My mother looks for my father every day. Depending on who you ask, he’s
in different places. He’s not lost, he hasn’t run away, he hasn’t
disappeared. It’s a different kind of search. My mother looks for my
father every day not in body but in spirit. She’s been looking for over
five years now.
Before my father’s organs destroyed themselves with cancer, before his
body was scarred with tumors and stripped of muscle, before bones
outlined every angle and turn of his once sturdy, olive-skinned canvas,
before his eyes were jaundiced and sunken in like ships at the floor of
the sea, before his cells were soaked in opioids to kill the pain, and
before he took his final shallow passive breath lying comatose in a
hospice bed, he made a promise to my mother. He promised her that once
he made it to the afterlife, he would give her a sign, and that sign
would mean it’s all real—Heaven, eternity—and he made it there and
he would be waiting for her. The sign, they agreed, would be the number
fifty-six—the number of my father’s old police cruiser, and a sign
random and uncoincidental enough for my mother to have no doubt that it
came from her dead husband.
Thus says the Lord:
and do righteousness,
for My salvation is about to come
and My righteousness to be revealed.
Blessed is the man who does this,
and the son of man who takes hold of it,
who keeps from polluting the Sabbath
and keeps his hand from doing any evil.
June, 2020: my mother tells me about fifty-six and her search. I had
never known before. She had kept it all a secret.
My mother looks for fifty-six everywhere—obsessively, tirelessly,
desperately. She looks for it on the sides of police cruisers, on public
transportation, on company vehicles, on license plates, on airplanes.
She looks for it on coins, on her receipts, on the price ticker at the
gas pump, on the TV, on social media, on the games she plays on her
phone, anywhere the number may be and my father’s spiritual presence
alongside it as its harbinger. But she sees it nowhere.
Why is she doing this to herself?
I look through an old website dedicated to biblical numbers. It’s clunky
and most of its links don’t work—it looks like it was created in the
late aughts—but I find a page dedicated entirely to the number
fifty-six. There are eighty-two comments on the post. The top comment is
from an anonymous user, posted in late 2013, and titled “This can help
all of us.” In it they describe how they feel as if fifty-six has been
haunting them for years. They can’t seem to escape it; it shows up
everywhere they look. Recently, however, they’ve turned to God and it’s
Perhaps the waiting is killing her.
I scroll down.
A comment posted by another anonymous user, this one titled “56 ?”,
So I lost my nephew and at his funeral they told us to close our eyes
and let god speak to us and I swear I heard him tell me 56 and I’m not
sure what he means by 56 but it’s almost been 56 days since the
funeral but I’m so confused
I find a book titled The 150 Most Important Bible Verses in my
sister’s bookshelf of abandoned books from her childhood. I immediately
flip to the fifty-sixth verse in the book. Corinthians 4:18:
We do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which
are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
Eternal, the last word echoes, eternal.
I too start to look for fifty-six. I think I’ve been doing it
unconsciously ever since I heard about the promise.
I think I do it for my mother.
Beat writer William S. Burroughs is considered the first person to
believe in the twenty-three enigma—a belief in the cosmic and
preternatural significance of the number twenty-three.
Perhaps she is searching for an assertion of faith.
Burroughs claimed he knew a ship captain named Clark who bragged that he
had sailed for twenty-three years without an accident. Then on that very
day Captain Clark’s ship got into an accident, killing him and everybody
else aboard. Later that evening Burroughs heard on the radio that an
airplane had crashed in Florida. The captain of the plane was also named
Clark, and the flight was flight number twenty-three.
I Google “flight 56” out of curiosity. The first result is Azerbaijan
Airlines Flight 56.
Azerbaijan Airlines Flight 56 was a passenger flight from Nakhchivan to
Baku. Fifty-two people died when it crashed on the night of December 5,
The date sticks out to me.
My father died December 6, 2015.
Almost twenty years to the very date.
An investigation into the crash determined that it was caused by
defective spare parts used on the plane’s engine mounts.
And even if he did die on the twentieth anniversary, what would that
mean? He had no connection to it. He’d never been to
Azerbaijan—probably couldn’t even spell it or spot it on a map.
It would have only been a coincidence of dates and numbers. Nothing
I read more comments on the biblical numbers site. In a comment titled
“56 dehmonic dream” a user named Jen writes:
I had a dream last night. In it I was running and some was saying
Kill all 56 and get that bitch (me) to [sic]. I saw a bloodied
evil looking dog (unsure of what type) on a leash and he was trying to
get off the leash to get me. I am a little afraid of this dream but
not enough to stop me praying to God. I have this battle between God
and the devil my entire life. God pulls me to the right and the devil
to the left. So far God has always won but I have often wondered what
and who I was.
Since my father’s death I’ve had only one dream about him. When I woke
from it, I was so stunned I went straight to my journal and wrote down
every detail I could remember. The date of the entry is January 9, 2020.
I was at the front of the neighborhood that I grew up in, where the
entrance to the neighborhood and the road meet. I was with a group of
people, but I couldn’t make out who any of them were. They all sort of
looked like specters or just blurry silhouettes of people who looked
somewhat familiar to me. We were all drinking and doing things that
people do when they drink—mindless things that one would not do
sober because of the mindlessness. I had a decent buzz but still had
my wits about me—at any moment, if needed to, I could take a couple
deep breaths and become adequately sober enough to handle just about
anything. Then my dad—who, mind you, is dead and has been for over
four years now—drove from the direction of my house to the entrance
of the neighborhood (so he was leaving). He was confused and didn’t
quite know what he was doing, where he was, or even who he was. It was
how he was in his final days, when he had been administered so many
painkillers and sedatives that his mind was a morass of blankness. I
stopped him and tried to get him to go back home. He assured me he was
fine and that he was just going to run some errands. I then sat in the
car with him and continued trying to persuade him to let me drive him
and the car back home and put him back in bed. He resisted and assured
me that he was fine and didn’t need my help. All the while, the
faceless figures continued to party and drink around us. They didn’t
seem to care about anything going on between my dad and me. My mom
showed up out of nowhere, and I tried to recruit her help to get my
dad back home. Once again, my dad resisted. And without a fight, my
mom acquiesced and said he’d be fine on his own—he didn’t need her,
according to her. I tried one more time to get him to let me take him
back home. But he got very serious and said, “You’re having fun,
aren’t you? Let me be. Go back and have fun.” And I told him I wasn’t.
I wasn’t having any fun. All I wanted was to take care of him and go
back to his room and spend time with him and talk to him until he fell
asleep. And even if that was the last time he ever fell asleep, I
would know that I spent the final moments with him, the moments before
the end, the moments that stick with us forever and seem to haunt us
for the rest of our days if we spend them the wrong way. I don’t know
how or why, but I eventually just stopped. I got out of the car and
left. He drove off and I didn’t even bother to watch him drive away. I
turned around and walked back to where I had been before. When I got
back, one of the formless figures handed me a beer. I drank it. That’s
the last thing I remember from the dream.
When my father’s cancer weakened his body and spirit, he was bedridden.
My mother lay alongside him for hours and hours during the day and slept
alongside him every night. Their bedroom door stayed closed most of the
time. During the day, they talked. What they talked about, I don’t know.
But I could always hear the soft silhouettes of their voices through the
walls, never quite able to discern any words. Sometimes at night I could
still hear their voices over the hum of my father’s oxygen concentrator.
On one particularly bad day my father was admitted into hospice care and
put into a medically induced coma.
I never heard my mother and father speak to each other again.
No matter where I look, I can’t seem to find fifty-six. I’ll admit, I
was incredulous when my mother first said she never saw it anywhere.
But now I understand. It’s nowhere to be found.
7 X 8, I punch into the calculator on my phone.
There it is.
28 X 2.
37 + 19.
It only shows up when I create it.
It never occurs naturally.
I read three books on Numerology in an attempt to understand fifty-six
and what it means, in an attempt to understand my mother.
The books are nothing what I expect.
The number fifty-six is never once mentioned.
Delusions of reference are when someone experiences a coincidental or
nondescript, quotidian event and believes it has some significant
personal meaning to it.
Like seeing fifty-six and believing it confirms the existence of an
afterlife, and that your husband or your father are there.
But what’s the opposite of it?
What does it mean when someone doesn’t experience a coincidental or
nondescript, quotidian event so much to the point that they think that
is the significant personal meaning?
My family wasn’t religious. We didn’t go to church, never really talked
This all changed when my father started dying.
We started going to church every Sunday and I hated it.
I hated sitting in the stiff, suffocating pews and bowing my head and
pretending to pray and looking around the room as everybody stood and
sang along to the lyrics projected on the front wall. I hated the prayer
requests. I hated how every week there was one dedicated to my family. I
hated being the center of attention for that brief moment as everybody
closed their eyes, bowed their heads, and asked the Lord to look over my
family and me, to give us strength, to help us find peace.
56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56
56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56
56 56 56 56 56 56 56 56
I understand it all now.
I understand it all now and I feel selfish and horrible for how I
thought back then.
“There is an order in the universe, from the atom to the solar system,”
one of the Numerology books begins.
This order, according to the book, is found in numbers.
Another book claims that Numerology is a part of your “spiritual
awakening” and will help you get in touch with your “higher self and
“Are you prepared for an exciting journey… a journey that will take
you to the heart of your inner self?” the third book asks.
I wonder the first time my mother looked for fifty-six.
I can recall, with detail, the moments surrounding my father’s death.
My mother and I left hospice after staying in the room with my father
for five days and four nights. He lay comatose during those five days. A
hospice nurse told us that sometimes patients subconsciously hold onto
living if someone is in the room with them—they don’t want to die in
front of someone, so their body keeps fighting, decrepitly, and it
prolongs the suffering.
So we left.
We went home for the first time in five days. My two sisters were there,
too. We had been home for no more than an hour when I was sitting in the
kitchen and the phone rang. I watched the screen on the phone light up
and display “Identifying.”
I waited for the second ring, when the caller ID would come through.
On the second ring it read, “Trillium Woods Hospice,” the name of the
hospice care facility my father was in.
I knew what the call meant.
And I answered the phone.
The funny thing about grief and the moments right after a loss is that
they’re never what we want them to be.
They’re never as deeply and darkly poetic as we’d wish, as we’ve seen in
Hollywood and in fiction.
Perhaps the boy, after seeing his father’s corpse in the hospice bed,
steps outside and the rain clears and a rainbow appears and paints the
sky off in the distance and it glimmers off the boy’s eyes and it
reminds him of some metaphor about something beautiful after something
ugly and tragic.
Or when the widow is spending her final moments with her husband she
sees a chickadee outside the window land softly on a frail little branch
hanging from a snow-coated sugar maple, and a small plume of snow dusts
off it and falls whimsically to the ground, and the bird rests there so
serene and so at ease with the world, and the widow takes it as a sign
that the bird represents her husband and how he’s at peace now in
But it’s never really like this.
We were in a McDonald’s drive-thru.
My mother, two sisters, and I had just visited my father for the last
time. We visited only his body. He had been dead almost an hour before
we finally saw him.
After we said our final goodbyes to the last remaining vestige of my
father, we left hospice to let the nurses take care of his body.
Outside, the snow was pushed into uninspired little piles that had
splatters of gray matter on them. The sky looked tired, and the wind was
flapping just cold and just hard enough to wet your eyes and piss you
off. Everything about it was so gray.
I don’t know who said it, but someone finally broke the silence of the
car ride and said that they were hungry.
We all sort of nodded, tacitly said, “Me too, yeah.”
There was a McDonald’s up ahead.
We waited at the second window for our food to come out.
“Dad’s dead,” my younger sister said, “and we’re at McDonald’s.”
“Not our fault he died around lunchtime,” my mother said. “Besides, who
says what we should be doing? There’s no manual for mourning.”
I wonder if she looked for fifty-six on that McDonald’s receipt.
I wish she had found it in that moment.
Little did I know Numerology mostly deals with birth dates and single
Death is of little significance to Numerology, and so is fifty-six.
The books only serve as a distraction.
I start decoding myself using Numerology.
I’m a ruling number eleven, which means my life’s purpose is to “guide
humanity into the emerging age of awareness.”
Other ruling number elevens include Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Prince
Charles, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Sir Edmund Hillary, and John Glenn.
I’m a day number six, which is the number of creativity.
My life path number is two, my destiny number is seven, my soul number
is three, my personality numbers are four and twenty-two, my attitude
number is three, I have no karmic debt.
Has this been about me the whole time?
There’s a warning at the back of one of the books that reads, “I
encourage you to observe numbers everywhere, but know that Numerology
can become an obsession. Always use Numerology to complement your life
and offer divine insight and guidance.”
It was the summer of 1993 and my mother was standing on a pier in Lake
Michigan when she first saw my father. He and a friend were coasting
through the channel in his piddly little speed boat when my mother’s
friend turned to her and said, “Those guys are cute, we should get on
My mother hesitated, let out a nervous laugh. She was innocent, demure,
didn’t take many chances in her twenty years of living.
“C’mon,” her friend said, and she jumped into the channel and started
swimming toward the boat.
After a couple seconds of trepidation, my mother rushed over to the
ladder on the side of the pier and descended into the water. She swam
after her friend, after the boat, fighting to keep her hair—a delicate
almond curtain that hung just past her shoulders—out of the lake and
dry for when she met the two mystery men on the boat.
By the time she reached the boat, her friend was already on and talking
to my father’s friend. My father helped my mother up onto the boat.
“I’m Randy,” he said.
He was tall; she only came up to his chest. She looked up at him. His
face was sharp and faintly reddened by the sun.
“I’m Tara,” she said.
Sometimes we create our own signs.