Donna J. Dotson – Daddy’s Girl

June 30, 2014 | By | 4 Replies More
Shes Come Undone by Sarah McTeer Ogburn

She’s Come Undone by Sarah McTeer Ogburn

When my cell phone rang at 5:40 am on that Sunday morning, I sprang fully awake. Before the nurse on the other end of the line could even verify my name, I knew why she was calling.  She didn’t need to say the words.  I didn’t want to hear them.  Still, she was burdened with the responsibility of calling to inform us of my father’s decline and encouraging us to come to the hospital.  I needed no encouragement. I only wanted her to stop talking so I could move. My mind had slammed shut around the information the nurse wasn’t saying, and I scrambled blindly toward the door.  The only thing that mattered in that moment was bridging the physical gap between my dad and me although I knew my presence would not change the outcome.

By the time I disconnected the call, the rest of my family was awake, clinging tightly to the edge of hope. I, alone, sank into the depths of unspoken truth. It wasn’t until later that I realized we were all holding our breath against the stench of grief that was already tainting the air. Memories of my dad getting up early to fix breakfast before church every Sunday morning of his life ran on a continuous loop through my mind.  My husband insisted on driving. The highway was deserted; still, our emergency flashers startled the darkness. I rolled down my window, hoping the air would tether me to some semblance of consciousness.  The dew tasted of honeysuckle and stale cigarette smoke. There were no words, but I felt like I was drowning in the silence.  Wrapping my arms tight around my torso, I rocked in the passenger seat—a futile attempt to propel the car forward, faster. I sprinted through the hollow parking garage. My footsteps echoed through the sleeping halls of the hospital.  I could only hear my blood pulsing in my ears.

I replayed the intimate conversations my dad and I had during the previous week while he was in the hospital.  He told me the story of his own father’s death and sobbed his way through the details. He recounted his days in the military—his commendations and the sights he saw, the fact that he never took a single drink of alcohol and never smoked tobacco.  We shared memories from before, and after, the divorce.  He told me that he never stopped loving my mom.  We talked about all the weekends I went to work with him building houses where he taught me the importance of a strong foundation and how sometimes common sense overrode what textbooks taught.  I tried to mimic his skill with a hammer, learned how to use a level and took pride in the hard work.  I relied on those skills to tackle the renovation project of the small cottage he had built when he and mom were first married.

I remember his exact words from that conversation—they were the words I had longed to hear my whole life.  Still groggy from the catheterization anesthesia, his rheumy eyes met my scared ones and he said, “That’s how I know my blood runs through your veins.  I’m proud of you, Smiley!” In my mind, no sweeter words were ever spoken. For five precious days, we talked together, laughed together and prayed together.  He was strong in his faith and felt prepared to die, but we were just getting to know one another.  I was not ready to let him go.  There was still so much to say.

Records show he awakened in the middle of the night—restless.  Determined to go home, he wanted to walk. Vitals check at 4:30 am showed nothing unusual, but by the time the nurses came back around, he had already bled out into his chest cavity.  A nurse found him sprawled on the cold tile floor in his hospital gown, his hands drawn into desperate claws that told me he was trying to hang on to life.   I imagine the sound of the nurses’ muted surprise in the hush of the hospital, as they wrestled his lifeless body onto the bed and threaded the intubation tube between his thin, dry lips.  Medical staff worked feverishly to get his heart beating again, while one ran to the nurse’s station to make those dreaded phone calls. I squeezed my eyes tight against the vision of him lying in that bed, sheet tucked neatly around him, mouth gaping open around the ventilator still taped to his pale cheek.

I didn’t need to see his death certificate to know that he was already gone when I received that phone call.  I looked at it anyway.  Time of death:  5:40 am.  His brothers and sisters busied their minds with speculation as to how he ended up in the doorway of his hospital room. Not even the doctor could determine if the impact of his fall caused the bleed, or if he knew he was in trouble and had gone in search of help when he fell.  Numbly, I vetoed the need for an autopsy and made arrangements with the funeral home.

Standing beside the open casket, I tucked my words of farewell into the pocket of his suit coat. I pressed a final lipstick kiss on his forehead and slipped my hand into the gently cupped shape of his cold fingers.  As far back as I can remember, there had always been some intangible object lodged in the relationship between me and my dad. Even as an adult, I had felt trapped in the awkward arms of youth, and we had come to every conversation from opposite points of view.  I felt I had let him down upon birth and had failed to redeem myself.  In just a few short days, we found acceptance of one another. I went from feeling like “not daddy’s son,” to knowing I was “daddy’s girl” all along. I still find small comfort in the absence of the obstacle between us.


Category: Knowing

Comments (4)

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  1. Sheryl Rider says:

    I’ve read this over and over, each time feeling the panic, the silent plea for this not to be true, the “clinging tightly to the edge of hope” that kept the overwhelming grief temporarily at bay. The descriptions of those initial moments are devastatingly real, real enough to cause tears to fall each time I read it. But it was the reflection that touched me most. The beautiful coming together after years of uncertainty, only to have the hope of a new-found relationship snatched away, and the final realization that she was, in fact, what she’d always hoped to be, just left me breathless. And in that final heartbreaking sentence, a reminder that the healing power of “knowing” sometimes comes at great cost. Beautiful, beautiful piece.

    • Donna J. Dotson says:

      Thank you Sheryl! Your insight and critique are invaluable to me at all stages in my writing processes. Don’t know what I would do without your open willingness to read, re-read and help me smoothe the edges of my often erratic thought processes.

  2. Karen Wisont says:

    Beautiful piece cousin! Your daddy was a sweet and honest man. No doubt he loved you and your sister beyond measure. I’ll never forget his smile– all mischievous and charming.

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