|My daddy at his commissioning ceremony.|
For a few years, Joe and I lived next door to a beautiful family that have since become our dear friends. The couple has two beautiful children, the youngest a daughter. Parrish is a vibrant and loving child, very affectionate. She's 5 now, and watching her and her daddy has started to help me see where some of that 100th piece should be.
By all accounts, I wasn't exactly a normal kid to begin, but I'm not sure if I would have been as affectionately withdrawn if I hadn't lost my dad at two and a half. What I'm quite sure of is a daughter learns a great deal about relationships and all types of affection towards men from her father. I finally learned how to have an open, affectionate relationship with a man and married him to boot. What I can't quite grasp is a little girl sitting in her daddy's lap falling asleep on his shoulder or cuddling on the couch watching a movie. I've never had these experiences.
Pulling apart and reassembling my psyche has occupied much of my adult life. I've learned how childhood traumas, my natural thought processes and other elements have created the person I am now. It's helped me be the real me and be comfortable with it. I'm more at home in my own skin than I've ever been, but it's been a lot of work.
Good for me, but that's not really the point. The point is first, I'll never know what life would have been like or who I would have been, but possibly more importantly, it never should have happened this way.
The helicopter crash that took my dad from us didn't have to happen. It wasn't pilot error. From every source and the official record, my dad flew by the book the day he died. He was a phenomenal pilot, like he was born to be in the air. The malfunction with the tail rotor was a known issue with the Huey back then. One of the men who survived the crash said they all knew what it was as soon as they heard the loud pop. Daddy tried to catch the tail of the helicopter in a tree to slow their descent, but it was no use. They were just falling too fast. An autopsy report I found by accident years later said he died of blunt force trauma immediately from the impact. His last broadcast was the four maydays he got off before they hit.
The Army in its infinite wisdom and ability to put a price on human life declared there had to be three fatal crashes with the Hueys before they'd recall them. At least one person on three separate occasions had to die before the Army would ground the choppers for repairs. You should take a minute to re-read that last sentence before moving on.
I am 37 years old. My daddy was killed when I was two and a half. Sometimes, it makes me so angry I can barely see through the tears. I've come to understand the anger, to channel it and to keep it from consuming me. This didn't have to happen. The worst part of the anger is what it's done from time to time to my family. It's bred distrust and subsequent division between three people who have frankly lost enough.
I've ended up with some things of my daddy's that I really wasn't ready to own. I took them of my own accord to keep them safe until we can come together and decide the best way to keep them. I'm not moving any time soon, we have plenty of room and I know a little about preservation of old things at least. These things are safe with me right now.
When I came home with them, I went through all of it very carefully. I separated everything and put each in a Ziploc bag for keeping. One of the items is the stocking cap my dad was wearing the night he died. There's a picture of him wearing it at the briefing before they took off. I knew the hat existed, but I'd never seen it. I wasn't ready to be honest. Here I was holding it in my hands. It's the greatest sense of loss I have ever felt, knowing that my dad was wearing that hat at the end of his life with no way of knowing it was the end. He didn't know he'd never see his wife or daughters ever again. He was only thinking about his mission and doing the job he loved.
I have seen a lot of pictures of my dad in my life. I've had things that were his. A decade or so ago, some old family 8mm films were converted to VHS and a few years ago, some film of him playing football in high school was converted to DVD. Those are the only experiences I remember where he was moving. For almost 35 years, he's been a still image or objects pass down. I don't have any idea what his voice sounded like. I don't know what he smelled like. I can't remember the feel of his hands holding me or his whiskers on my cheek when he kissed me.
When I was putting his hat in the Ziploc bag, I found a hair of his. I held it between my fingers in complete wonder before I started crying hysterically. That hair is the only part of my daddy that I ever remember touching. I carefully put it in the bag, so my sister can see it.
I've always believed that things happen for a reason, and that we can never go back. I wouldn't trade even one bad decision of mine for fear of ending up somewhere other than where I am right now. I love my life. I've been lucky beyond measure to have had someone like my (other) dad, John Murrey to come into our lives and love us like we were his own. I know these things and cherish them all. Sometimes, I'd trade just about anything to have 5 minutes with my daddy. Then again, I'm not sure I want to know what I'm missing. I just wish I didn't know that none of it had to happen.
|Headstone and foot stone at Lynnwood Cemetery (Lynnville, TN), where my daddy is buried next to his brother Jimmy|