Building back beauty

Erin Roof

The image haunted me, flashing in and out of my consciousness without restraint. It was the first time I saw a dead body — my father’s. He was cold and stiff on a gurney with a white sheet pulled down to his neck, revealing his face.

He taught me how death looks.

It was not like in the movies, where damsels fade into death with beautiful pale skin and a pleasant expression. My father’s lips were blue. His skin was purple. His face was twisted with lines of regret. And fear. He had been dead for four days before anyone found him.

I have been dealing with my father’s death since he passed away in late April. For a while, I was able to go whole days without thinking of him. But his death changed that. Suddenly the bad memories rained on me like dusty nightmares.

I was plagued with remembering why I hated him so much. He yelled at me nightly, in an alcoholic rage. I was never smart enough — just a smart ass. I could never be nice enough or respectful enough.

So he rejected me. He sat as a lump on the couch through my life — rarely raising his sight to me, and then, only to verbally sting me. Stun me. Certainly not long enough to say, “I love you.”

After my parents divorced, he would call and plead for me to rush to see him. He wanted to kill himself. He didn’t love me enough to stay alive, he said. I guess he finally got his wish.

And now, staring at my own reflection, death feels real on my skin.

As I looked in the mirror, I broke down into fearful tears. Hours earlier, my doctor told me I may have arteriovenous malformation. It was a fancy term to say veins and arteries in my brain were wired wrong — a fancy term to say I might be dying. I did my research and knew if I had it, I also had a chance of developing an aneurysm.

I wasn’t ready to join my father.

After a week and a half of constant dread and worrying and only finding relief in mouthfuls of sleeping tablets, the results of my MRI were complete. Normal … normal! It was the first time in my life I was happy someone called me that.

My foray into death was dead, for the moment. But the experience shook me to the core. The last shreds of innocence and naïveté, the last fragments of my childhood, were suddenly and painfully gone. A new woman emerged — strong in conviction, but still shaky on her new legs.

It made me change my life. I have stopped worrying about little things and weeded out people in my life who weren’t supportive of me. There simply isn’t time to give to people who don’t truly care. I also ended the most serious relationship of my life, striking those two words, “serious” and “relationship” from my vocabulary until I am at least 35.

Now is the time to enjoy life. I have learned to live every moment to the fullest, because I truly don’t know which will be my last.

Erin Roof is a senior magazine journalism major and a columnist for Summer Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].