Without You, I’m Not Me
My dad used to play piano and occasionally sing in a band at the Colorado Opry. He started when I was about a year old. My mom would bring me to the show every night. On most nights, I would wiggle my way down the stairs to the front row so that I could see him up close. On the last song, Dad would always pick me up on the stage so I could dance next to him and be a part of the show.
One night when I was three, my parents had to leave me with my babysitter. When it was time to go get me, Dad was too busy rendezvousing with the rest of the band. Mom persistently tried to get him to leave and pick me up. He was having fun and didn’t want to leave just yet. Finally, Mom got mad and left with his car without telling him.
Once Dad was all done and ready to go, he couldn’t find Mom anywhere. He asked around to all of the band and crew members, but no one knew where she was. He tried calling her, but she didn’t answer. Mom does this thing where she won’t answer her phone if she’s driving, which can get pretty irritating. Dad, putting all logic aside, finally decided that she must be mad at him and he wasn’t going to wait around. Without telling anyone, he started walking home. He was stubborn, and he knew the way. He didn’t see the sense in waiting for my mom to stop being angry and pick him up.
Mom got back to the Opry when only a few other members were left, but she couldn’t find Dad. She walked over to the man who was running the concession and asked him if he had seen my dad anywhere. He had no idea. She guessed that he had gotten a ride home from his friend Denny. She wasn’t too worried, so we headed out to the car. Mom had just gotten me buckled in and the car started when she saw Denny walking out to his car as well.
“Gene didn’t get a ride with you, Denny?” my mom asked, starting to become concerned.
“Nope, I saw him leave about thirty minutes ago, though. I think he’s walking,” Denny said.
Mom tried calling my dad but he just ignored her calls. Denny told her he would go out and look for him and he would call her if he found him. Mom and I headed home. I thought something might be wrong although I wasn’t completely sure. All I knew was that my dad was gone. Mom took me home and got me in bed, but I didn’t sleep. I just lay there waiting for Dad to come through the door. I was scared that something had happened to him.
Denny finally called my mom and told her that he found my dad halfway home, but he picked him up and was on his way. I could tell by the tone in Mom’s voice that she was relieved. I crawled out of bed and walked out to where she was in the living room. I sat there and waited with her. She knew I wasn’t going to sleep until Dad was home.
Dad finally showed up and was able to put me to bed. I listened as they talked.
“Why did you walk home?” my mom asked.
“I thought you were mad at me. You left without telling me,” Dad said.
“I was mad. But I was also coming back to get you after I picked up Sami,” she told him.
“Oh, I didn’t know that,” he said in an embarrassed tone.
“Don’t do that again. I didn’t know where you were, and I was worried. Sami was worried. You can’t do that to us,” she said.
That was the last thing I heard my dad say before I fell asleep.
I had become weary of Dad leaving. I was scared. I had worked myself up into a state of paranoia that my dad could leave at any moment. I didn’t want to feel the way I felt that night again. When you’re little, you may not know what’s going on, but you know when there’s a problem. My imagination had gone wild. I had even convinced myself that I would possibly not see Dad again. It was a sensitive subject for me.
My parents didn’t really bring the incident up, but there was one thing that never ceased to trigger my emotions. About a week after that night, Dad added a new song to his set list that he would be singing. It was “Little Rock” by Collin Raye. The beginning lyrics in the song that really hit me hard were, “Well I know I’ve disappeared a time or two. And along the way I lost me and you. I needed a new town for my new start.” I had no idea what the song was or what it was about. I didn’t even know it wasn’t written by my dad. All I knew was that it made me think of the night he left. Every time the song played, I would break out into sobs, and Mom would have to take me into the hallway. It became the norm that when that song would play, my mom would take me to get some candy or popcorn.
Dad stopped playing at the Opry when I was about six. As I got older, the song stopped making me cry. It would still occasionally hit a soft spot and I would have small flashbacks. At eighteen, I can still vividly remember the effect that song had on me. I can still see myself sitting in the living room and waiting for him to come home. We all laugh about it now, but my dad has told me before that if he had known how it would make me feel, he wouldn’t have walked home that night.
I would classify myself as a daddy’s girl. I partially blame that on that night. I know now that he wasn’t actually going to leave me. I also know that he still never would. Even so, I’ve learned to enjoy the moments I have with him. I’ve come to realize that even if he won’t walk out, I won’t have him forever. As he and I both get older, my time with him gets shorter by the day. This is something I don’t openly say, but I think about it often. Sometimes, I forget how much I need him to remain in my life. When I start to forget, I always have something that reminds me to appreciate the moments I have with him.
My awakening moment was when my family and I found out about two years ago that Dad had throat cancer. After radiation, the cancer was supposedly gone. We thought we were in the clear. He was in recovery, and we figured there was nothing to worry about anymore, until recently when the doctors called him in for a biopsy and realized the cancer was back. The doctors told us the only option was a tracheotomy, where they would take out his voice box and he would talk through a hole in his throat. We knew we would have to live with it. It was either that or let the cancer grow and get worse.
One of Dad’s friends from the Opry had an old recording of my dad singing “Little Rock” that he posted on Facebook after hearing about the surgery. My mom called me into the kitchen, and we sat there and listened to the recording together. That was the first time in years that a song made me cry, not because of that one night fifteen years ago. I cried because, in that moment, I realized that this was the only way I would ever hear my dad sing again.