Eight years and 3 months ago Cortney and I sat in these chairs for the first time. They were wedding shower gifts from someone. A couple’s wedding shower. I don’t want to tell that story (or maybe ever because it’s sort of embarrassing), but Cort’s dad had a lot to do with that shower since it was held at the marina where Cort’s dad and stepdad slipped their boat and it was all the boating people Cortney had grown up with plus both of our families and our wedding party.
We still have these chairs eight years later.
I’ve sat in them numerous times, but this summer I have found myself in one or the other almost daily. They are on the back patio and they are the perfect chair to lean back and read or watch the boys play in the backyard. It has quickly become my favorite spot.
At one point this summer I put my book down, breathed in deeply, and thought about my father-in-law.
I didn’t know him long, but whenever I went with Cortney to the marina to visit with him and his stepmom (they were there in all of their free time), he was sitting in a chair just like mine under a specific tree by the docks.
I have thought of him often this summer as I plant myself in my chair.
Each time the wind blows, I close my eyes and try to feel his presence. I look at my children–his grandchildren–and I try to imagine what he would be like with my kids. How would he laugh as Charlie runs at full speed with his curls flopping around behind him? How would he play with Eddie?
And I don’t know.
I can’t remember.
I try so hard to squeeze my eyes shut and imagine his face…but it’s fading. We have his picture out, yes, but it’s hard for me to actually remember him from my own mental photo albums. I remember seeing him when Cort and I were dating. I remember telling him about our engagement. I remember all the times we were along for doctor visits. I remember the events before he physically changed from himself into The Cancer Patient.
But I don’t remember him.
I stare into the eyes of those photos we have living in our computers.
I see Cortney and his brother Cody and their Grandma Sluiter the most in those eyes and cheeks and chin and nose and smile.
When I look from this photo to one of my boys my eyes burn, and my heart hardens.
Why do I have to search for similarities and guess at their relationship with each other? Why will I never ever get to see them together? Why can’t I remember his laugh, damnit?
Already he was slipping away in that photo. He is so small and not the same man in the physical sense. By that time, I had already started to forget what he was like before Cancer.
And it had only been four months since his diagnosis.
He was always in his chair after that and surrounded by friends and family. He was never ever alone.
This meant as a newbie to the family I never ever spent one on one time with my father-in-law. But I knew he was a great man who everyone loved.
I never knew him in the normal, every day way.
I can’t remember anything other than moments that were touched and tainted and special and beautiful because we knew he wouldn’t be around for more of those moments. But they were not private moments. At least not many of them.
There were always other people around.
Cortney says his dad could tell a great story.
I don’t know.
Cortney says his dad was a good listener.
I don’t know.
Cortney gets tears in his eyes and talks about how much his dad would love to be a Papa.
I. Don’t. Know.
Lots of people see my last name and ask me if I am related to him. I proudly say he was my father-in-law.
People often smile and simply say, “he was a really, really great man.”
I nod. I know.
But I don’t know.
I miss him.
Not because I knew him, but because I didn’t.
And hell yes, I am bitter about that because I should have known him.
He died two months after Cortney and I were married, eight years ago today.
It doesn’t get easier to have him gone. The weight still presses on my chest thinking about “never” and “forever”.
But just in case “never” and “forever” don’t mean what I think they do, I have a seat saved for him in the backyard to watch his grandsons laugh and play.