If I could do it over again, what would I say? If I could rewind the clock to February 23, 2007, what would that phone call be like?
I would start it off with “Happy Birthday, Daddy,” and then as you talked and talked, I would listen, really listen.
Sadly, I didn’t listen so well the first time. I called you. It was your birthday, so of course I called you. You talked about the lunch you had with Mom and Mike, and we talked about the Yankees and about you coming to visit me at college.
I was preoccupied though. It was college, I was newly engaged and I just didn’t want to spend all night on the phone. I do remember you spoke more than normal, as you were usually a two-or-three-sentence-maximum kind of guy. But that night, you rambled on and on. You spoke of your cancer, and you started to cry.
I didn’t know how to handle that. You were my dad, my rock, so I ignored the crying and spoke of other things. When it came time to say goodbye, I said, “Love you, Dad,” already thinking of my night, my date, my plans. Your last words to me were “Love you, Shell.”
After the call, I called Mom and said you were gloomier than usual and that I didn’t think it was a great idea for Mike to call you. Mike was only 8—too young, I felt, to handle your emotions that night. Mom agreed with me—after all Michael had forever to talk to you. We all did.
Well forever ended the next morning; a phone call from Mom changed my life. You were gone; in a flash it was over. There would be no more Yankee talk or coming to visit me at college.
I wanted a do-over so badly; I wanted one last time to talk with you on the phone. Only this time I would do it better. I know I would.
I would ask about your day. I wouldn’t shy away from your tears. I would talk about your fears with you. I would lock myself in my dorm room and it would just be you and me all night. We could talk about whatever you wanted. Maybe we could finally plan that trip to India—the only country Mom refuses to travel to—so maybe you and I could go alone.
If I knew it was our last talk, I would’ve remembered every word you said; I would’ve recorded you saying “Love you, Shell” so I could listen over and over again.
If I could talk to you now, I would tell you it wasn’t fair. I would tell you that it never gets easier, that I miss you every damn day.
I would tell you of my wedding day, and how I wished you were there to walk me down the aisle, to give me away. I would share with you pictures of my babies, the grandchildren you never got to hold or to love. If I could talk to you now, I would scream that it wasn’t fair, that you were too strong to die, too invincible to lose to cancer. I would remind you of all you had done, of how you could twist a screw with just your hand, how you went to occupied Germany without a care and how you could make the best pasta in the world. I would remind you of how you had beaten cancer before and survived a heart attack with barely a misstep.
I would tell you that we weren’t ready to lose you, that we all still needed you in our lives. I would tell you that I needed a hug and someone to watch the Yankees with.
If I had a do-over, I would simply tell you how much I love you. I would tell you how much you mean to me and how badly I want to hear “I love you, Shell” one more time.
Author: Michele Genzardi
Editor: Evan Yerburgh
Image: Author’s own