Eleven years ago, on this very day, I was a freshman at Rice in Houston, 228 miles and an entire world away from my family home in Alexandria, Louisiana. That night, I drove my friends and I to the Macaroni Grill on Westheimer, forcing them, against their will, to listen to the Steve Miller Band along the way.
I pulled into a choice parking spot directly in front of the entrance to the restaurant, and at that moment, suddenly and unexpectedly, I became awash with anxiety. I put the car in park, took the keys out of the ignition, and opened the door.
“Hey, Lamar, do you want your cell phone?” my roommate Saaid asked. I’d left my phone in the car, in the cupholder between the driver and passenger seats.
In the years that followed that moment, I’ve learned about mystical experiences, astral projection, psychedelia, the collective unconscious, and glossolalia. I even earned a degree in Religious Studies. But there’s no substitution for sober intuition: It’s jarring, discombobulating, paranoiac.
“Yeah, I need my phone,” I said, and then I followed with a matter-of-fact statement I’ll always remember (pardon my French): “Something fucked up is happening to my family.”
Before I could even order dinner, my phone rang. It was my Aunt Jean.
“Where are you?” she asked. “Are you in public? Are you sitting down? Your mother needs to tell you something, but you need to be in the right place.”
“I’m leaving right now,” I told her. I grabbed the keys to my car and bolted out of the restaurant. I was wide-eyed and trembling. Until that moment, I’d never realized that the adjectives “shaken” and “heartache” referred to real physical reactions.
My roommate caught up with me in the parking lot. “You’re our ride,” he said. “Where are you going?”
“I’m sorry. I have to go. I think my father is dead.”
“Give me your keys,” he said. “I’ll drive you back.”
As it turns out, in retracing the timeline of events that night, my father died at the same time I pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot, the same time I suddenly felt a surge of anxiety. And no, it’s not as if it was imminent or expected. My father was only 41 years old.
Still, if there is any moral or magic to this story, it is this: That maybe, just maybe, it is possible for us to forge human connections that transcend our understanding of the physical world, that maybe we can be deeply connected to our loved ones, that maybe synchroncity is real and possible.
And maybe, if we’re all lucky enough, as Etta James sang, “life is like a song.”
Lamar, you’ll be on my mind today on this very sad anniversary. I met you shortly after this time and know how much impact it has had on your life – I don’t have a previous baseline to compare it to, but I have to think that it accounts for some of the personal characteristics that I appreciate most about you: your courage, your humility, and your ambition. I also think that dealing with it through writing and sharing this story is a really great way for you to honor your dad and keep your experience, no matter how painful and traumatic, alive and real. Not that you could possibly forget something like that, but keeping the details fresh will be a blessing as it recedes further and further into the past. Sending good vibes your way today…
I do not like to remember it, but one cold Feburary morrning at around 5 am my wife and I were awakened by a phone call like yours. My Granddaughter who was about 16 at the time was on the other end of the line. Mama’s dead is all she could say. M only daughter was killed in a car wreck an hour before. She had ust graduated from college in Lake Charles with an engenering degree and had gotten out of a dead end marrage..Just like that she was gone. If you have experenced something like this yourself, then you can feel vividly anothers loss. It stays with you..forever..no matter what.
I believe that God or the universe or whatever cosmic force connects us lets us know when someone we have that connection to is taken from us. When my brother-in-law died, my mother rushed to my sister’s house as she was alone with the Sheriff came to tell her he had died. My niece who was just three months past her first birthday awoke from sleep and looked up at my mother in the pre-dawn light of her room saying two words: “papa gone.” My mom said the look on her face gave her every indication that she knew her father had been taken from this world. I don’t doubt the universe sent you a message that day. My prayers are with you today as you remember.