Often when I reached into my closet to grab a shirt or something, I would feel my chest pounding, my heart racing and my eyes swelling with tears; I would also lose my train of thought for a moment. The jacket hanging there brought back memories. However, not good memories. 

It was 1992 and I was just a little boy, maybe four at the time. I was at Wilkerson’s Funeral Home attending my father’s wake. I don’t remember the wake at all and never saw my father before he was laid to rest.  The only thing my mother has told me was that the line of people who came to the wake numbered several hundred. Many people thought highly of my father.

However, I do recall being outside in the pouring rain after the memorial service had ended the day of the funeral and getting in the car a dreadful, lifeless black Cadillac.

“Where is Daddy going?” I cry loudly. My mother embraces me and is unable to comfort me.

“He’s not coming back, Tyler.” The silver Cadillac carrying his body was in front of us. I screamed and no matter how loud I screamed or how many tears were shed, my father was gone forever.  That’s the only vivid memory I have of him today: the silver Cadillac pulling away, taking my father with it. I remember how death stung me and the venom sucked away all life in that moment of pain and misery. I remember how hellish it was.

It was 2012 and I was 25 and living at home with Mom and Dad; I couldn’t help myself in spending time thinking about my father a lot. In my parent’s house, in my old bedroom, there it sits, hanging in the closet, with its deep dark blue color, the old timey green Mountain Dew patch and that classic red, white and blue bottle cap Pepsi patch.  Times have changed now and if my dad were still around, he’d still be wearing the long sleeve jacket. The logos would be much different now.  Tim would also work at a different facility as the old Pepsi plant is a furniture distribution store now. The plant got flooded in ‘99 when Hurricane Floyd came to Greenville and devastated the town. Fortunately, my family survived the “Flood of the Century” as the weatherman at Channel 9 TV called it.  The jacket still hangs there in the plastic covering in my old bedroom closet, held by a cherry wood hanger.  The name  on the jacket is still legible. Tim only worked with Pepsi a few short years before being eaten alive by colon cancer, that heartless bitch.

 I never met my father, and since he left me when I was young, the only thing that remains is this blue jacket. I feel as though I’m a curator of some special piece in a museum, keeping dust off of it and making sure it stays looking sharp. I guess it’s like how one would keep a class A military uniform in top shape even when it’s not being worn. Damn, the pain is real though. Yet, I have the jacket and feel as though that clothing connects us to people. I really wish memories had been made instead of having an object never to possess any living qualities.

I do have this vision, though. Mentally, I can see him standing there in his Pepsi uniform, his jet black hair, and his 5’9’’ slender frame carrying drinks on the handcart into the stores on his route. It’s been a long time, but I haven’t forgotten about him and only the jacket and a mental image sticks with me. I ponder what my dad looked like and what he would say if he were around today.

Bruce, my current father, reminds me of Tim as he has a blue jacket, only this time it doesn’t have a Pepsi or Mountain Dew patch on it. His jacket has a Toyota emblem on it.  My mother still tells me that Bruce resembles my father, especially when it comes to his faith in God and hard work ethic. The other noticeable difference is that instead of being a guy, Bruce is a sweet tea man.

The reality is that somehow when he wears the jacket, I feel my father again.

 It’s like God knew that as an autistic, I could connect through such a simple object and find that a work jacket reminds me of my father. Bruce stands tall at 6’0’’and is starting to go bald. Is this second father my first one in disguise?  In the Bible, there are many sayings where God promises to be a father to the fatherless. Sometimes I wonder if having a second father is God’s way of telling me that I’m not fatherless.

Letting go of the pain of losing a parent at a young age has always been hard for me but somehow healing comes at some point. The fragility of life is a lesson that uses no finesse or warns us in advance. In a split second, our world gets turned upside down and the sting of death is inescapable. Yet, somehow we come together with loved ones, friends and for some of us, reach out to a higher power as if to be delivered from this. I’m reminded that even when I go through the valley and the shadow of death that God is with me. The imagery of paradise still remains with me as I conjure up images of seeing my father someday and catching up.

Yet, seeing a blue work jacket gives me closure somehow, at least for now. Forever ingrained in me is the mental image of my father. I can go places in my mind and see my father smile down on me and I can take all the time I need to be a child again and be held again.  The stories Mom tells me about who Tim was and the time he spent with me is like fresh oxygen. The stories have life and breath, and I am eager to know more. I want to relive the days I don’t remember, days of riding with him on his motorcycle and watching him play basketball for hours in the yard. 

In 2013 and I’m 26. I’m finally at peace and the pain of experiencing death has gone away, but one thing remains. Tim’s jacket still hangs in the closet. When I wish to feel his presence, I have the jacket to hold on to and cherish forever. I still never go to his graveside or talk about him much. The act of discussing the life of someone who has passed just doesn’t feel right to me. I want to let them rest in peace and feel as though someday I will join them for reunion. For now though, I must keep moving forward. I must do all that I can with the life I’ve been given to make Tim proud and let him look down and smile when I accomplish something.  The sunshine still comes out and each day is brand new. In my heart, the sunshine still exists as having a new father allows the darkness of death to go away. I’m able to experience what many fatherless individuals never get to experience: growing up with Dad.

I see Tim through Bruce and having a father again helps me maintain normalcy. Where would I be without that? I suppose I’d turn out just fine but for now I just remain grateful and realize how that God has never left me.  Indeed, his omnipresence reminds me constantly that his love remains unfettered.

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