Five Years

By Andrea Scarpino

“So, did Dad talk your ear off?” my step-mother asked when I returned to her house from the cemetery. “Wouldn’t shut up,” I replied. We like to banter like this, about how much trouble Dad is causing, what he’s been up to since our last visit. He’s been dead five years this summer, and there’s some comfort in talking about him in the present tense, as if he’s holding court in the cemetery like he did in life. The truth is, I had a hard time finding his grave. I had never visited without my step-mother, and only had vague recollections about where in the cemetery their plot is located, how far from one of the intersecting streets. It was stifling hot in Cincinnati, muggy and humid in a way only Ohio summers can be. Cicadas chirped in the trees and grasshoppers leapt from the ground as I walked among the graves looking for his reddish gravestone with the heart shape. When I finally found it, I sat in the muggy grass looking at the engraved birth and death dates, the engraved “Scarpino,” wondering how five years could have already passed. Five years. My grandmother died at the start of that summer two days shy of her 92nd birthday. My father died two months later, only 30 minutes before I reached the hospital. I had flown across the country and driven two hours trying to get to him. Exactly three weeks later, a dear friend was shot and killed while outside his home painting. The Summer of Death, I came to call it. A summer in which nothing made much sense. I remember sitting in my office between teaching summer classes with my head between my knees, trying to work up the courage to go to my next class. I remember driving to work and suddenly realizing I was completely lost, the route I knew by heart suddenly unfamiliar—I had driven a dozen exits past the one I needed. I remember care packages from friends, trying to read even the goofiest magazines they sent without any ability to follow the words on the page. I remember lying in bed. I remember running—and crying as I ran. I remember my left eye twitching constantly—for almost a year, it twitched. I sat in the grass in front of my father’s grave, five years since the Summer of Death, and listened to the cicadas, watched the grasshoppers, thought about how much I still miss him, my grandmother, my friend. How much I would like them all to still be here. And I talked to my Dad, told him some news I thought he would enjoy, asked him to keep visiting me in my dreams, the only time I still feel his presence. But the truth is: he never responds, no matter how much I would love to hear his voice. Unlike in life, it seems he has nothing more to say.

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