Near the end of the long (looooonnnng) (stupid rain) car ride up to Pennsylvania on Friday, we passed a billboard for my dad's cancer treatment center. The billboard immediately after it was for the apartment complex where my mom moved after he died.
"Argh," I said.
Trips back home are weird now. I mean, PA is not my "home" anymore, and hasn't been for 15 years now, and my parents sold my "real" childhood home a couple years before that. But now that he's gone it feels even farther removed. More different. More not the same, more never to be again.
And yet despite everything feeling so different, his memory starts looming large almost as soon as we cross the state border. The Phillies stadium, where we went to all those games together. That church we went to for awhile. The other church we went to for awhile. The summer jobs he'd drop me off at, the movie theater where he and I would go see movies that were too violent for my mom. (All movies were too violent for my mom.) The restaurants we ate at, the car dealership that used to be over there and that store that used to be another store.
And then. The hospital. The hospice center. The cemetary.
It's all right there. It's either something we drive right by or something we drive near and my brain immediately starts plotting the course. Right at the light, half a mile on the left. That's where we found out. That's where we knew. That's where he died, and over there is where he is now.
"Argh," I find myself saying a lot, then declining to elaborate. Just keep driving. Keep moving on.
The days after we come home — to my real, current home — are also weird. I have vivid dreams about him, dreams that seem like they make sense before descending into typical deam absurdity.
Driving by my childhood home always makes me laugh because the neighbors who lived behind us are still there. And they still park a ridiculously oversized RV in a tiny parking spot that sits smack dab on top of the small hill in our old backyard, so every window on the back of the house views absolutely nothing besides a garishly airbrushed ROADINATOR WILDERNESS XXL V, or whatever the hell. The houses and yards themselves look so much smaller than I remember them, but goddamn, that RV really is fucking ginormous. My parents planted a row of forsythia bushes on the farthest edge of the property line and let them grow as tall as possible. The current owners added a huge wooden privacy fence. Neither option helps the view from the second level bedrooms, where my old room was.
And so I had a dream last night that our minivan turned into a giant, almost house-sized RV, and we were all on our way to see my dad, who was sick. He was going to die soon — after all, someone mentioned, he'd done it before so he knew when to expect it — but then a hundred other people showed up and it turned into a huge party, and my dad posed for a series of hilarious photos wearing various hats and told me to post them to Instagram, but when I went to upload them they were all super-blurry and terrible.
"WTF," I said, when I woke up.
And then I checked my email and saw a PR pitch — one of the dozens and dozens of unsolicited HELLO MOMMYBLOGGER I HAVE IRRELEVANT CONTENT FOR YOUR MOMMYBLOG-type emails I get every day — with the following subject line:
The Perfect Gift For Father's Day: Is your dad a baseball fan?
"YEAH, HE WAS," I shouted to no one in particular. "BUT HE'S DEAD NOW. THANK YOU FOR ASKING."