"My Memorial Day"

1994


This time of year always makes my chest tight. It is already April and soon will be May. My Memorial Day is almost here again.

I was a busy, self-involved, eighteen-year-old girl on May 27, 1994. I can still recall that day; it was a Friday. And, after class all morning and work all day, I was looking forward to a night out with friends and the long holiday weekend ahead.

Home was tense; I could feel the heaviness of the air. Daddy was in his room when I rushed home from work; this had become his habit of late. Mom was tired and distracted; those days she seemed to have several jobs, and the role of mother always spilled over into peacemaker and counselor.

My fifteen-year-old sister was watching TV and talking on the phone. If I had taken the time that afternoon, I may have caught a sense of something different. I did not notice or care if anything was amiss; I just wanted to get out for the evening and leave the all-controlling mood of my father behind for a little while.

Before I left for the evening, though, daddy came up front to the living room and managed to do or say something to anger or belittle us all. My family was quietly resigned (for the most part) to his lashing out and his temper. Temper is really a mild word that barely belies rage.......

Daddy was a VietNam Veteran who had been diagnosed with severe post traumatic stress disorder. All of my life, I had lived with the demons that haunted my father. He had myriad health problems that were only exacerbated by his failing body. That evening, though, I felt no sympathy for him, only impatience.

His whole attitude had gone straight to hell in the last six months, and it was tiresome. I found myself coldly turning away his excuses for his behavior. Mama tried to explain that when he was angry or upset, it wasn't really him, it was the PTSD.

I got tired of this excuse. On his less frequent "good days," he was sorry and did all he could to make up for everything. These good days had all but vanished in the last few months.

As I left for the evening, I marched past his recliner without even so much as a glance in his direction. I ignored him; my usual practice was to sit on the armrest of his chair and kiss his cheek good-bye. I did not care this night to hear his admonition to be careful or to wear my seatbelt.

That night, the only thing I said to my father was in defense of my mother. "Why don't you damn leave her alone" were the last words he ever heard me speak; these words from the child that he loved so much. Had I hesitated a moment on my way out of the door, I would have seen my father alive for the last time.

That night, about five minutes after I got home, my daddy stepped in the hall, stepped back into his room, clicked the lock, and shot himself point-blank through the heart.

My mom and sister were busy in another room. I was talking with them as I stood in the doorway, and I was the one who heard the shot. I looked at my mom from my surreal stance in the hallway and told her that I thought daddy had just shot himself. That moment, that explosion, that ludicrous sounding sentence I uttered, changed my life forever and completely.

Daddy's note was filled with a desperate rage against a war that eventually took his life; hanging in the corner of daddy's room was his military issue dress blues. He was buried three days later on Monday, Memorial Day, 1994.

The Marines that he loved so much helped lay him to rest; and as Taps was played, I listened and watched and wondered when this dream would end. At the beginning of my holiday, I had a daddy. At holiday's end, he was dead; and I was begining to realize that I would forever be without him. On Memorial Day, I was looking over his flag draped casket.

Three years have passed since then. Now I am a twenty-one-year-old young lady who has moved on in many ways. Soon I will graduate from the University of West Georgia with a degree in psychology, and graduate school is in the near future. I just bought my first new car and moved into my own place. I have a great job, a great group of friends, and a new life. Yet, I still have a great big void in my life that is not new anymore but is still just as empty sometimes as it was on the first day of my new life.

Sometimes I think that I have come so far and moved ahead so well. Sometimes I get angry or jealous when I see other fathers doing something for their daughters that my daddy would or could have done. Sometimes, I am just sad, in a lonely, daddy's-girl kind of way. He has missed things in my life that I really wish he could have stuck around for. After all, who better to help a broken heart or check out that funny noise coming from the car.

I wonder if he would be proud of me or if he would have taken on my car salesman as only he knew how. I wonder if he would have cried at my college graduation; I have a feeling I will cry for both of us then. If I could just have him back for one day, I would regale him with hugs and kisses in between stories of new friend, places, and experiences. I would ask him why growing up is so hard and how he thinks I am doing.

These thoughts are all just a part of my Memorial Day. Sometimes, on the inside, I am still just a girl who misses her daddy so much that the ache in my heart feels like it will smother me.

Now, patriotic holidays are a mixed bag of emotions. Memorial Day is very important to me; I want to shout to the world that my daddy died for his country, so don't forget him. Isn't that what Memorial Day is for?

"Gone but not forgotten" has a hollow ring when Memorial Day is just another day. I urge everyone in our free nation to consider the price paid for freedom. Shattered lives, dashed hopes, and families left with nothing but pictures on a wall and memories recalled in a scent or sound; these are realities that are hard to imagine, and even harder to live with. The veterens of our country deserve a hundred year's worth of Memorial Days. The very least I can do is say thank you.

I thank you all, every defender of liberty. And to Cpl. James H. Rigdon of the United States Marine Corps, daddy, this is for you. I love you.

Dawn Rigdon


Photos

  1. Daddy and my sister
  2. Mom and Dad at their wedding
  3. Cpl. James Rigdon...the eyes tell it all
  4. Cpl. James Rigdon and another Marine in Vietnam


copyright © April 1997 by Dawn Rigdon, all rights reserved,
Revised May 2010

Dawn can be contacted at: dawnlovesdarren@yahoo.com

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