Yesterday I was in a secondhand clothing store shuffling through T-shirts when I came across a tie-dye Grateful Dead shirt. I have to try this on, I thought. It wasn’t because it was particularly cute. It was because my father was a Deadhead, and when I stumble upon Dead paraphernalia I feel an impulse to acquire it as a tribute to him. I didn’t buy the T-shirt.
My favorite picture of my father was taken within a year of his death. He drove across the country to sell the mini-cooper to his brother. He took his dog, Blue, with him. They stopped in a desert somewhere, and someone took a picture of them.
I see it and wonder: how did he feel in this twilight of his life? He’s holding his cherished pup, more loyal and affectionate than his children. He looks haggard, worn out. What did he experience on this roadtrip? Whose paths did he cross? What did he see, what did he feel?
I think about:
- Cuddling together on the couch exploring Middle Earth, his voice guiding the way.
- Every book I read, every page I turn, began in his amazing passion for books.
- Sitting together in the hottub talking about history, being taught from a repository whose breadth I never could have understood.
- Ten thousand tidbits and facts and words that he gave to me.
- Being pushed to ski on while blizzards raged. The lift attendant huddled in his booth cocooned in blankets – another lap. Frost covering the metal in formations shaped by gusts – another lap.
- Him losing his balance and plunging into an ocean of powder. He leapt up, the fluff everywhere, his garments and equipment strewn about. He guffawed cacophoniously.
- Pancakes and bacon in the morning. He always woke up early to make them.
- Sitting together playing backgammon. He adjusted the difficulty to push me, to test me, to teach me, to drill me.
- Binders full of Pokemon cards. We went to the store together and he bought them for me, pack by pack.
- Driving to the sequoias and caves together, hundreds of miles. I wanted to listen to Jessica Simpson, over and over. So we listened to Jessica Simpson.
- Spelunking together.
- His cameras. He brought them everywhere and shot everything. I look at thousands of pictures and imagine him standing there, his eye peering through the lens at the scene.
- Sitting on the patio at a pool party, being calmly shown the folly of the religious nonsense my mother had instilled in me.
- Hiking together in the Thai jungle, looking at bugs and searching for smelly flowers. Waking in the morning to find a frog in the toilet. Having the unbelievable fortune to see southeast Asia for my fifteenth birthday.
- Falling in love with roller coasters and amusement parks. So we went all over to ride roller coasters and play in amusement parks.
- Hearing about Grateful Dead and Led Zeppelin concerts, about having heard at every party for years the Jimi Hendrix music my teenage self was so infatuated in, about hitchhiking around New England, about being a hippie.
- Strolling on the Boston promenade telling him about my dreams.
- The nightmares and anxious sleep that sometimes plagued me, up until sixth grade. I would often want to sleep in his bed and cuddle. So we did.
- His sensing an interest in anime, his cultivating it and allowing it to flourish, as he did a thousand other interests.
- A million things and trinkets and possessions and toys he bought me. He’d grown up without them, and he wanted nothing more than for me to have them and to be happy.
- Eyeing a snippet of an email he’d written to my mother, and feeling fires burn inside me as I sat down at the puzzle we were working on and pretended nothing had happened: “No, I don’t think Connor will ‘turn’ gay if he spends too much time with you…”
- Listening in the other room to him argue with my sister: “But that means that he’s gay!” she screamed. “And so what if he is?” he said.
How unfathomably much I learned from him, how I continue to grow and age and constantly realize how much he taught me.
I think about:
- Sitting in the car feeling at like I was at fault while he fought with his ex-wife on the phone.
- Stealing money out of his nightstand.
- Months and months without contacting him. I didn’t hate him. I was just young, and consumed by addiction and falling in love for the first time, and college, and my own life.
- Sitting in the car with him and my sister, being convinced by them how evil and wicked my mother was, that it was foolish to live with such a person.
- Ignoring him. Ignoring the dog we got, that we were going to care for together.
- Going to visit him and my sister in Tahoe for a weekend. Arriving and finding him drunk, watching my sister offer him the bong later when she smoked, watching him accept it. Returning to my bay area high school the next weekend and listening to my peers complain about how strict and conservative their parents were.
- His last Thanksgiving. He’d always cooked for us, scrumptious and lavish dinners. This time we each had a plate with salty turkey, some watery mashed potatoes, and flavorless green beans. He took a few bites, then spent a while vomiting before passing out.
- Waking to hear him telling my sister, “You’re a bitch. You’re just a fucking bitch.” She’d wrecked his porsche, she was lying about it. More lies, more fights and arguments he couldn’t win, more watching her descend into the hell he lived in.
- My sister telling me, “He thinks you hate him.”
- My sister yelling at me, “You don’t deserve anything! You didn’t even give a shit about him!”
- Watching our year living together away from my mother progress from a sunny and blissful summer, to a subdued autumn, to a depressed winter spent hiding in my room with a pipe, wanting only to be left alone.
- Screaming at him, letting out the rage and sadness and confusion of a fifteen year old. Throwing the collinder so hard it broke. Deciding to move back to my mother.
- Paperwork in stacks and towers, everywhere, the living room filled to the brim with papers, his hard drive full with data, his quest to destroy my mother in the divorce. Daring myself to watch a few minutes of the videos he’d requested be filmed of her testimonies, vidoes he planned to save as eternal testaments to the lies she told.
- Getting rid of the house phone, because it was only called by debt collection agencies.
- Arriving in Tahoe the day he died to find the house a disaster. Dog shit on the floor, broken glass everywhere, dirt and shreds of pot plants, the kitchen impassable, more stuff than I could imagine. His toilet broken, rancid piss and shit inside, the glass walls of the shower he’d built himself shattered everywhere. My sister and her boyfriend were sitting on the couch watching TV and getting high. I smoked with them. I don’t know why I did. I didn’t think it would make me feel good. I didn’t think it would make me forget. But I did.
I think about:
- How much I love him. How much I didn’t feel it and express it, but how filled I am with love and gratitude for him.
- How much I wish to talk with him. How much I wish to tell him what it was like to study in Germany, to fall in love and be fallen in love with, how much meditation has brought me, how I’ve managed to get clean and begin a sober life, how much I’ve learned, about the art I make and want to make, the books I’ve read, how excited I am to watch my dreams come true.
- Memories of traveling and driving together, of being together, of experiencing him.
Yesterday I thought about him. I looked at the photo of him and smiled. I decided to write about him. As memories and ideas and emotions poured out, I looked at the photo again. I love you, Dad. I don’t think about you very often anymore, but I love you. I love you so much.
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