remembering losing a parent, 20 years later

Fear #430958: Fear of Abandonment

February 13 will be the 22nd anniversary of my dad’s passing, due to complications following a cerebral aneurysm. He was 52. He missed my sister’s birthday, Feb. 11, by two days. Valentine’s Day by one. My sister’s first child was also born on  Feb. 11, 2008. My niece's delight over her birthday is helium in the heavy-weird days of February. 
    Early January, 1990: I’m a freshman at the College of Wooster, a small liberal arts school in Ohio that thrives in the shadow of its more famous neighbor, Oberlin. I’ve just returned to campus following Christmas break. The old snow is piled a foot deep on the pastoral grounds, and I’m walking from the cafeteria back to my dorm following lunch.
   Is it along the trampled, snowy path that my R.A. finds me and says: “Your father is in the hospital, you need to go home?” 
    I do remember a white field of snow, walking beside the tennis court. I remember packing some clothes. I remember that my cross country coach is driving the car, and that my best friend Carolyn is holding my hand. Perhaps we’re both in the back seat, leaving the passenger seat empty. I remember watching the rows of cornfields flicker past us as we travel the two hours from school to my home. Or do we drive first to the hospital?
    Days and days and countless car rides back and forth between home and the hospital. Surgery and improvement. Hope and then complications. In the waiting room, every detail seems absurd: the choice of fabric on the chairs, the large potted mall-plants, the empty Pepsi can in one of the pots. I watch people come and go and think: God has chosen this woman to live, or that man, while my dad lies in a white bed.
    No child should see a parent’s body lifeless: I’m telling you this, doctors of the world. Perhaps someone thought we needed closure, or proof, or to say something. Perhaps someone didn’t think. One nurse has tears in her eyes, a wisp of a memory I'm still grateful for.
    On the last day we’re given a plastic bag emblazoned with the hospital’s name and logo. The bag contains a few personal effects: a belt perhaps, a comb and his hair. Is this a ritual in American hospitals, or the odd afterthought of a nurse meaning to be kind?
    Sealed in a plastic sandwich bag, his hair is still high up on a shelf in the closet of my old bedroom. It’s reddish blond, the color faintly seen in the highlights of my hair in the sun.