When I was little, my dad would bring me to this little town about an hour outside the city. He loved it there.
You could see it in his lingering smile; hear it in the way he talked about it; see it in the energy with which he wanted to show me everything.
There's this thing -- maybe you have this, too? -- where things made sense as a kid, then stopped making sense for a while, and then finally made sense again as an adult.
Like life is a subtle joke that you don't really get. You laugh at face value, then shut up, and eventually maybe you really do get it, or you're on the inside enough to have it explained to you.
Dad wasn't from that town. He didn't have brothers or sisters or aunts or 'second-cousin-twice-removed's living there.
I just thought he found an awesome place, and I believed it because he believed it, even though I didn't get the joke.
I thought maybe he accidentally came across it like a penny on the street, and for reasons I didn't understand it was a good place.
And like when I found money on the sidewalk, he kept it a secret from most people. We usually went there at night, and we never told Mom. He was always clear on that.
Things fell apart at home when Mom lost her job. The city started to dry up and she was desperate to move. My brother and I wouldn't have minded, and in fact we were really excited.
This was a chance to move to Dad's special little town.
But Dad wasn't about to do that for some reason. "Things'll get better for you here," he told her. He picked up more hours and started traveling even more.
He was some kind of financial analyst that contracted for multiple companies, so he was usually on the road at least two weeks out of the month.
Later on he would leave for months at a time before coming back. We stopped waiting for him and we got used to him being gone.
It was clear that he'd be back when he was back, and it couldn't be rushed.
I left home as soon as I could. Got a job in another little city that was far enough away to feel like it was mine.
My brother went out to work on oil rigs until he lost most of his leg below the knee in an accident.
He got disability and a safer job and actually ended up buying our parents house so that Mom could move somewhere without stairs.
Dad worked right up until he died. He was 68, and had been gone for over a month before Mom finally got a call saying that he wasn't coming home at all.
She hardly said anything else when she called to tell me.
I drove home for a few days and stayed with my brother. Mom moved in too, just for the week. She was just so lonely.
The funeral was going to be in Dad's special town, and it didn't make any sense why until we got there; Mom didn't tell us anything. I have no idea how long she knew.
His other family was all women: a wife and three daughters. The oldest daughter was a little older than me. It felt like my heart was on fire when they lowered him into the ground.
I wasn't even sure who to be angry at. Some part of me wanted to hate them, though I had no reason to; they were complete strangers.
I still remember how he lit up when he talked about that town. How much he loved it. And now the joke makes sense again -- *really* made sense... only it isn't funny to me.
I get it now, and the punchline is that he loved them better than us.