I remember one time my dad left to run to the store, I was old enough to be left alone (I was actually a babysitter with a couple of my girl friends to make extra cash we’d spend on “best friend” necklaces) with my brothers. After awhile I got nervous. He wasn't back yet. I started pacing, I rolled up all the blinds, opened the curtains and kept peaking out to see his car. I turned on all the lights of his condo to comfort me while I waited. He finally came back and he asked if I was scared, I said no and then asked me why all the blinds were up and lights were on. I then told him I was sorry for lying, but i was scared something might have happened and he wasn't coming back. He reassured me he was not going anywhere, that’d he always be there for me and to not worry.
Later that year - right in that sweetheart of Spring, my parents enrolled me in tennis classes. It was the first sport I excelled at (okay, the only one!). I quickly advanced to the top level in my town with all the “big kids”. My father was super athletic but I always preoccupied with barbies or drawing or books, but it felt amazing playing tennis and being good at it and my family so proud of me for my athletic prowess. I remember one tournament looking at the crowd, I scanned and scanned for my dad but only saw my mom and my cousin. Later I walked over and heard them talking in hush tones. When they saw me they started talking about how I was becoming a tennis pro. I was 11, I didn’t really think to much of it but I remember feeling something just wasn’t right.
One hot July day, my grandmother called, asking for my mom in a frenzied voice. I quickly handed over the phone but my curiosity got to me. My mom dashed outside with the phone and went to the back of our house. I went to my mother’s room and sat on her bed with the window open like I often did, but this time with a purpose. I listened to her as she spoke to my grandmother. She was leaning against the big oak tree in our backyard and diagonal from her bedroom window.
I remember it smelled like apple trees outside.
Then I heard her crying asking- no it was pleading “No, no Paul passed away? NO!!”. I remember that moment so well, all alone in my mom’s room eavesdropping and hearing my dad was gone. I didn't even know he was sick.
I learned later he had leukemia and because my brothers and I were so young and my parents were divorced they decided to wait until he regained strength to tell us. They had plans for chemotherapy, a plan to beat his leukemia and live. Two weeks after he was diagnosed, he passed away.
I know the pain of waiting by a window. Your whole 11 year old body going numb and the smell of apple trees and your mom’s crying becoming static. I know the feeling of throwing away all your tennis equipment and gear days later as your mother begs you not to, but you have to because you don’t want to play anymore and maybe if you weren’t so wrapped up in it you would’ve known something was seriously wrong.
As an adult, I often thought about taking tennis up again for fun. Where I used to work there was a tennis court. I used to avoid it, it was just a reminder of a passion I gave up. I never thought anyone noticed I was avoiding it nor did I ever try to explain it - plus it was a huge property, “it’s no big deal”, I told myself. Until one warm day I thought , I need to go toward that pain and face it. I offered to bring over paperwork to the other building overlooking the tennis court. I didn’t need to, but I insisted. There were certain apartments that overlooked the court, they quickly became my favorite to show. There were times I’d be watching people play from the window while I was showing prospects the apartment. I’d often stop and let them wander into the other rooms and watch the people on the court play - hypnotized by the focus, the thrill and fun of the sport until I got snapped back into reality with questions. I know the pain of being angry at yourself, at your tennis racket, of your curiosity for finding out your father died all by yourself in a room you loved. I know the pain of an oak tree you find so sweet or a room you always found comfort in as a child or a tennis court you used to run to becoming something that’s just a cold, empty reminder of your aching heart.
I know that pain. Of waiting by a window and someone you love never, ever coming back.
"I guess that's why they call it window payne/pain"