I was sitting solemnly on one of the numerous staircases of Grand Central Terminal’s main hall, my head heavily resting in my right hand and elbows upon my knees. I wasn’t admiring the intricately designed ceilings or patiently waiting for my transportation to arrive. I was people watching and anyone who has ever been to Grand Central knows that it is quintessentially one of the sole greatest places on earth to do such a thing. Not only was I watching the people hurriedly come and go but I was preoccupied with thoughts on what their lives were presently like – I was focusing on the simple fact that we all have a story to tell and I was wondering what each of their stories was. Moreover, I was curious as to what each of his or her struggle was – what each individual was fraught with.
My particular struggle that day was the heaviness on my heart. I felt like I was lugging around a wheelbarrow full of concrete, reminiscent of the night before I found out that my mother had cancer – that inkling that something really terrible was imminent. I had been aimlessly wandering around the boisterous streets of Manhattan that Sunday afternoon alone and found myself at 42nd and Park Avenue. Grand Central had always held a magical essence to me and I needed a lift in spirits as the weight of the world was seemingly on my shoulders, so I willingly sauntered inside. Only that afternoon, nothing seemed to aide in my feeling lighter.
The day prior I was exploring the liveliness that is Harlem with a coworker of mine. The pit in my stomach was present then, though manageable. This particular day it was downright all consuming. As I continued sitting on the steps, as close to the railing as possible so not to be in any passerby’s way, I called my dad. My uncle answered, informing me that he wasn’t really capable of speaking. I responded that I just wanted to tell him I love him. My uncle put him on the phone and I briefly told him hello and a few other sentiments. My dad tried to utter a few words though verbal communication was certainly one of his many struggles that day. After hanging up, I quickly stood to catch the 6 train to Union Square. I suddenly wanted to go home, to crawl into bed because sleeping was the only thing I knew that would numb that agonizing feeling for a prolonged period.
Plans were intact that same evening to meet up with David, who was my boyfriend at the time, and a dear friend of his from Boston. Something in my gut told me not to go out, though, to remain right where I was – in our one bedroom apartment in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. I recall feeling uneasy for cancelling on David, as I knew he was looking forward to introducing me to his friend, though he surprisingly understood. I passed out around 10pm only to wake about half an hour later, laying there acknowledging that the same heaviness I had been experiencing all day was unfortunately still present. I reached for my phone to find an unexpected missed call from my dad’s place in Illinois. I noted the time on the call was only about fifteen minutes prior but I wasn’t naïve enough to believe that death waited for any man or woman. My heart began to audibly pound as my fingers fumbled over the touch screen and immediately returned the phone call.
“Hello?” My aunt instantly answered. She reluctantly informed me that my dad wasn’t doing so well and that it was seemingly “coming down to the wire” for lack of better terms. She told me that he could listen and understand everything but was unable to speak. I asked for her to put the phone to his ear. As I laid there in the dark around 10:45 in the evening on April 10, 2011, I told my dad I loved him and assured him that it was okay to let go. I’m not sure where I had heard or read somewhere that when people are on their deathbed, so to speak, hearing from their loved ones that it was “okay to go” delivered a sliver of peace to their hearts and minds, aiding in the process of the body’s resolve to stop fighting. I made sure I did this for both my mother and my father, though I can’t say that I was being honest – I was simply acting upon anything to ease at least an ounce of their pain and fear.
My dad was making sounds, attempting to respond, but I urged him to stop and repeated that it was “okay.” Shortly after, my aunt returned to the phone to tell me they would call back with any new developments. I hung up the phone and stared wide-eyed at the ceiling, my body stiff, frozen in an awkward position upon the Tempur-Pedic mattress, my cell phone still cradled in my left hand. I can’t recall how much time passed before it rang again though I do know it wasn’t much time at all – 10 minutes, maybe. I knew what was coming. It was my uncle on the other end this time. He sadly said, “He’s gone honey. That’s all he was waiting for – to hear your voice. He spoke to Jason; he spoke to your mom. He spoke to every one before you returned the missed call. He was holding on until he heard your voice.”
After I hung up the phone that night, I possessed an even lengthier story of struggle to tell and as it stands today, I wish my dad were still around to share his. I didn’t know him nearly well enough and that statement goes both ways – a despairing fact that could be deemed my single greatest regret when it comes to us. I don’t blame him or myself for this – he wasn’t exactly the easiest person to get to know. The things that I do know about him, however, made him one of the solitary most interesting persons to watch. If I was sitting on a staircase amidst the enchanting hustle and bustle of Grand Central Station today, he’d be that perfect stranger I’d want to grab coffee with at Magnolia Bakery before catching the train back to Brooklyn. Even in his death, I still ponder his story and his struggle with the pieces I gratefully retain of the difficult puzzle that was my father.