It was an unusually warm winter day in Versailles on Thursday, February 16th – the day before my birthday. I, along with Sheryl and some close friends, had been in Paris for a few days to celebrate my birthday and we decided take a day trip to the palatial estate of the French kings.
In the morning, we took photos of the palace, the lavish rooms, the extravagant chandeliers and decors, the Hall of Mirrors, and the expansive gardens. We sucked as much cultural and historical information as we could until we were satiated.
In the afternoon, we went for a short ride to Marie Antoinette’s estate. It was there and then that I received a Facebook massage from my sister Agnes: Papa was rushed to the hospital. But they couldn’t revive him. He was gone.
My first reaction was that of disbelief. Then confusion.
I remembered Papa back in New Jersey a few days before I left for Europe asking me that he wanted me to bring him cookies from Paris. So any notion that he was gone was hard to process. It couldn’t be.
He just recovered from a short hospital confinement in January and all his children and grand children came to New Jersey to nurse him and cheer him on, I thought. How could he be gone?
But he was indeed gone. Cardiac arrest.
I did not disclose the information to Sheryl and my friends yet as I was struggling to make sense of what just happened. And then it started to rain in Versailles. It rained so hard that we had to take shelter at a nearby police tent. When it stopped, we walked to the train station to catch our train back to Paris. I was still wrestling with the heavy truth lodged into my heart.
Before bedtime, at our rented place, aided by glasses of wine, I broke the news to Sheryl. She went hysterical. I was crushed as well.
You see, Papa decided to leave us the day before my birthday. Now for as long as I live, my birth will be forever tied with his passing. And to me that was sweet. He was my father, but he was also my best buddy. He attended my school events, took me to the latest movies, treated me to the best restaurants, and bought me the coolest toys. When I was in college, I pulled all nighters in preparation for exams and he was always there with me, either preparing a brief or writing a book. He was with me all the time, and I with him. I even interned as his assistant and driver. We were inseparable. So his choice of day to pass on was typical of our relationship.
Unfortunately, my birthday wouldn’t be graced by his presence, or so I thought.
On February 18th, the day after my birthday, Sheryl and I were walking by the river Seine after a visit to the Musee De Orsay when an old French man tugged on my winter coat.
He was a haggard looking man, probably in his 70s with unshaven face and disheveled hair. He looked like a vagabond. So I paid him no mind.
But he was persistent. He followed us and kept on tugging my coat. So we stopped. And then the man pointed on the ground and there I saw a gold ring. The man picked it up and gave it to me. I pushed back.
“Sorry Monsieur, but that ring is not mine,” I said. The man mumbled something in French and insisted in handing me the ring. So I relented and put the ring in my pocket. Sheryl was nervous for she thought it could be a scam or a ploy that would get us in trouble.
Still confused, I handed the man 50 cents for his trouble. He smiled, took the coin and left. He disappeared among the crowd. At that point, we noticed that we were at the famous Paris lock bridge.
When we got back to our rented place, I told my friends about the old man and the ring. They immediately asked to see the ring. So I placed it on the table for them to see. After careful inspection, the noticed an engraving.
“18K • 750” – 18 Karat • 750 grams
Then they asked me to try the ring on. I did and it fit perfectly.
Truly, Papa wouldn’t let my birthday pass without his presence.