I am working my first full-time job, just after finishing high-school in June at a travel agency at the port of Piraeus. I am working the evening shift and in addition to the fact the season is over and there’s not many people interested in visiting the islands, the day was very slow. I remember sitting at my desk staring the clock on the wall in front of me. Its 17:00 and I get a sense of nausea. I’m feeling sick, but drink a glass of water and try to forget about it. After a while, my boss asks me to go do some chores and I am thankful for the evening walk. The evening breeze made me feel better and it would also help feel like the time passes by faster. I am taking my time. My boss, Mr George, was a laid-back kind of guy, he wouldn’t mind and it was dead-quite anyway.
Around 18:30 he called me on my mobile.
“Ioanna, forget about the chores and get back to the office please. Your sister’s office called, your dad is at the hospital and you must go there now. Come over here and I will guide you how to get there.”
It was the first time in my life to receive a call like this. I was 17, so I guess it’s not the kind of call one would expect anyway. I run back to the office. He told me my dada was at the hospital on the other side of Athens but with the traffic at this time it would be faster to get there using the train. It would take me about an hour or so, still it would be faster than a taxi. I dropped everything and left. While sitting in the train, I called my sister, I needed to know what was happening.
It had only been a couple of months since me and my sister had decided to move in with our father. Ever since our parents’ divorce, we had been living with our mother, so this was our chance to get to know him better as we hadn’t been spending too much time with him anyway.
She picked up her phone. “Eleni, what’s going on with dad?”, I asked. “Dad is dead” that’s the only part of our conversation I remember. I tried holding my tears until I would get off the train, as much as I could. I got off and needed to get a taxi to take me to the hospital I was not familiar with that part of the town, maybe even it was the first time in my life I was going there. And I was absolutely lost. In all sense of the word. There were no taxis available and I was desperate already. I started crying in the middle of the street asking each taxi driver passing by if they could take me to the hospital. One of them did. There were already 3 persons in the taxi, but they agreed to help me. I sat and kept crying. I apologized for my crying. I felt really bad to be crying in the taxi next to strangers. I told them my dad died and I need to get to the hospital. I had no idea where I was and the drive seemed to be taking forever. It was already dark. The taxi stopped in front of the main entrance. The hospital was very quiet. I didn’t know where to go and whom to ask for information. I found my father’s wife sitting in the lobby smoking. She told me he was dead. It was over. I still couldn’t believe. I just had to see for myself. I think my sister was there too already, but my memories are vague. But this I do remember clearly. I asked to see him. I was crying and saying to the nurses I wanted to see him. They took me to the morgue. There was a wall full of metal doors. They opened one and wheeled his body out for me to see. He was cold, and stiff and purple. He was naked. Why did they keep him naked in there?? I was so angry! This felt so disrespectful.
When I stepped out of that room, I leaned against the wall and collapsed. I was laying on the floor crying and two nurses came to help me stand up offering something to calm me down, which I refused. I didn’t know what to do. I went back up to the lobby. Me and my sister had to now start with all the arrangements for the funeral and the first thing that came to my mind was to call a friend of mine at that time, Dimitra, whose father knew a lot of people. He could help. And he did. Last thing I knew was the funeral home market. I had no idea about that stuff. Thinking about it now, I don’t know why his wife didn’t take care of that. Then again, maybe me and my sister stepped in and demanded to do that? I really don’t remember much of that hour anymore. Remember calling Dimitra, asking for her father’s help. I remember calling the parents of my boyfriend’s at that time. He was in the army somewhere around the borders of Greece and I could not get hold of him. I asked them to find him and tell him to call me. I guess he did at some point, but I don’t remember that either.
I don’t have many memories of my past, you see. I am still trying to figure out why, but I haven’t yet. Even the nice and fun things, like school excursions and parties. I cannot recall any of them.
We called my mum, we would need her financial help with all the costs. I had only been working for 4 months, a basic salary job, and had no savings whatsoever. My sister had a better job as she’d already been working for 4 years or so, but at that age you don’t quite think of putting money aside. At some point, we left the hospital and went back home. My father’s wife went to her house and daughters (from her first marriage) and my sister and me found ourselves in an empty house. Some friends came over, I don’t remember who, but it was so late already. I remember the second worse experience of that day was to be back home. My father’s lighter and cigarettes on the table, food he had cooked in the fridge, his laundry in the bathroom. Things he had touched, used. His smell still in the house, his shaving creams, his clothes in the closet. He used to have a little piece of fabric, I don’t really know how to call this, that he would use like a bandana after he would shower so that his hair would stay where he wanted them until they would dry. Pretty old-fashioned thing. This piece of material was hanging in the bathroom behind the door, as always. I remember taking it in my hands and seeing some of his hair still there. I folded it carefully and hid it in my closet. I had to keep something of him, something of his body. Now I don’t remember what happened to it. I have no recollection of what I did with it.
The next morning we would have to start the preparations. He would be buried in Egio, his hometown around 180km away from Athens next to his parents and siblings. I remember I had to go shop for black clothes for the funeral. I was crying in Zara and a kind girl working there helped me pick something and put up with my tears too. I was feeling very lost. The next memories I have are of the moment of the funeral, nothing before and nothing after. Not a good memory.
My father died of a heart attack while doing some works at his wife’s summer house in the garden. He started burning some dry branches and leaves, probably got too tired or stressed by the fire and passed out. She called the fire department, but not the ambulance. Once the firemen arrived, they saw his body lying there on the ground and called for an ambulance. It was already too late. Me and my sister had asked for a necropsy. We needed answers. The result was a “recent heart attack” as they had phrased it. Something that could have been prevented if he would have been given medical attention sooner.
Yes, I blame his wife, but no, it doesn’t make any difference anymore. I still think how my life could have been if he were with us longer. If he would have helped me study, if he would have helped me fill gaps I seem to have been living with ever since the day he died. I wonder if I would have grown a different woman, maybe having more self-esteem, demanding more respect from others or not getting so easily attached to people and being afraid of being abandoned. Maybe not. I will never know. Maybe he would turn out to be a careless father, maybe he would not give a damn about me or my future, and maybe things could even have been worse. I will never know. All I know is the dream of a father I missed out on, but I will never know if he would live up to my expectations.
This day marks 19 years from the day he died. He was 64 and I was 17. My dad was a Captain on tanker vessels. There may be many things he didn’t manage or have the time to give to me or teach me. But he taught me how to make my signature, cook my favorite food (lemonato) and bequeathed to me his love for the sea. That is all I have of him that matters.
Many of those years I have gone through the day without thinking about his death too much. A couple of times I even forgot about it. This year it hit me harder than ever. I don’t know why. I woke up to his thoughts, went crazy looking for the (only) two pics I had of him, which thankfully my sister could send me, along with a few others she had. I listened to his favorite songs, felt like crying all the time yet was too afraid to let it all out.
I just want this day to end.
I thought that writing about it would somehow make the pain, anger and sadness more manageable. It has not. I still miss him.