Weatherproof, behind the song
My sister screamed through the phone that Dad was dead. I hung up and dropped it. I instantly learnt what shock is.
Earlier that day I'd come home from wherever I was and opened the front door. I lived with Mum and my two sisters. My baby sister lit up and ran at me, joyously yelling "Daddy!". She stopped halfway, disappointed to find it was just her big brother. He hadn't come to pick her up today, as he did every Friday, to take her out home for the weekend. Today he was unreachable.
The weekend prior, he gave me a lift to a party, we stopped at a bottle store so I could grab a 20 box of Double Browns. He was waiting in the car when an old friend walked by. I walked out to find them yarning. Usually I'd already met the people he seemed to know so well - I'd grown up around his mates, but I hadn't seen this guy before. They talked for quite a while, I was always struck by the Old Man's willingness to do so, where others might have looked for the first excuse to move on with their day.
I'd just been overseas for a holiday and this was the first I'd seen him since. While abroad I found myself in the room of a plush apartment containing everything one might need to make and record songs. I didn't get to tinker, but being in that room and realising that a studio can now fit in your bedroom really struck a nerve. So as we drove I told the Old Man about wanting to buy some gear. He offered to take me over to see his mate Richie, who owned the Music Machine. I was sure to be looked after if he took me in, people were very fond of Danny Badlands.
I didn't divulge many other details about the trip, it involved activities you don't yarn to your folks about and I'd always felt uneasy sharing too much with them. We'd been given a lot of freedom growing up and I'd pushed it. There's an understated guilt that comes with being naughty when you have relaxed parents. Plus I was too young to want the guidance, even though it always came wrapped in cool subtlety. I was an excited lad. Refreshed and fulfilled. The future was bright. He dropped me off. I had a wicked night.
The next morning he was there when I awoke at Mums. I felt rotten and didn't want to deal with anyone. I avoided getting up as long as I could, I had no desire to converse, but the need to piss set in and didn't relent. So I eventually arose, did what I needed to do and reluctantly made my way out to where Mum and Dad were lounging with coffee. It would've been rude to not say hello but I was far from good company.
The folks got on better when they didn't live together. Dad would visit often but he'd always take off back to our old family home - the house we grew up in, to the dog we grew up with. Just as he did that day, not long after I got out of bed in bad shape and poor form. It was probably that evening that he died.
Five days later, it's Friday, he hasn't shown up to get my baby sister and Mum starts trying to get hold of him. She made a few phone calls. None fruitful. As the mystery deepened, Mum and my sisters decide to drive out to his house. I had to work. A busy friday night. 30 people to oversee. I went to set up my shift but in no way could I focus. Panic was starting to set in. I phoned my grandad from the glass office overlooking the kitchen at work. He hadn't seen him, his mates hadn't seen him, no one had. He hadn't been to work all week. Hadn't been to band practice. When I ran out of calls to make I waved the boss to the office. I could barely mouth the words that something was wrong and that I had to leave. I got in my falcon and hurried towards the old family home. I pulled over to ring my sister on the way. They'd beaten me there and she was hysterical.
Life became very hard, very quickly. It was the middle of summer. Mum and my baby sister broke in to find his rotting blackened corpse, fallen backwards in it's chair, lying in a pool of dried blood. The hot air thick with flies and stench. She'd married that man in her teens. Her best friend for 20-something years and this is what had become of him.
My 3 year old sister would grow up without a dad and my teenaged sister would lose hers when she needed him most. She was 16 and not long after, also lost her boyfriend in a car crash. These were unhappy girls. Those were grim days. My brother lived in a different town and after he came to see off the Old Man, and help strip and renovate the family house, he had a life to go back to. The bubble of support that came together to mourn eventually shrunk and burst. Everyone else went back to normalcy. And rightly so. But normalcy wasn't so easy in such a wounded household.
My own grief was profound. It came in waves. A cycle of crushing, gut-wrenching sickness, followed by brittle calm and inevitably back again. It consumed all my thoughts. I was forced to confront the delicacy of life unlike I ever had before. It was terrifying. Death and dying began to beg my attention constantly. At such times you can't help but carry difficult and troubling feelings; frightening and disturbing and an unwelcome waste of time. If you let the wrong thoughts creep in, you become engulfed by dread.
Somewhere along the way it became clear that a peaceful mind is more valuable than anything. It struck me that nothing can be done to avoid one day facing such horrors again, but my own fault was in paying mind to those worries, thus prolonging their effect. The prospect of dying or losing someone at any moment saw to it that sitting idle in life was no longer an option. It forced me to reflect on the person my dad had been and to carefully consider the aspects of his character that'd be worth imitating and which ones were best counted as lessons. There's no way to walk away from that situation without a better sense of the man you want to be.
We're all inevitably ambushed by tragedies. They affect you deeply and alter the course of your life; but I think you can control the way in which these events shape you and it can be positive. The sting of loss and the fear of losing people and the fear of knowing that death is imminent certainly weigh on your nerves, but such thoughts can command a strong respect for life. One person's departure shouldn't ruin the precious moments of those that still have them. What else can you do but take whatever inspiration you can, make peace with the tragedy and get on with it all?