Can you see me now? I am myself, like you…somehow.”
Growing up as a child to my mid teens I had a safe life with my dad. My dad was my mentor, my best friend and my protector but most importantly he was my father. And I respected that title highly. I was amazed just by his selfless ways of being fair and being firm. He had his own style, he had charm, but he had a heart of gold that everyone saw. You couldn’t miss it. He didn’t flaunt anything, he just was himself. And he had the respect to go along with it all because of the respect he had shown for many others in his life. Dad always encouraged me to do my best in my life. Dad would always say “Always work hard and dream the dream.” We dreamed together, and as I grew older, I found my own dreams.
Over the early years of my childhood, I was fortunate to get to spend a lot of time with my father and we got to do some really cool things together. We would collect rocks and sea shells on our walks along the beach, fly kites, have a cup of clam chowder on a cold winters day, we played chess together and we’d go to see the Yankees and we went to a lot of hockey games together. Dad loved food. On Thanksgiving my mom would always make him a huge platter plate of food while the rest of us got regular smaller plates. He used to get excited when the turkey was being carved and he would smile from ear to ear right before the first bite. My dad loved that I played the guitar. I’d sit and play my guitar for him and dad would have tears in his eyes just admiring his son doing what he loves. He would teach me computer programming so I could learn what he knew. I learned a lot from my father and with everything he taught me, I hold that sacred to my heart to this very day. Looking back, I can say it was the best days of my life back then. And I was safe…
My dad was cool, funny, loving and like I said, the pure heart of the family. I remember he would sing to me when I was a baby to calm me down. Dad would sing softly “Oh Frankie boy, the pipes the pipes are calling.” He even let me stay up on school nights to watch all of the Charlie Brown specials on TV. And yes he was really smart too. My dad joined the Air Force and was sent to Germany to learn telecommunications and when he got out of the service, that’s what he did for a living. He worked his way up and became Vice President of AT&T in New York City at The World Trade Center. He had the respect of his coworkers and colleagues and he always took pride in his job that he loved so much.
Now, as smart as dad was, or how hard he worked and how cool he just was, my dad could be a big goofball and think nothing of it. He was the guy who mowed his lawn on Saturday mornings in a white polo shirt, tan shorts that came up to his knees, while wearing black socks and his dress shoes from Sears. He rocked it. Kinda….sorta. My dad was a real hard worker. In my lifetime, I can’t recall him ever taking off of work for a sick day, or a vacation day. He always went to work – every single day. He would wake up at 4am and get showered then dressed, kiss his family goodbye then go to the train station to then work in New York. Dad won awards on his attendance at work. He just never took a day off, never a sick day, never a personal day or even a vacation day…ever…until one day.
Monday, MARCH 12, 1990 – 9:30AM
I woke up late for school that morning. I heard my alarm, but I was hoping my mom didn’t as my mom was leaving for her job and I felt like I was getting away with now being able to skip school so I could hang out at home for the day. Then, what I didn’t expect, was I heard a soft knock at my door. “Son, you have school today right?” he said. “Yes dad I do.” I said. “I’ll drive you bud, so get ready.” With a deep breath, I got up and got dressed and headed for the kitchen where my dad was waiting for me. I asked why he was home. He said he had some things to do around the house. So I asked if it was cool that I stay home and spend “quality” time with him and that’s what I’d like to do. He said politely “You do school…” as he smiled at me and magically erased that idea from my mind, rather quickly. To my father, school was the most important job and my only job he wanted me to focus on. There would be no way I could get the day off with his beliefs, so, I got in his car and off we went. I remember the car ride to school and the conversation going from me asking why he had a Barbra Streisand cassette tape in his car to the subject of my report card. He asked me when my report card would be coming home for him to look at. A few days prior, I had got the mail before my parents and saw my report card and i decided to hide it from him and my mother. I think I failed gym and didn’t pass math. The truth? I was embarrassed to say the least. I didn’t think he’d ask about it, but, he did. And when he did, I got nervous, scared and I did the worst thing I could have ever done, I lied. I told my dad “I don’t know.” But he knew that I knew. And he took a breath and simply said “Son, I’m going to ask you one last time…” My dad rarely raised his voice. He felt that if you have to yell to get your point across, that means your not in control. He always remained in self control. So When dad said to me that I have one last time to tell the truth, I knew there wouldn’t be a second time. My genius reply? I got obnoxious and defensive thinking this would be the best route to take ad that he will stop and we can get back to talking about his tape collection. So I argued with him, which I never really did before. But I was 16 and I didn’t know that this route I was taking would change my life…forever. I told him I felt he was picking on me and to stop. He said “I have dreams for you son, and these dreams only you can obtain but you have to put the work and it starts in school.” Dad wanted me to work for him when I got older. But At that time, I didn’t see the big picture of things. I was 16 and didn’t think of adulthood at all. I had no plans. And I didn’t want to work for my dad. I wanted to be in a rock band and play my music. I had dreams too. So I argued my point. Which was no point and there was no winning. And In the end, I was wrong. So I stopped and just admitted to my dad that I took the report card and hid it from him. All he said was “I’m disappointed son”, and it got real quiet in the car. Not 5 minutes later we pulled up to the school and dad parked the car. I didn’t even blink an eye, I just opened the car door, got out and didn’t even look at him, or thank him for the ride to school. I quickly shut the door and walked away into the school. Right before the car door closed, I heard him say “I love y….” **door slam.**
MARCH 12, 1990 – 3PM
At the end of my a school day, I jumped on the school bus home. I remember feeling sick in my stomach for some odd reason. But I didn’t I think anything of it. I remember feeling bad about my fight with dad that morning. I didn’t want to fight with my dad when I got home, and i needed to let dad know I was wrong and I was sorry. My plan was to apologize for everything the second I got home. I remember thinking, I love my dad, and respect my dad but I didn’t show it that morning. But I was going to make it right between us when I got home.
When I got to my house, dads car was in the driveway. No one else was home but dad. I walked in the door and I remember thinking it was real silent. Almost too quiet. I saw the basement light on and the dog was outside in the back yard. Mom was still at work and dad was downstairs where his work bench was. front the top of the stairs, I called his name out “dad?” But no reply. So I slowly walked down the stairs. I kept saying “dad?” And wondered why he didn’t respond at all. I thought maybe he was upstairs in his room. But when I got to the second to last step, I saw my dad…laying on the basement floor. His shirt was off and his face was pale and purple. I stood still…paralyzed. I called out his name “dad??” And then I noticed his lips were blue and there was foam coming out. His eyes were half open, crossed and glazed. Did he fall? Is he sick? I didn’t understand what I was seeing. But then it hit me. And in that moment, I realized what I never thought would ever happen. My protector, my mentor, my best friend…my dad was dead. I ran over to him and screamed his name “DAD!!!!!” But I couldn’t scream loud enough for him to wake up. “WAKE UP DAD!!!” “NO!” “DAD!!!” “WAKE UP DADDY PLEASE!!!”. Nothing I was screaming was changing anything. He wast moving. I franticly ran back up the basement stairs and out the side door right out to the driveway and screamed with everything that I had inside of me “HELP ME!!!!” “GOD HELP MY DAD!!!!!!” I screamed as loud as I could just hoping someone would come save him. As I screamed for help, I looked down the street and noticed my mothers car was pulling up to the house. The house…the house my mother and father bought 20 years prior, together. The home they made for themselves and for each other and their children. The home that is filled with so many memories of my childhood was now the home my father died in. And to this day, I hate that fucking house. It makes me physically sick just to be in it. So now, as my mother was pulling up, I knew I had to tell her that her what happened. But how could I? How could I tell her that her husband of 20 years was dead in the basement. I threw up right there in the drive way. I then began to start to shake from my nerves being so stressed. She came running over to me asking what’s wrong. I told her “It’s daddy, dads in the basement and he’s blue and not waking up!!”. She looked at me and just said “WHAT DID YOU SAY!!!?” And she ran away from me, and right down the stairs to the basement. I ran after her.
Its been 30 years since this day happened and I can still hear my mothers cry to her husband: “FRANK NO!!!, FRANK!! NO!!!” “YOU CAN’T DO THIS GET UP!!” But it was too late. He was gone. And for the first time in my life, I felt alone. I lost my best friend, my only friend really. He’s not coming home anymore. The coroner said he died around 1:30pm of a brain aneurism. And there wasn’t anything anyone could have done to bring him back. I thought how shitty that was to have him die alone in his house with no one to help him. So I sat by myself in the living room while the ambulance came and the EMTs tried to revive him. I sat there crying. I was holding his work tie that he had hanging on the stairs. I couldn’t stop crying and I couldn’t believe this was really happening. I watched the EMTs carry my dads body out of his home into the ambulance. When they drove off, I became hysterical. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t stop the tears. My mother came over to me, put her hands on my shoulders, didn’t hug me, didn’t make me feel safe, didn’t console her child or anything. She handed me her pills and told me to calm down and to take them. She looked me in the eyes and told me to calm down and then she wanted me to call everyone in the family and tell them what happened. All I wanted was my mother to hug me and tell me everything would be alright. She ultimately gave no comfort for this pain I had. She ignored my tears and made it all about her, like she always would do. (That’s another story)
I never experienced death before. This was the first time. I wanted to do the right thing so I got up from the couch, wiped away my tears, took the pills my mother gave me, then proceeded to call every single family member from my sister, brother, grandparents, even my fathers mother including all of my cousins to my dads co-workers and all his friends. through each call, I had to repeat what just fucking happened over and over and over. It was like I was drowning as I relived it through every call I made. It killed the child inside of me instantly. I had to grow up, right there, right now.
Psychologically that experience fucked me up beyond repair. Why? Because as I told everyone what happened from what I saw and how my dad was now dead, I had to console everyone in their pain, withholding my own. I also couldn’t stop thinking about how I didn’t get to apologize to my father for that mornings argument. The argument that I caused. I didn’t get to thank him for the ride to school. I didn’t get to tell him I heard you say I love you son and I love you too dad. All I could see was me walking away and all I heard was his car door shutting. I never got to say I’m sorry. And that is probably the hardest thing I had to live with, for many many years.
The pain of this loss was huge. Seeing my dad the way I did still haunts me to this day. I don’t sleep right still. In Recovery, I found ways to make peace with it all that took decades to build. But before that, this pain of not being able to say I’m sorry or even a goodbye properly to my father, who loved me and kept me safe, was a pain I couldn’t deal with. I couldn’t escape from what I saw. The dream was over for me. My heart was broken in ways beyond repair, it was in pieces. I cried and cried for days then weeks then months. I feel deep into the darkness that slowly surrounded me. I found no comfort in anything or anyone. Nothing helped me. My life was cut right in two…I was truly alone. And it sucked.
“Cut it all right in two…right in two.”
Dream the Dream.Frank M Guertin, Jr.