Six years ago he died. I remember. It's amazing how often I block this memory, but there are occasions when I truly, truly remember. He'd become an old man in a matter of a few short months. He wasn't my father anymore - he was an old man from a story, someone I didn't recognize, someone whose mean sharp tongue and jovial wit were reduced to the dementia of cancer. But I loved him anyway, improperly, clumsily, with a lot of fear and shitty behavior mixed in. But I did love him, and I said goodbye as best I can. Which, again, was total shit. There's no such thing as a good goodbye when you love someone. Forget it. Hopefully they knew. Hopefully they still hear you. Actually, I know he does . . . I have proof. But that's another story.
Six years ago he died. He was old, frail, with a scabbed scalp. I was afraid he'd suffocate to death. For months that's what I'd dreamed of, maybe the regurgitations of gasping for breath as an asthmatic child, who knows . . . but the nightmare of him having hung himself to escape the impending death via suffocation, only to have the rope fail to break his neck and struggling to get him down. . . that nightmare has never stopped haunting me (even though, yes, it was just a dream). Especially after my then boyfriend's cousin hung himself three years later, and then I was on suicide watch for a different reason, but again . . .that's another story. One I wouldn't be telling had I not had three glasses of wine. Or was it four. That's how catharsis goes. It waits until you've had enough episodes of whatever American Telenovela (cheers for "Jane the Virgin!") you're binging on Netflix to come through . . . or really . . . it waits until your broken bones have set enough that you can withstand movement. Movement. The movement of cleaning your house today. You had things to get rid of. Remanants of your former life, which you still have for God only knows what reason, but it probably has to do with - well certainly NOT any sentimentality - but perhaps with a sentimental attachment to your own belief you are damaged. Stop. Okay. This is supposed to be unedited - true honesty (hello, redundancy), catharsis, blah blah fuckity blah . . . but that doesn't mean we have to get ridiculous in here. Let's get back to where we were.
Six years ago he died. Maybe it's easier to tell in the second person. You held his hand and hugged him. Your brother had taken your three year old son to his house so he wouldn't see - and he later told you he resented you for this, but again - another story - it was just you and your mom and some weird chaplain who was kind of hot but that's so beside the point. Who sent that guy, anyway? He was so ready to cheat on his estranged wife in the name of Jesus. Let's move on. He had the common sense not to be there when your dad actually died. Passed. Which is better? There's no good word. Thank God - thank God that he didn't die the way you'd feared - gasping for breath, eyes popping out, the way you watched your grandmother die twelve years before. It haunted you, watching that. Knowing how it felt not to get enough air, just on a minor level - how it must feel, to not be able to solve it with an inhaler, with slow breathing, with anything - the agony - make it stop, but you can't, so you clutch the bed, you shake your head violently, you tell your husband you want to live - but no, that was your grandmother. This is your father. He's in a coma, as he has been for days. It's the most subtle and least horrific death of the three you've seen come to pass. He's not in visible pain - though of course you worry. What if? What if the morphine is masking it? What if he's in pain and just looks peaceful? But . . . he really does seem okay. You held his bony hand. He breathed slower and slower. Kind of like the movies, but not really. That's such bullshit. But of the three deaths, this was the most movie death you've seen. The other two - especially one - well that wouldn't be filmable. No, not unless we were going for a genre that was some odd combination of realism and horror. Death is never pretty and this one isn't either. There's been more than enough horror along the way. A man stuttering through tears in the oncologist's office upon hearing there was nothing more they could do, "I know it's hard to believe . . . but I was a Ph.D. scientist." Am. You ARE a Ph.D. scientist, Dad. Nobody and nothing can take that away from you, ever.
So he died. Eventually he stopped breathing and we got up again and called people. What - you thought it would be all sentimental? Honey . . . it doesn't work that way. Life isn't pretty. Fuckkkk no it's not. It's ugly. No, wait. It's FUGLY. Yes, I said it. My dad got mad at me for swearing but I think if he were up on slang he'd find that funny (secretly). We distracted ourselves for hours, days, and even years. I wondered what was wrong with me. Why wasn't I grieving? Six months later . . . hardly anything. It's not even a big deal. I'm such a shithead fucking daughter what the hell is fucking wrong with me.
Six years later, I am lying on my livingroom unswept (yes it's covered in dog hair) floor sobbing like an animal. Like . . . well do animals sob? No. But yet. Gutteral. Primal.. The way we would sob if human meant just human, no conventions of society, just raw emotion, truth, honesty . . .
So six year ago he died. I forgot where I was originally going here. But I know one thing. We don't talk often enough about grief. How it takes you apart. How it makes you wake up in the night gasping and clutching your chest and with fire in your skin. How it makes you beg to cross over yourself and dissociate to get by and be a shortchanging mom and push away the nice guys who make you feel because that's just too scary (isn't it?). Nobody talks about these things. About how you wipe tears off your face on the subway five (now six) years later and how you are only just starting to get over your weird panic attack problem that anyone you love will vanish into thin air. Nobody talks about any of this. They should. WE should.
But tonight, in watching my lovely American Telenovela (yay, "Jane the Virgin!"), I had a revelation. I'm not sure if it had anything to do with the show. But maybe that theme music inspired me a bit. The one when she's going through something - because telenovela or not, the portrayal of her having panic attacks after losing her husband was the most hashtag #realshit (Rogelio would be proud) thing I ever saw compared to my own experience - thank you, thankyouthankyouthankyou - that music was stuck in my head. Maybe it gave me permission to feel, or the wine did . . . or putting my head on my sweet dog, all silky and shiny (how DOES she get so shiny?) after her cherry scented bath . . . and it occurred to me . . .
We've got one thing majorly wrong. Like, universally.
It's a cliché for a reason. What would you do if you had one more day to live? Or whatever variation . . . the point is the same. It's all about supplying the impetus for some desperate crazy act we wouldn't ordinarily do. And yah, it's kinda valid. I meant to type "yeah" but the typo looks better. Yah, it's kinda valid. Sometimes we need courage and shit. The fear of losing. What would we do differently if . . . ?
But here's the thing. While I can think of a number of things I'd do (consequence free, I might add) if I were to die tomorrow), would they truly be the most important?
I'd like to supply a different question. What would we do if we knew we WOULD see someone again? If it wasn't the last goodbye? What would we do if we knew that the sweet smell of the summer air wasn't transient at all? What would be different if we stopped striving for . . . for? . . . in one singular moment and just really felt the presence of the ones we love, all the imperfections, that damn wobbly splintery picnic table bench, why the hell didn't anyone ever fix that (I'm talking to you, Mom), the sun going down behind us, the laughter, the delicious food (I'm talking to you, Mom), four cartons of ice cream crammed into the freezer so everyone could choose what they wanted after dinner (I'm talking to you, Mom) . . . the wry jokes slipped into conversation so you'd miss it if you weren't paying attention (I'm talking to you, Dad) . . .
What if that? Would would I do if I trusted in eternity? If I believed that the soul is forever and that it wasn't religious cuckooalia to believe I'd see him again? To believe love is forever . . . to trust that somehow it alters the course of reality, that things will never be the same . . .
If I were to die tomorrow, would I call the person I need to reconcile with, to tell him I'm sorry (and again, that's another story)? I don't know. It sounds romantic. But what would be the point?
If I were to trust that love is eternal, that regardless of things working out in the here and now, that whether a person's soul made a mark on yours matters . . . would I call him? Yes. Not maybe. Yes. Not today. But someday. Soon. All in good time.
Daddy, I love you. In your memory I write these drunken words. Thank you for the memories, and the wine. I trust that somehow you are still there. It's okay to not understand. Flailing in the dark, drunk, we still manage to find our way in the dark through the house and to the kitchen for a snack and then to bed. With a really shiny, freshly shampooed dog. And we might cry convulsively and wake the neighbors and choke on our own mucous, or we might just get a good night's sleep, and either way, it's okay. Because whatever happens in this little room, it's ours. And beyond what's ours, is . . . a night sky. Full of stars, beautiful, dangerous, fearsome, belying that whatever we know of time just . . .