I expect to be surprised at my readings by unexpected guests -- which is to say, I expect to encounter old friends, enemies, and lovers. Which is further to say, I vaguely assume I know what to expect, which is contrary to being surprised. You can't really expect the unexpected.
Yesterday, at a reading at George Mason University, an older man joined the audience late. He was so late, in fact, that I assumed he was early for the next speaker. He was of indeterminate age -- somewhere in his late 50s or early 60s -- black, and wearing the kind of baseball cap I associate with Navy veterans. As soon as I finished my Q&A he came up to introduce himself.
"I worked with your dad," he said. "I was sorry to learn of his passing."
It's worth mentioning that my father, Edward Yourdon, died in January of this year. Though he was in his early 70s at the time, it caught everyone by surprise. From my perspective, absolutely everything changed with this event -- my life has been turned upside-down. And now this man whom I'd never met before, with his firm handshake and unwavering gaze, was offering me his condolences.
"I was an instructor at Yourdon, Inc.," he continued. "In the 80s. I was walking by and recognized your name."
This is a blog post. Elsewhere, I could write at great length about publishing my first novel after my father's death, all the things he did or couldn't have anticipated for me; or about being a public speaker, the myriad ways in which he and I are similar, as a result of genetics and disposition; or I could describe 2016, a year in which everything horrible and momentous seems to have occurred, save for turning forty (a treat reserved for 2017). I could try to make sense of the unexpected. I could provide context.
But this is a blog post, so I'll leave you with the gut-punch. A man, a strange man, to whom I'd only speak for 90 seconds, walked into a room and invoked my dead dad. Then he left me alone. And there I was -- in Virginia, of all places. In 2016, this seemingly interminable year.