I remember my Daddy held me high, one arm firmly under my bottom and his strong hand on my back. I put my nose against his beard and found it damp with tears. I held his face in my hands, his big beautiful eyes were red rimmed and so sad. I patted his cheeks and kissed his nose, the tears kept streaming down his cheeks. I tried not to cry and failed.
“Daddy, Daddy don’t cry. Don’t cry Daddy.”
He hugged me tight, we kissed and kissed- I laid my head on his shoulder.
“It’s okay to cry when you’re sad.”
He began to sway back and forth across the living room, still holding me tight. I remember the tingle of tightly coiled hair against my fingertips.
“Why are you sad Daddy?”
He didn’t speak; instead he held me and we slow danced across the living room floor. My Father wept because he had just heard that Marvin Gaye had been shot, he wept as if he’d lost a brother.
“Someone I care about died.”
I knew what death was, some great auntie had passed away a few months prior but my Daddy hadn’t cried about her the way he cried about Marvin Gaye. I laid my head on his shoulder and tried to blot his tears with one of my braids. I recall the clack of my beads against his glasses.
“Who died Daddy?”
He started to sway and hum. Through his tears, he sang “Mercy Me” to me and I cried harder.
“Put the record on Daddy, please?”
He put me down on the sofa and I wiped my nose on the cushion next to me.
“How many records do you want to play?”
I barely had to think about it.
“All of them. I wanna sing and dance all night so he can go to heaven and be happy.”
Daddy stopped crying for a minute and turned to look at me.
“Why would you want to do that?”
Even at that age I was used to his sudden serious questions and I thought about why before I answered.
“Because, nothing bad will ever happen to him again. We should show him we’re okay and then he’ll go to heaven and be an angel.”
A silence settled over us as he thought it over. My Mom was long gone by then and he and I didn’t really go to church, I had come to that conclusion on my own. He nodded and went about setting up a few hours worth of music.
We didn’t go to bed until the sun was starting to rise. We had wept and sweated, danced and stomped Marvin Gaye home.
Looking back on that night we set a good precedent for our lives. We lost many loved ones. We spent many long nights dancing and singing alone in our little house, sending them to heaven with our joyful noise.
I’m an adult now and in my Father’s house alone. He’s been gone for a month now and I have been living here trying to get things in order. I spent the first three nights fingering his record collection, too afraid to play his music, too hurt to play him home.
When my Father got sick I was in New Orleans trying my hardest to dance myself stupid. I had been wandering around for a few years, hopping place to place and exploring everything and everyone.
The call came and I was bundled into a car driven by my best friend, he drove like a demon northwards until he pulled up to the hospital. I don’t remember the scenery or walking into the ICU, what I remember is the awful version of “You Light Up My life” was playing in the lobby.
Inside the ICU I saw my father and he didn’t look sick. It hurt more that he looked as hale and hearty as he’d always been. His round brown face clean-shaven, his eyebrows unruly and peppered with white. His mouth relaxed with those upturned corners. If he had looked broken or frail I would have been okay, I would have understood that he was about to die.
Everything slowed down and focused on a single long moment. My Daddy opened his eyes, he looked at me and hummed a few bars of “Mercy me”, I kissed him all over his face and our tears mingled face just as they had the day Marvin Gaye died. He sang his goodbye to me at five am in the mechanical shush of the ICU.
My Daddy had prepared for this eventuality. I had taught him to burn CD’s and he made hundreds of what he called shiny mix tapes, he sent them to everyone he knew. There was a mix for every occasion, including his death. I found the CD in his desk with the words play me baby written on it in sharpie. There was no other letter or note; my father was a man of sounds rather than words.
The family has departed; I didn’t allow them to play music in the house. My Father’s simple will is in probate and there is nothing left to do but say goodbye and send him home.
Tonight I will dance and sing alone in my Fathers house to music he chose, hoping he can hear me on his way to heaven.
Shannon Barber is an author from the Pacific Northwest who spends most of her commuting, crocheting and writing. She writes both fiction and non-fiction and reads ravenously. Her latest work can be seen in The Battered Suitcase. To see her latest work or read her blog please visit her website at www.shannon-writes.net