When You Were My Age

My Dad and MeThis is what I believed:

You were on a secret mission for the government. You’d been selected because of your special military skills. You were undercover, top secret, incognito. Every once in a while, I’d see a man who looked a little bit like you. Was it you, so well-disguised? I knew you were watching us.

This is what I believed:

Don’t give up. Don’t be a quitter. Never quit. “Damn, I’m good.”

Those were your mantras. Your mottos on the wall. Your key chains. I couldn’t give up, not on myself, not on you.

As I forced myself to finish that last lap around the track, I knew you were watching me, proud of me: your daughter who doesn’t give up. Your daughter who is so like you. Same fuzzy hair. Same blue eyes. Same sense of humor–or so my mother once told me. Same self-righteousness and determination.

This is what I remember:

When I was in third grade, or was it fourth?, you brought our dog, Lucky, to recess at school and let us romp with him. Later-was it just the next summer? You had Lucky put to sleep because he was getting in too many fights with other dogs. It was a hard decision, but you always did the right thing, even if it was hard.

You taught me how to pull worms from the soil for fishing. You taught me how to cast the fly, hold the rod–I don’t remember the right words now. It was so long ago. You went ahead of us on the path through the woods near the river to kill the snakes. You showed us their bodies. In the river, you taught me to swim. There was a rock with a t-shaped tunnel through it. The teenagers swam through the tunnel. You encouraged me to do it, too–you were there on the other side to pull me through. Once, at the river, you lost your wedding band.

You stayed up, night after night, gluing together that Victorian doll house kit, sewing bedding for the furniture: a tiny canopy, pillows. You put it all together for me, just a year or so before I was too old to enjoy it, just like the long-awaited canopy frame you’d made for my own bed.

Camping… the deer walked right past our site.

Christmas… wool socks left behind in the snow by Santa.

You read us ‘Treasure Island’ and made up stories about Sasquatch. You sang ‘Old Dog Blue’ and ‘Mr. Bojangles’ and songs of your own while playing guitar. They always made me cry.

This is what I remember:

We were in the living room. It was the weekend before father’s day, and we had gone shopping on the base for your presents. You were away at Fort B.

The police car pulled up. It parked on the street, not in our driveway.

A police officer and a military officer got out–was he a Marine? Or from the National Guard?

Mom told us all to go to our sisters’ room. For once, we all obeyed.

Minutes later, she came in, sat down. I don’t remember her exact words. She told us you were dead. Shot. Machine gun. Practice drill. You were never coming back.

My brother ran out of the room. I can’t remember what happened next.

We couldn’t hold the funeral service at the church, because you hadn’t been baptized. That had never prevented you from taking Communion.

At the reception later, the nuns told me you were in a better place. I couldn’t believe their nerve.

This is what I believed, for a while:

You were in heaven, watching me. Reading my mind. Judging me. Hoping for me. Wanting me to be the best I could.

I knew it wasn’t true, but somewhere, somehow, I wanted you to still exist. To still be with me. On my first wedding day–in the midst of an August heat wave–it rained. They said you were crying from  Heaven. On my second wedding day, the morning’s torrential downpour cleared to a perfect, sunny, smiling afternoon. I know it was just weather.

When You Were My Age

I am the same exact age now–minus a few weeks– that you were when you died: 39. On this day, 29 years ago, you were gone.

How could you have been so young? You seemed so real to me, so complete. You were everything.

You have missed so much of our lives. My daughter cries for the grandfather she never knew.

At 39, I am still a child. Unformed. Trying.

I was selected for VOTY/PhOTY 2015

136 thoughts on “When You Were My Age

  1. This is such a touching post. I lost my dad, unexpectedly, two years ago. He was 49. I can’t imagine what it will be like to live to be older than he ever got to be. It’s hard to imagine ever passing your parent in age. Thanks for sharing your story!

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  3. Such a lovely post. The part about the nuns telling you he was in a better place really resonated with me. I lost my brother when I was 8 and I could hardly stand when people said that to me. You really captured what are usually indescribable emotions. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Powerful piece, very well presented and concise. I’m more long-winded but trying. Your posts are incredible. Thank you for sharing your wonderful Dad with us…I’m sure he is proud of you.

    • Thank you. I have a background in technical/policy writing and media work so I tend to be concise. Thank you so much for reading and for your kind comment.

  5. Hi, Kylie. Your post touched me on two levels. First, I lost my father and as an expression of daughter living without her father grief this couldn’t be more accurate. As a writer, you’ve given me a great lesson in blogging like a badass. Hope to blog like you when I grow up–I’m 35 but my blog is only a few weeks old.

  6. Your post gave me chills down the spine. I could see the worms and feel the water and the darkness of that T shaped tunnel. I never expected what was coming. I felt as though I were standing there as the car drew up.
    You write so visually. It was like watching a movie.
    Definitely following your blog now! Thank you Freshly Pressed. All the best to you.

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  12. Hello darling. My first visit here. This was so beautiful and I think anyone can relate to what it is to love someone so much who just isn’t here anymore. But he left his mark on you and nothing can change that. xo S

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  14. Wow! This is so gorgeous, it gave me goosebumps!! Thank you so much for sharing this with me. Your dad was a beautiful person and this is such a sweet tribute to him. Very well done.
    On my blog I posted “Always On My Mind” about my mother’s death, if you are interested. Thank you for your nice words about “The Rewards of Being Yourself.” Take care.

  15. Its strange how dads always do and never say, right? Mine has always been putting his tears aside when it came to things about me, except that Mom let the cat out of the bag. That he had been crying for three mornings in a row, just before my wedding. Dads are difficult to understand, sometimes difficult to reason with, but at the end of the day, you always know they love you a lot. Glad you posted this. #Peace&happiness

  16. A wonderful straight from the heart tribute, quite emotional reading! And I love your style of writing, flows very elegant!

    I notice you have the Pinterest button showing – would you mind if I pinned this to my Pinterest board for Interesting Blog Posts? I’m always looking for something good to put on there!
    Suzy :)

  17. Thanks for asking me to read this, Kylie. I have known about this part of your life, the tragedy, for 20 years, and I have ached for you so often. But this piece is only partly about the tragedy. Your memories of him as a father, of your own life as a father’s daughter, are so pure and touching and bittersweet. There is this sense that your story should feel like it has come full circle now that you are the age he was when he died. But the circle isn’t closed. You are still making your rotation…and your father will always be a part of that journey.

  18. Beautiful Kylie. Really a stunning piece of writing in honor of someone who can never be replaced. I don’t suppose you’ll ever really find true peace with your loss, but he would certainly be so proud of you.

  19. Kylie,
    Thank you, thank you, thank you for coming to get me, and bring me here. You wrote from the heart, and I am typing this with tears. Thank you.
    Le Clown

  20. There must be so many many ways to tell this story and to write about your Dad. Who sounds like he was a wonderful father. But I love the way you chose to do it. Telling it simply. The plain truth of it. I think you really gave it justice.

    • Thank you Linda. You’re right… so many approaches and so many pieces. So many entry points, context, little stories… maybe there will be more to come. Thank you for your kind words.

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  22. This is beautifully written and heartbreaking. I read this post on the Facebook group “I Fucking Love Science” and I thought you might like it (especially considering your reaction to stupid nuns).

    “You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.

    And at one point you’d hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.

    And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.

    And you’ll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they’ll be comforted to know your energy’s still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly. Amen.” ~I Fucking Love Science; May 17th, 2012

    It gets a little preachy in that last paragraph (yeah, I’m being a smart-ass), but the overall sentiment is lovely.

  23. I came over to your blog, sort of ‘following’ you from BBW … and I am so glad to have done so. Your blog is great -:)!

    The warmth and humanity you have shown in this post is truly beautiful, as are the memories you shared about your father. Thank you.

    Daniela

    • Thank you Daniela,
      I was hesitant to share my post in the comment to your post, but I took a chance that you wouldn’t see it as self-promotion but rather as connection. I’m very grateful to have read your story and want to get to know you better. Thank you for ‘following’ me over here and for YOUR thoughtful comment.
      Kylie

  24. Beautiful writing and a gorgeous life to write about. Lives, really – since I got to know so much about you in the process of learning about your complex, deep, supportive, brave father. Thank you for sharing – it takes guts. And it’s so so so special.

  25. Kylie, I am forever a fan of you and what you put into words because you write so honestly and beautifully. You invitation to “really know you, at least a little” instantly beckoned me; and you did not disappoint–of course you never do–I was stunned (I never knew this history of yours those many years ago when we shared the same school), then so sad for you, your bother, sister and mom; and then, at the same time, more in awe of you and the life you live and the woman you’ve become. So lovely my friend, so lovely.

    • Wendy, thank you. I can’t believe you didn’t know about this! I guess it’s an illusion of adolescence that everybody can see into and through us. It makes me wonder what I don’t know about YOU (plenty!) and everybody else.

  26. Kylie: Wow! What an incredibly moving tribute to your Dad. You, beautiful girl, are an amazing writer. I imagine your father is pleased at how strong and confident all of his children have become as adults.

  27. Absolutely beautiful, Kylie. So much about your dad and your relationship with him that I never knew. And I’d never seen photos of him. That last line really resonates with me. Thank you for writing this.

  28. That was beautiful, Kylie. Your dad was so memorable with such a larger than life personality. He was incredibly charismatic and I remember being fascinated by his stories and little tricks. It’s a little eerie in that last picture how much he looks like the giant painting Grandma kept in her dining room of our grandfather. I never realized the resemblance before.

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