On October 11, 2011, my father walked into his barn. The day started like any other day. He likely made his cup of Sanka coffee and maybe he ate a bowl of Frosted Flakes. He got in his 1987 dark blue, king cab, Ford Ranger, and went about his day.
Some how during the morning Neta, a neighbor, needed her sink fixed. And my father, the handy man that he was, went about the business of fixing it.
On October 11, 2011, my father walked into his barn to get some tools to fix Neta’s sink. He did not walk back out.
In many ways his death was a double whammy: I lost my father and my last surviving parent. The two people most responsible for me being on earth had left.
That was 8 years ago today.
The month of October doesn’t hit me like a flood like August does. (Go read Dear August for more on that.) It’s more of a slow trickle. Maybe it was the suddenness of the heart attack.
I was a student at the University of South Carolina, in my first year of an MFA in Creative Writing. I was taking notes that morning in my American Romanticism class. I always dated my notes: 10-11-11. I loved how that date looked, how the ones lined up.
After the funeral, I took care of his affairs and returned to USC. I could hear him say, “Don’t use me as an excuse to quit!” and used that as my motivation to return. The alternative was to drop out, and become an expert pity party planner, and that did not seem useful or practical.
It was hard. I was angry. I was depressed. I ate a lot of donuts. I didn’t want to be around people. I hated burying my father at twenty-eight years old, which reminded me of burying my mother at twenty-three years old. It felt so unfair that they wouldn’t see me reach thirty. Or that my father would never walk me down the aisle.
I went to grief counseling, and that helped me heal. I started going back to church, and that helped me heal. The anger subsided. The depression began melting away.
And I began writing about my father more, about how the collard greens he planted kept growing. My father’s father kept a garden, too. So when I honor my father, I am honoring the grandfather I never met. And when my brother keeps a garden, he is honoring them both.
On this October 11, 2019, I am full of hope, joy, and love. I am proud to be L.J. Bartell’s daughter. I remember the lessons he gave me through his quiet strength and endurance. I laugh when I think of his trickster ways. And though I miss him everyday, I know he isn’t really that far away since love has no known address for death and doesn’t know how to fail.
This morning I will walk into my classroom. I will drink a cup of coffee. I will go about the business of teaching. I will cry when I need to, and I will laugh when I need to. I will tote with me the love and memories my daddy left.