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Fork in the Road

February 11, 2014

My dad’s sister got a reading from a psychic in San Francisco a few months after he died. Because that’s what we do in my family.

Dad showed up, as a spirit or a ghost or whatever you get to be after you’re dead, and the psychic said he was wearing jogging shorts. As far as I know, my father never owned a pair of jogging shorts in his life. He was fond of joking that running was the worst way to be healthy. “Sure you live longer,” he’d say, “but you have to spend all that extra time jogging.” Now that I spend a lot of time circling trails, I wonder how much longer he would have lived, and how much more peaceful he would have felt, if he had been a runner.

As she told me this, writing off dad’s curious post-death jogging shorts as psychic dissonance, I remembered a thought I had months before he passed away. Dad lived in Swall Meadows, right next to Inyo National Park. After spending the day in the care center with him, I would run in the shadows of the sunset-tipped mountains. This thought came to me in the middle of one of my afternoon runs, feeling weirdly like a vision – an idea I’m really not comfortable with, minus Peyote and a Native American chieftain or two. So I wrote it off as the product of mild heat stroke and my new and strange obsession with running. At the time, Dad had already started to talk about dying, but we wouldn’t accept it for months yet. But as I was running through the desert, I saw two paths for my father.

One, the widest and bleakest, the path he eventually chose, was of him spiralling down into the worst the human experience can offer – a broken body and a mind that can’t heal because both are so separated from their own processes and emotions that they can’t find their way back.

The second path, much fainter, showed my father running. Conquering what ailed him until he was healthy enough to become one of those sun-leathered old dudes pounding the pavement in running shoes with wet bandanas tied around their grizzled heads.

Knowing now how badly off he was by the time he fell, I don’t know if that was possible. Maybe what I was seeing was a path that had forked off many years previous and was no longer an option. Maybe it was a path he could have chosen. I don’t know. But I saw him running. I saw him healthy. I saw him beating back the demons with sweat and salt and endless miles of asphalt.
I’m writing a book about my father’s death. I’ll be sharing pieces of the Dead Dad Book as I work on it, because writing here and on Twitter led me to this book in the first place.

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  • Reply Kate February 11, 2014 at 11:15 am

    It’s so brave of you to be writing a book. My son’s father died about 6 months ago and although I want to write down all the memories I have of him for our son, part of me cannot bring myself to think about him too acutely yet. I do keep telling myself that perhaps by the time I’m ready the memories will have receded too far, both to be painful and to be recalled.
    A few weeks after my BabyDaddy’s death I went to see a psychic too (or rather, asked a psychic I trust to come over to do a reading). Comfort and closure anywhere you can find it I suppose.

  • Reply Feisty Harriet February 11, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    I am so incredibly awed by your determination to write this, especially while it’s still so raw and fresh. I hope it is therapeautic and comforting for you, in its way, and I hope that others find the same while they read it.


  • Reply Kendel February 11, 2014 at 10:05 pm

    I’m so incredibly amazed and in awe that you’re writing this while it’s still so fresh in your mind. I give you props. I hope you find what you need in writing about it. Best of luck with everything :)

  • Reply Amanda February 12, 2014 at 5:53 pm

    “Maybe what I was seeing was a path that had forked off many years previous and was no longer an option. Maybe it was a path he could have chosen.” I teared up reading this, thinking of you and your dad, and me and my dad. And then I read all of your tweets and I cried. And I have the overwhelming urge to send so much love into the universe.

  • Reply Chris March 4, 2014 at 9:59 am

    Perhaps it was dad showing you your choices of paths, leading by example, pushing you forward through your own momentum. I always think, “I don’t want to run today,” until I hit the road and watch the miles tick by. There is something magical about giving yourself the freedom to move, glad you have experienced it.

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