(Ma, Grandpa Monroe (Pop’s Father) and my Pops on my parent’s wedding day.)
Eight years ago today, July 24th, 2006, my pops left the stage and to lead that big band in the sky. I’ve never been able to recall the exact date of his death, only that it occurred in the middle of the summer. I’d still be none the wiser if my brother, Chris hadn’t sent me a text message this morning that said, “Today is the day big Tony passed away.”
Certain dates are seared into my brain like birthdays, national holidays and my move to Los Angeles. Yet my wedding anniversary, June 9, 2006 has eluded me for years. For a while, I thought I might need more therapy to figure out why I continually failed to remember this momentous milestone. Perhaps I was in denial about being married, some kind of psychological protective armor to shield me from the divorce gene that plagued both sides of my family for generations. But then I figured it out. A couple of weeks before Jared and I tied the knot, Pops called to say that his esophageal cancer had spread. He was given just 3-6 months to live. He died a little more than a month later. Every other date/event from that year is a blur.
When Pops relayed his prognosis, I didn’t believe him. The ultimate unreliable narrator, his calls always left me with a lingering sense of suspicion and doubt. Like the time he rang me in 2003 with big news. I answered the phone and he said, “Are you sitting down?”
“Yes,” I said, even though I was standing.
I heard him take a drag off of his cigarette. “Hils,” he blew out the smoke, “you are never going to have to work another day in your life.”
“Oh yeah?” I said with more than a hint of wry in my tone.
“Yep! I stand to inherit millions of dollars.”
We had no uber rich relatives that I knew about, none that could seemingly leave behind a fortune that would keep Pops and me in ermine and pearls for the rest of our days. “From who?” I asked.
“Nobody you know,” he said, quickly.
I shook my head. “Okay, but who then?”
“It’s a guy in Nigeria. He has no living relatives so they’re leaving the bulk of his estate to me. I just have to send them some money for the estate taxes.”
Believe it or not, I wasn’t wise to the Nigeria inheritance scam at this point but the whole thing sounded super sketchy. I pressed Pops for more details and he became defensive. “I’ve had it checked out. It’s all legit!” he said, coining what would become a “catchphrase” for my friends and I to toss around whenever we needed a laugh.
I told him to run it by a lawyer and just be careful. When I hung up, Jared, who’d overheard my end of things said, “What was that all about?” I gave him the run down on Pop’s inheritance.
Jared’s jaw dropped and his eyelids flapped a few times. “Are you serious?? That’s one of the biggest scams around. Call him right back and tell him not to send them any money!”
Pops remained unconvinced that his ship hadn’t actually come in and I’m pretty sure he’d already sent off the money to Mr. Nigeria Scam Man. Always the optimist and dreamer, he never learned his lesson and seemed to fall prey to every bilk and scam in the book over and over again.
So when he called that day with his 3-6 month life expectancy estimate, it just couldn’t be true. And it wasn’t. He was gone before I even had a chance to see him again.
The day Chris called to tell me that Pops died, I felt my insides explode. I sobbed and sobbed in a way I didn’t even know I could sob. Because, like Pops, I had created a reality in which the thing I wished for the most was actually true. Pops was going to make it. This cancer business was just another Nigerian Inheritance Scam. But he’d bounce back, like he always did.
Jared and I were married in a tiny ceremony at City Hall in SF. Pops had wanted to come but we suggested he wait until the big party that was being thrown on August 12th, two weeks after he died. I remember walking around that party in a daze, just a shell of myself in a ton of eye makeup and heels desperately trying not to break down in tears.
When people die, one of the many “consolations” offered is, “It was time. At least he/she is no longer suffering.” But is it ever truly time to lose a loved one? I don’t think so. There were many things I would have done or said to my Pops if I knew how little time we had left.
The auto-signature on Pop’s emails said, “The Greatest Talent Is Yet To Be Discovered.” And while I have trouble remembering the day he left this mortal coil, I will never forget his irrepressible ability to believe in just about anything.
March 13th, 1938 – July 24th, 2006