My father’s brain died on Thanksgiving day but his body took a few weeks to catch up. They delivered his ashes to me on Christmas eve in a brown shipping box as if it was a present.
I dreamed of him through the long, cold winter. It went on for months, stretching into days that never seemed to warm up like they should. He’d call me from the places we went – his favorite places, the movies, the best spot on the beach – and ask me to come pick him up. Over and over again. Different places, and different phone numbers, but always the same request. “Come get me. I need to come home.”
Even in my dreams I was too grief stricken to reply. Spring finally came, starting in June instead of April. My iris blossoms came up, reminding me of his garden. The dreams barely changed. Now I was in my childhood home, and when the phone rang he told me who he was with, not where he was. The message stayed the same. “Come get me. I need you to pick me up.”
Finally, it was June. The stores started counting down to Father’s Day. He’d been dead for more than six months and no one seemed to care. The constant dreaming left me worn thin, unraveling on the edges of my life. Friends lost. Hobbies neglected. Folded in on myself with the need to pick up someone who wasn’t any more.
The next dream phone call was the worst. “I’m at your grandma’s house, she cooked dinner, but I don’t want it. I’d rather make you a milkshake.”
It was our favorite food. A ritual passed down. A secret recipe he had memorized. I couldn’t take it anymore. “I can’t come get you, Dad, you’re dead.”
It was a dream but the confused voice seemed so real. “No, I’m not. I’m with your grandmother.”
“She’s dead too.” I woke up abruptly. No more dreams of him. No more desperate requests not to be left behind. Except sometimes around Father’s day, when he starts the call by telling me he knows. He knows what I told him is true. Could I come get him anyway?