my father shot himself.
And in some small way, I feel like Speedy all over again.