On August 7, 2021, I spent a morning alone in my room while my father was late from errands. An hour passed, and I wondered what had happened. Finally, the garage door opened two hours past when he said he would be home, and I heard him a floor below me on the phone.
He entered the house and stood in my doorway. I could see pain, emptiness, and exhaustion in his expression.
With a deep, shaky breath, he said to me, "Uncle Carl passed away today."
I was confused, disoriented, and in utter disbelief. My father didn't care to explain another word; we both knew. A month before
Carl's sunset, we had dropped off a warm box of fried chicken on his doorstep for his 81st birthday. There was no answer when we knocked on the door, and we left in silence, knowing that Carl's grit had weakened since we saw him last.
That rush of feelings one experiences after losing a loved one is the song that tugged at my heart for the rest of the summer. It was all so unfamiliar; I hadn't lost someone that special to me for years. On that card I wrote to him on his birthday it said I looked forward to going back up to Reno and having dinner together. I looked forward to my father having the time of his life with his best friend—something that he had missed out on during the pandemic. I regret those words of enlivenment that must have filled Carl with sadness and regret.
On the other hand, I couldn't lie about his importance to my father and me. He meant the world to us.
Carl's memorial service came around, and my father was asked to be a pallbearer. I stayed home on that cloudy Sunday and received photos of his funeral. Carl's treasured Rolls Royces road the empty streets past my high school, and soldiers, police, and rangers saluted to his everlasting mark on their lives.
I was sent a picture of Carl and me during the best time of the year. He towered over me as an elementary school student, and we posed under the shade of a casino. I couldn't hold back a smile while tears dribbled down my cheeks. He was one of the most remarkable human beings I have ever known.
Rest in peace, Carl Payne. Thank you for everything you've done for me.