I’d had my new truck for maybe a week or so when my daughter Jordan decided to baptize it.
We were on our way out of town to cover a game together, and we’d stopped at Sonic for a couple of big to-go drinks. A recipient of my very own clumsy gene, Jordan was in the middle of dancing to a song on the radio when she accidentally (I think) dumped her entire drink in my lap and all over my seat. I cussed, she giggled and she never let me forget about it.
That was more than 10 years ago. Just last week, I was on my way back from wherever I’d been when that very same song came blasting over my radio. I thought of my kid, and I set down my drink and reached for a towel just in case — even though she wasn’t with me.
She hasn’t been with us since 2011, the year she died. That hasn’t stopped her from making her appearances whenever she feels like it.
There are the black butterflies and bluebirds she loved. We’d see those butterflies when she accompanied me on the golf course. She loved driving the cart and laughing at my crappy golf game. Sometimes, one of those butterflies would land on her arm or leg and sit there, and Jordan thought it was pure magic.
Those bluebirds lived in our backyard. I guess they were comfortable with us, so occasionally one would hop or land pretty close to us, and Jordan thought she was the second coming of Dr. Doolittle.
Now and then, I’ll be on my back porch thinking of my kid, and sure enough, a black butterfly or a bluebird will show up, and I can’t help but wonder whether they’re looking for my daughter — or whether she found a way to send them my way.
It’s that way with all our lost loved ones, I guess. They may have left us a long time ago, but that doesn’t seem to stop them from hanging out with us in some way. I can’t go to the lake for a fishing trip without feeling my dad’s presence right there next to me. When I was a kid, nothing seemed to make him happier than to see me catching fish. On a trip with my daughters when they were very young, I jokingly looked to the sky and asked my old man to send a couple of fish their way. They ended up catching a whole mess of ’em that morning. I seriously doubt their success had anything to do with my fishing prowess.
My mom’s pretty good at doing the same thing when it comes to hanging out with me. No matter how much food I consume (or smell when I’m out), something is going to remind me of Mom fussing around in the kitchen trying to make sure I didn’t starve. She passed away more than 20 years ago, but she hasn’t stopped reminding me of how much I loved her cooking.
My little brother Dennis loved bonfires. I don’t remember the last time I built a fire in my yard that I didn’t feel him standing there waiting to hand me another beer, or to crack another dirty joke.
I see the same thing happen with others. My wife has tons of recipes she got from her own mother, all of them written in her mom’s own hand. Most of those cards and papers are yellowed and torn, and the handwriting is a little faded. I’ve offered to type those up for Susie so she’d never lose them, but she says she can hear her mom’s voice giving instructions every time she reads them. I completely get it.
It feels weird to say we miss someone when they seem to cling to us so much. It’s almost as if they’ve never really gone anywhere.
This past Wednesday would have been Jordan’s 28th birthday. I woke up, turned on my phone and received one of those Facebook memory notifications. Sure, it’s Facebook, but it’s doing the same thing my kid would have done on the same morning. She wasn’t about to let me forget it was her birthday, whether she was telling me to my face or sending the message another way. I’m surprised Facebook didn’t post her “I want” list the way she always did.
For Jordan’s birthday on Wednesday, I went out and grabbed a couple of boxes of those Little Debbie Christmas cakes, which were Jordan’s favorites. The first time I ever had one of those was when I bought two boxes for Jordan, who at the time was suffering yet another one of her teenage heartbreaks. (She collected those danged things.) It was a dad’s feeble attempt to make his kid feel a little better. I thought the boxes would last her a few days, but she and I ended up scarfing down both boxes while she forced me to endure the angst-ridden emo music on her stereo. I’m pretty sure she had her own “Breakup” playlist.
So now, Susie and I grab two boxes of those Christmas cakes every year on Jordan’s birthday, and we sit on the couch and devour every one of ’em — just as Jordan would have done if she could reach ’em. We’ll listen to at least one of those depressing songs Jordan liked that made me want to drink gasoline.
Somehow, some way, our loved ones keep sticking around. Sometimes their ways are planned and expected — like those Christmas cakes — but sometimes their appearances are surprises.
On my last golf trip of the summer, I headed out alone to play a round in the morning. I loaded my golf cart and steered my way around the course. I thought of Jordan that morning, and how I wished she were there to drive the cart and drive me crazy. I kind of hoped she’d send me a sign to let me know she was nearby.
Then I hit a big bump and dumped my entire drink in my lap.
But I was actually kind of hoping for a butterfly or bluebird.