I haven’t posted in quite some time, but with Father’s Day this weekend I figured a post about my father would be fitting. Since I speak of him often I think it’s only fair that I finally open up and speak about his death, and the impact it has had on me over the past seven years.
In July 2007, my dad sat me and my siblings down in our quaint living room, and spilled the news that he had cancer. At first his doctors weren’t sure whether it was colon or pancreatic cancer he said, but after weeks of running several tests, he had finally received his official diagnosis. Stage four pancreatic cancer. My brother, sister, and I just sat together on the couch not making a peep. I had never known anybody who had cancer, let alone knew what pancreatic cancer was. For goodness sake, I didn’t even know how many stages there were. But I recall seeing my mom just quietly crying while sitting at our dining room table, which was all I needed to know that whatever it was, it wasn’t good.
After random questions and several instances of reassuring us that it was nothing to worry about, we all got up from the couch. I can remember immediately wanting to shower. Almost like I needed to clean myself from the shit that was just poured onto my life. Right before I hopped in the shower, my dad slightly opened the bathroom door, looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Don’t worry, we got this. I’ll be fine” Then, like always, he gave me knucks- that was our thing.
And like any 16-year-old girl would, I believed him.
I believed him so much, in fact, that when I left the state just a couple weeks later to attend the softball Nationals in Texas, I was laughing and playing pranks with my teammates like my life hadn’t just been forever changed. I actually remember being in the dugout during a game, looking over at one of my closer teammates, and nonchalantly saying, “Oh yeah, I guess my dad has cancer.” She looked at me and said, “Oh my god.” And I simply replied, “It’s cool, it’s no big deal.”
Fast-forward a few weeks to the start of my dad’s chemotherapy. My family (mom, dad, aunts, uncle, etc.) felt it was best for him to be treated at a cancer center they were familiar with, so he did his chemo treatments two hours away in Bakersfield. The weekly schedule consisted of my mom driving him to a halfway point between Long Beach and Bakersfield, meeting my aunt/uncle (they live in Bakersfield), and then they would drive him the rest of the way. A couple days later when his treatment was over, they would bring him back halfway, my mom would pick him up, then he’d come home and sleep most of the time. It became the new norm for our family, and it never even fazed me.
I was entering my senior year in high school at the time. I was so consumed with hanging out with my friends and attending every event our school had to offer, that I never thought that maybe I should stay home and just hang out with my dad for an entire day. I was far too busy living up my senior year, I didn’t have time to just sit around.
So when I had to make the road trip to Bakersfield with my best friend to visit my dad, I wasn’t ecstatic. I still remember- and still regret- thinking of all the parties and events I was missing out on by spending those few days in boring Bakersfield. During one of the days we sat with my dad in the cancer center for hours while he received his chemo treatment. My best friend talked to my dad, and I spent the entire time on a laptop going back and forth between MySpace and Aol Instant Messager to make sure I didn’t miss a thing back home. To this day, I still cant fathom how it wasn’t a big deal to me that I stared at a computer the entire time, rather than just enjoying the company of my dad.
Over the next couple of months I partied, hung out with friends, and missed chance after chance to spend time with him. I don’t think I’ll ever forget how consumed I was with petty things and events, and how many times I passed up an opportunity to be with him. I could have simply sat with him, talked to him, or just laid next to him, but I didn’t. I kept justifying my actions by the thought that I only had once chance at my senior year, but an entire life to spend with my dad.
On November 4, 2007 I was getting ready for work as usual. I worked at a sports restaurant and, as you can imagine, Sundays during football season were hectic. My dad, who had gotten increasingly weaker as the chemo treatments progressed, was so happy and just walking laps around the house that morning like nothing happened. It was crazy, but I wasn’t surprised. So I left for work.
I can’t even remember what I said to my dad. I don’t know if I hugged him, if I kissed him, or if I said, “I love you.” I’d like to think I did, as it was my usual ritual when I left the house, but I’m really not sure.
Ten minutes later I was at work dealing with a line out the door, and all thoughts of my dad had fallen into the back of my mind. After the madness of Sunday morning football had settled, the phone at the host desk started to ring. I picked it up and recited into the phone, “Thank you for calling Cirivellos. This is Cheyenne. How can I help you?” Then I heard someone on the other line frantically trying to spit words out. It was my sister.
“You need to come home NOW,” she said. “Dad’s dying.”
I froze, and I couldn’t move. Then a flood of tears took over. My manager happened to walk by, I tried to spit some words out while practically drowning in my own tears, and all he said was, “GO. JUST GO.”
So, I went.
I drove to my house, picked up my brother and sister, and took off to the hospital. Now that I think about it, I don’t even remember the drive, but we got there a lot faster than was probably legal. We ran into the ER waiting room scrambling to find out where the paramedics took our dad. They told us to take a seat. They told us to wait.
Can you imagine? Getting a phone call while at work that your dad is dying, and then arriving to the hospital only to be told to wait. Pffft. But if they weren’t freaking out, and they weren’t rushing us in to see him, then that must have meant it was just a scare. I still (naively) believed everything was going to be alright.
We sat in the waiting room for what seemed like hours. Our family and friends trickled in and made attempts at comforting us. I can remember just wanting to be alone. All I wanted was some information on where the hell my parents were, and when I could see my dad.
A nurse finally called our names and led us down a long hallway to a room; and by room I mean a hospital bed with a curtain around it. My mom was sitting there holding my dad’s hand, and my dad was just peacefully laying there. He looked like he was taking a nap. I can recall looking at him, looking at my mom, looking back at my dad, then back at my mom with a “he’s okay, right,” look.
She shook her head, and started crying. My sister ran out of the room. And for the first time I can remember, I saw my brother cry true, heart-breaking tears. I bawled my eyes out, too.
I didn’t want to believe it. It felt like such a dream. More like a nightmare, actually. But it really felt surreal. Like I was going to wake up and realize none of it had actually happened.
I don’t think I can ever get the memory of that day out of my head. I’ve tried many times, but I don’t think it’ll ever leave. And, honestly, I don’t know if I want it to leave. It’s the last time I ever got to physically be with my dad, and I don’t want to let that memory go.
Since that horrible, heart-shattering day (almost) seven years ago my life has been a roller coaster. A roller coaster that I thought was only full of lows for the longest time.
I went into full on denial mode immediately following my dad’s death.
I drank. I did drugs. And I partied almost every night to reassure myself that I was happy and everything was okay, but it wasn’t. And it hadn’t been for a long time.
Every time my dad’s birthday, the anniversary of his death, or Father’s Day would come, I would purposely try to drink so much that I would black out. I was trying so hard to forget about the guilt that was overflowing inside of me. Guilt from spending more time worrying about what my friends were doing rather than how my dad was doing. Guilt that when I went to visit him, I sat there focused on technology, and people who didn’t matter, rather than simply enjoying his presence. Guilt of not knowing if my last words were, “I love you,” or if I walked out of the house without even saying goodbye.
When this type of guilt consumes your entire being, it is completely overwhelming, but I didn’t know any other resolution than to party and drink until I couldn’t feel anything anymore.
I became the girl whose only worry was where the next party was. I became the girl who had tons of acquaintances, but very few friends. I became somebody I didn’t even recognize anymore. I was blinded, and I was lost. But I didn’t care; not even the slightest.
I replaced friendships with people I loved for friendships with people who only wanted someone to party with. I looked for affection in the arms of strangers because I thought that was the only way to fill the void in my heart. I totaled my car after a night of drinking, avoided a DUI because of the nice cop that was on duty that night, then landed in a pair of handcuffs for the same thing less than a year later. I made mistake after mistake, and it made no difference. There was no end in sight. I was so consumed by guilt, and by denial, and by pain, that I tried to mask the shame I felt with anything and everything I could get my hands on. There was no way I could ever forgive myself for not saying all the things I wanted to say, so the only solution was to drown out those thoughts with a bottle of vodka.
I was an embarrassment. An embarrassment to my family, my friends, myself and, most importantly, my dad.
And then one fall day- after a summer full of drunk nights and irresponsibility- I found out I was pregnant. I thought this news was finally my rock bottom, but it turned out to be my saving grace. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that God knew the gift of a child was the only thing that could save me from destroying myself.
It’s been a long road since then. Some days I’m so happy I even surprise myself, and some days I cry myself to sleep thinking of all the things my dad has missed- like the birth of his first grandchild. Or even all the things I see my friends doing with their dads that I won’t ever be able to do with mine- like having him walk me down the aisle. I’d be lying if I said most days are easy, because they’re not. But the days I struggle with are also the days that have given me the strength I need to continue the work I’ve started. Those hard days have made my good days even better. I have finally been able to find happiness in things that can’t be found in the liquor aisle. I have finally started to figure out who I am- the true person, not the party girl. Most importantly, I have finally been able to forgive myself and let go of (most of) the guilt.
This is only because I can finally feel what a parent feels; an eternal love that will never falter.
My dad loved me from the day I was born to the day that he died. He loved me more than he loved himself. And that- that love- is why he always gave me knucks. He wanted me to believe that everything was going to be okay because my happiness was more important to him than anything in the world- even his own life.
I can never repay him for his selflessness, and I can never repay him for his undying love, even when I was so undeserving of it. How can you ever repay a man whose only priority was to love you, to care for you, and to make you happy, until the day he took his last breath? It’s not possible. All I can do is thank him.
So thank you, daddy. And Happy Father’s Day. I hope I’m making you proud.
I love you forever, I love you for always.