Despite the odd nature and background of the job, my co-workers were incredibly supportive during that time.
That’s nothing to be said of my friends, both “real world” and online, a lifetime of relationships that helped to fund my need to get back to Texas. While I had many generous friends and beloved relationships contribute to my journey back, one of the standout contributions came from Arts Fighting Cancer.
In my time, back in 2000-2001, it was known as the Deep Ellum Film Festival, based out of Deep Ellum in Dallas. This neighborhood was a second home to my friends and I, full of artists and musicians, creative geniuses and madmen. The festival itself was run by Michael Cain and Melina McKinnon, wonderful people that I had built a lifelong friendship with. The festival itself was based around raising money to directly help cancer victims and their families cover costs and more human needs. I joined out of belief for the cause after my Mother died. I hadn’t considered that I would have to one day come to them for help myself.
But they did, and they were remarkable in helping me get home.
Meanwhile in Vegas (seeing how this is still a blog about Vegas), the family unit and I were trying to plan a trip for Dad to visit here. I even took it upon myself to contact a few venues on the Strip to see if we could do some special things for them. The managers and hosts were accommodating, and plans were being discussed, but I had to go to Texas first.
And the airport sucks.
Making my way past the slot machines in the airport (yes, they have them there too so lucky tourists can feed the local economy), I effortlessly made my way to my plane. I was all ready to go, buckled in, Nintendo DS and journal in hand, let’s do this!
“We’re sorry to inform you that due to engine technical difficulties, Flight 1150 is now out of service”, the captain says. “Please go to Baggage Claim 3 to get your luggage.”
So while walking over there, I call American Airlines and tell them what happened, and that I must go to Dallas today. They book me an 11:25 flight on US Airways.
Then the Hell started.
The luggage wasn’t appearing at Baggage Claim 3. 45 minutes pass, and this surly baggage manager finally opens her office. “The baggage hasn’t come”, the guy in front of me says. “I’m not on the clock. Not my problem.” Even when she does clock in, her answer doesn’t change.
20 minutes later, I go to her again, and she seems so annoyed that I would dare to bother her when standing behind a counter looking sulky is such a time intensive task.
“Fine”, she says, and the baggage carousel comes on. For two flights.
So the baggage is coming, tumbling out, crushing other suitcases, falling on the ground, until it finally backed up and jammed with luggage. We tell her about it, and again, “Not my problem”.
Finally, she sighs, turns off the carousel, and walks away.
“What about the rest of the luggage”, someone asks her. “The carousel’s full, and I can’t do anything if it’s full like that, and no more luggage can come out until it’s cleared out.”
(A shiny new quarter will be given to the person who guesses what she said next about whether or not it was of a concerning nature to her.)
“We’re going to be late for our flights”, some business guy shot at her. “Well, go book your flights, then”, she said, addressing us. “We’ll forward you your luggage.”
“Like Hell you will”, I snapped at her. I was totally pissed off at this point.
She shrugged carelessly. “I’m not turning it on until the luggage is cleared.”
So the passengers of flight 1150 sprung into action.
Every single piece of luggage was removed from the carousel by every man woman and child, our flight or not.
“We want our luggage”, some guy yelled.
She got on the intercom and said “The remaining flight 1150 luggage will now be re-routed to carousel 2″.
I called American Airlines customer service and exploded.
I finally got my luggage in mid-scream, and made my way to the new security gate (that’s right: I had to redo the entire process all over again).
I called my sister and updated my flight info. And then I stepped up to security.
They snatched my boarding pass and circled it.
“You have been selected for a security screening. Please step into this separate hallway.”
They pointed me to this hallway in a separate area.
“Oh, Jesus-shit-fuck”, I moaned in exasperation, conveying the most wearied look I could possibly muster.
So I went into the hallway, and stripped down, had to get into a machine, where they shot ionized air at me. They went through every item I had in my bag, spraying it, wiping it down (I’m glad they didn’t decide to read my journal). And the only reason I got them to stand down on me is that one of the neighboring security people saw that I had a Nintendo DS, and wanted to talk shop with me, which relaxed the guy in front of me.
When I left, I realized that they had kept one of my gloves, so I had to go back.
Don’t even get me started about the next flight’s delay.
Despite being late, I met my Uncle and Dad, the latter being in remarkably good spirits. After a quick dinner, we went home.
It was a nice weekend, all things considered. Dad was weak, but in good humor. We talked about “the old days”, and my growing up, and me finally coming clean about all the crazy stunts that I pulled as a kid that Dad would have grounded me for, but just found amusing now.
But it was hard. Because he had gotten so frail since the last Christmas, and the horrible realization began to sink in that these moments were ending. How could they?
The thought became more real as I helped him get into bed the final night of my stay. He chuckled. “You know, when anyone gets sick, I’m usually the one to take care of them.”
I looked at the little man, as he slid under the covers to read his Terry Brooks novel. “Well, the time has come….”, the words failed. I could feel my eyes burning, my breathing tightening. I couldn’t break down. I wouldn’t. I owed him more. I had to be the rock for the moment. I cleared my throat and finished my thought. “…for me to return the favor.”
He smiled at me as he settled. “Good night, Guy”, he said. “Good night, Dad”, I said. As I left the room, he called out “I’ll see you soon.”
The next day, we said our good-bye at the airport, his eyes focusing on me like it would be the last time we would ever see each other again. And I went home.
It wasn’t even a week later when I got “The Call”. I was out of money to do a rush trip home, but my friend Danny gave me an advance for a ticket. My other friend Toby picked me up at the airport to drive me home. My other friend John had been keeping an eye on my Dad in my absence.
I got home that night, much to Dad’s surprise. He was still coherent, well humored, but tired. As the night wore on, and the morphine could only do so much, we knew our time was short. He said that I was one of the best friends that he ever had, and after a long night of staying by his side, my sister took over for the morning shift.
I barely slept an hour when it began to happen. I rushed into the room in time to hold his hand, and just… not let go until the final, deafening quiet set in. Our last words to each other were “I love you”.
The remainder of the day was a numb blur of church, the funeral home, visits with the pastor. I was beyond exhausted, and not ready to deal with the changes that come with planning funerals. Death brings out interesting things in people. Sometimes, their absolute best. In others, their absolute worst. It’s bad enough to grieve. It’s even worse having to quell drama during a time like that. But after a long day and nearly 42 hours with no sleep, I awoke to help plan the funeral.
The funeral was, as far as funerals go, serviceable enough, save for some weird person snapping photos during the service. Photos. It’s not a moment that I particularly cared to remember, much less post on Facebook. Being the writer of the family, I was charged with writing the obituary, and delivering the eulogy. Being tired and caught unaware from the entire trip, I had to use one of Dad’s old suits, and completely mismatched the colors, proving without a doubt that I am my Father’s son.
The eulogy read as follows:
“There are no amount of words that could ever summarize a person’s life. Nor could it ever cover the amount of accomplishments both big and small, or how many lives their actions have touched. Someone once said that when you lose someone, it is similar to that of the burning of a library, because the loss takes so much with them.
I can only speak for myself, and hopefully the best I can for those I love and hold dear. I can only know that my Father’s departure from this world has left as big of an impact as it did when he came in. I know that my Father, as a teacher both in education, and in the lessons of life, had the power to change the lives of those around him.
Jim Chapman had that gift. He not only fulfilled his role of being a Father to the best of his abilities, but he also provided the roles of a mentor, a practical joker, a brother, a great intellectual, a child at heart and in spirit, and most importantly, that of the closest friend anyone could wish for. My Dad was my best friend, and the greatest love of my life.
He took pride and enthusiasm in every role he was ever asked to play, none more so than that of Grandfather. His love for his grandchildren was only matched in his pride of being their “Dada”, and very few things in life could ever light up his eyes the way those children could. His love for them will prove to last several lifetimes to come.
His children, he left a lifetime of laughter and fond memories that will also remind us to keep a smile on our faces, the will to continue on through difficult times, and his playful nature in our hearts. He took on the roles of both parents with the passing of our beautiful Mother, his soulmate, so many years ago, and performed that job better than anyone could have ever asked for.
His love also transcended beyond family into his friendships, with so many that he treated not only as peers, but as his brothers and sisters. None loved the debates and insights he would carry on with his friends more than he did, and he was blessed for having so many true and loyal friends who loved him equally in return.
With the loss of this man that my sister and I have known as our Father for so many years, comes the realization that the lights that make up our universe seem to have been blown out from the sky. Our Father was one of the most amazing and intelligent people we have ever known. A gentle dreamer and loving soul that gave so much to make the loves in his life happy, and as a result, became a hero that will forever be honored. My Dad was a beautiful artist who painted a portrait of life that will hang in the gallery of our hearts forever.
In these final thoughts, it is not my Father that I think of, but of myself, my family, and those who must go on without him. His absence will be a spot that can never be filled, and as C.S. Lewis once said: “The pain now is part of the happiness then”. And while that vacancy of space remains in our lives, the legacy of the love he gave will continue to burn like a star to fill that darkened sky once again.
In that regard, we will never truly be without him.”
The service ended with my friends Marcus, Danny, Bobby, Toby and myself eating at the local Taco Shop, before a later dinner with family and my friends Danny and Jay. Back at the house, I share a few stories, laughter and tears with my friends as we gathered on the back porch as we always did growing up, before making this comment:
“This story has come to an end. I walk away from my childhood tomorrow as I leave this place for the last time. I’ll still obviously come back of course, and nothing will change with all of us, but I feel a new story is about to begin. I realize now, this is one aspect of my life that I’ll never be able to reopen again, once I walk out that door for the last time.”
The only thing left was to tie up a few loose ends….