This has been the hardest day yet since dad died almost one year ago. Tomorrow, Aug. 20, marks the first full year of his death.
I awakened this morning with a start, after dreaming of a Nightmare on 13th Street, my home in Cayucos:
I’m in the car with Amber. We’re arguing. I notice the greenness of her car, her blouse, as the arguing gets more intense.
The space between us is electrified by fear, pain and grief.
As often happens during these intense moments, when things mysteriously fall off shelves or a shampoo bottle crashes inexplicably in the shower, something pops off the dashboard of Amber’s car.
Things go dark….
I gasp and awaken to the quiet of mom’s tidy Victorian home. My heart is pounding.
I think of dad, long gone into another darkness.
The dream disturbs me. Did I have a heart attack? Did Amber or someone else in the dream shoot me? I hope it’s not prescient. It feels like the fear of loss, of being cut off, of falling away into a final descent, never again to awaken.
I’m unsettled. The morning doesn’t feel right. There’s so much to do and I don’t want to do anything but let the day come slowly. No need to rush things. I leave the phone turned off.
A flood of thoughts and feelings—fears mostly—gushes in. I think: “I’m such a loser.” Mom’s on her way to radiology in Ontario, where she’s being treated for an aggressive form of cancer.
How does my being here really help?
I hear Evan, severely handicapped, whom mom and dad loved in their way, barking through the kitchen window from the house across the street.
His only word, through the window, is “Hi!” He’s got a sweet disposition and high-fives me whenever I go over there, which isn’t often.
Mom and dad watched him grow from helpless infant to helpless adult, needing full-time care from his parents, who divorced long ago but still log in their hours and give him their love and attention. It hasn’t been easy for them.
An irksome, noisy four-wheel truck, riding high off the ground, pauses at the four-way stop between our homes. Every day it does this, vibrating the entire house, setting off car alarms and stopping conversation as it passes.
“What an asshole,” I said to mom recently. Pencil dick for a brain. She agreed.
These are some of the things she shared daily with dad; also, the roses in mom’s garden, the family barbecues, dinners and poolside gatherings, the grief of losing a son who stopped speaking to them many years ago.
Dad was the longtime beneficiary of mom’s indulgences, which helped make me, and my brother, what we are today.
I’m not sure what I am. I don’t often like what I see when I see myself: Burdened with debt, unemployment—still hopeful for change.
How have I really helped my mother? As dependent on her as she is on me? In this painful moment of her loss, her cancer and her grief?
Being visited by cancers and death in the space of less than a year, suffering the loss of my baby, The Rogue Voice, and grappling with unemployment, have weighed more heavily on me than I realized—until today, when I rose startled from the nightmare that awakened me.
It feels like bricks falling, overshadowed with death and loss and grief.
Pedro, the Mexican gardener mom and dad hired to care for their yard, trims and mows outside. He circles the fruit trees they planted—plum, peach, orange, tangerine, apple—around the big porch they built for their evening sit-downs, a slice of paradise.
I don’t know what to do, how to mark the occasion.
I can feel dad’s presence at times, in the flutter of a curtain, or in the faces of friends and family, in little things that show themselves unexpectedly and have his signature written all over them. Mom still keeps his colognes in the bathroom, where he carefully groomed himself each morning before starting the day.
He hated sloppiness, slobs even worse, and took pride in presenting himself to the world.
Losing dad has been hard on mom, harder than dealing with her cancer. She remembers dad every day, thinks about her future, glad to have caught the cancer early, yet wondering where it will all lead. She’s not ready but thinks often about selling the house and finding a new home.
We left no marker. We poured his ashes into the sea.
It would have been easier to know how to remember dad if there had been a grave. I’ll get flowers, pick a few of mom’s roses, the only flowers she grows besides a few others that don’t pick well.
I’ll put them in a vase in the dining room where mom has kept a photo of dad and a crucifix as a kind of memorial. I’ll play his favorite hymn, “Amazing Grace,” on the keyboard he bought me as a birthday gift, which I brought with me for my extended visit.
The weight of remembering, wondering how to honor his legacy, feels like bricks, like darkness falling.
I don’t ever want to black out in a car like in my dream, or in a room in the middle of the night, alone….
Dad passed quietly in the early morning hours. Mom came to awaken me, standing by the door to my room, overwhelmed with grief: “I think we’ve lost him,” she mourned.
Pedro has momentarily stopped mowing; the mower idles at a low hum, powers up again, and is released, finally, into silence.
A car passes in the street, a jet overhead, and the gate to the pool slams hard as one of Pedro’s workers pulls the green waste bin into the front yard. He picks up the trimmings from the freshly manicured lawn.
On through the neighborhood they go, mowing and trimming.
How long did they do this, mom and dad, building their dream, their little slice of paradise?
After too many years of not talking to my brother, dad gave up on him, stopped hoping for a new start, for reconciliation, for any kind of welcome homecoming.
He was tired of seeing mom get hurt.
Peeing blood was the first sign of trouble. Mom ordered him to urgent care. He didn’t seem as concerned as she was. He ate well, and was mostly happy, except for missing his grandchildren, whom my brother refused to let him see.
But dad had his little paradise. He lasted just over a year. His kidney came out, he took his medicine and watched and waited. He kept his pleasures the best he could, reading the morning paper, watching baseball and football on HDTV.
The decline in his health came quickly, and still he kept his spirits high. I knew things were getting bad when he turned down an opportunity to see a play. He gave his tickets away. He wasn’t interested in going out, which he loved to do.
It got worse, and I knew were going to lose him soon, when my uncle told him the Angels had lost a game, and dad said, “I don’t care.”
I didn’t know what to say as I turned him in his bed so he could be more comfortable and he said, “This sucks.”
“You’ll get better, dad,” was the first thing I wanted to say. Instead, I blurted: “I know, dad. It sucks for all of us.”
Mom and I stayed with him as much as we could. We were glad to have him at home and did the best we could to make him comfortable. A lot of people came to visit. Toni, my cousin’s wife, saved us all. She held us together.
What possible wrong could they have done, mom and dad, to cause my brother to stay away? He didn’t even send flowers, or a word of condolence after dad died. I wrack my brain for answers. We were never beaten, once maybe, but nothing severe. The paddle at the principal’s office was much worse.
They never stuffed us in a closet and forgot about us. They took pretty good care of us, included us in their dream.
“I’m not going to be angry at your brother any more,” mom said recently, before we found out about her cancer, less than 10 months after we lost dad. “It doesn’t do me any good.”
She learned this from her grief, she said. Why hold on?
A group of young fat Mexican women pushing a baby stroller walk past the bay window where dad used to sit downstairs, reading the paper, listening to the radio, watching the neighborhood where he wasn’t afraid to chase off scavengers digging through his trash and recycle bins.
He stood up for himself and pissed off a lot of people, yet he always had friends. You pretty much knew where you stood with dad, plain and clear. He didn’t tolerate fools, he despised dishonesty, and people who tried to take advantage of him.
I would feel so much better if I could do half as well as he did taking care of mom. When she returns from radiation, we talk about how we’ll remember dad on the first anniversary of his death.
She doesn’t want to do anything special, she says. No, she doesn’t want to go the ocean, where we left his remains. We’ll go to dinner, she suggests. §