Friday, November 25, 2005

Three Years Ago, Part 4 of 13

Undated. My father had been born in 1918; this probably dates from the early 1920s.

Except for the clothing, his baby pictures and mine are close to identical. Relatives told me I had been his twin. Only when I reached adulthood did I start to show some of my mother's looks.

On November 26, 2002, two days before Thanksgiving, my father committed suicide. This series presents journal excerpts from that time and the aftermath of his death, edited for privacy purposes and omitting numerous "to do" lists....

11/30/02 7 am. Yesterday E was over for about 3 hours. When he first came in the door he broke down in my arms, sobbing. Wondering if he'd done something wrong. My father had really "pulled a fast one" on him, convincing him that I would be called, pretending to be unable to get out of bed. As soon as E had left that day, my father saw his opportunity and started hustling.

He'd kept a large pot under the bed, that he'd used to piss in. There is a round stain on one of the chairs by the bed, where the pot had also rested. E had brought my father a metal pail that worked much better. My father had managed to get the pail back to the bathroom before he died.

He had used a white trash bag that came with cinch straps. E found the bag sucked in, my father's hand holding the straps. E positioned himself on the bed to show me. The blood-stained handkerchiefs and stains on the bed and carpet had come from a fall.

12/1/02 7:05 am. According to my dream of last night, my father and I are meeting at 10 am today. He'd called me while I was blending (setting=liquefy) pink pieces of cellulose that I had torn up: the type of cellulose found in packing materials. The blender was very noisy -- the phone had rung and I'd turned it off for other calls, but let it keep going this time. I could hear him fine despite the noise. His voice sounded upbeat.

I feel myself making more and more of a transition toward living here, at least for a while. My main concern is the cats. Already they show signs of missing me, and I'll be here another week. I plan to come down again with Mary, because I want her to see the place and the area. But my absence -- and particularly both our absences -- will be hard on the cats, especially with Red still in recovery. If we move, they would be uprooted for an extraordinarily long journey, and they are old.

I'm especially thankful that my father and I shored up our relationship in the last 6 years of his life. Ironically, I believe that our estrangement allowed both of us to get to that point.

11:15 am. Yep, I kept our 10 o'clock appointment.

E called at 9:15, said there was a change in plans, that he knew I had work to do today. That he'd come over with a "surprise" for me -- that instead of going for Chinese food at noon, we'd go around 4 or 5.

When he arrived -- he said he used to come over at 10:30 to see my father on Sundays -- he told me to turn my back so that he could surprise me. Then he presented me with a cute little paper shredder, knowing that I shred paper. In my dream, I'd put the cellulose (thicker than paper, but ultimately the same stuff) in the blender the way I put shredded paper in the blender to pulp it for sculpting.

Then we talked over coffee. He told me that my father had shown him the letter in which I'd called my father to task for what he'd done. "And I love you anyway," he said. And I told him of my childhood, the history behind the estrangement. About my fears. And he understood. I told him that the greatest gift my father had given me was this past summer, when he gave me his unconditional support. That I told him I might make mistakes, including big mistakes, and he said that was all right. That I told my father he had no idea of how much that meant to me. I told E that I finally felt I could no longer be afraid -- of failing and being blamed, of falling flat on my face and my father saying, "How could you do that to me?" And that's when I broke down. He took me into his arms, said he felt bad for coming over and making me cry. I said that it was a good thing. "I feel sorry for you," he said, and I said, "You don't have to, any more."

So, now I am in a proper grief stage. But I also feel extraordinarily blessed -- that E and I could open up to each other. He wants Mary and me down here -- he and his wife have lost so many friends to death, including three to suicide, my father being the most recent. The other two had shot themselves.

12/6/02 9:15 am. My supervisor had called yesterday morning to warn me about a quick-turnaround, labor-intensive job on Monday. I let her know that Mary and I were planning to relocate here -- she will tell the department. I will tell the people in the second department in which I work. Right now that is the most frightening prospect of all: seeing if we can make it down here.

E has been through hell with this, and I've been weathering his own storms. He was sobbing on the couch last night: "Bernie, how could you do this to me?" My father had tricked him: pretended to be bedridden so that he could get E to leave before he sprang into action. E was back this morning, apologizing for his behavior last night. The two things I reminded him of was that (1) everything he did, he did out of love. I know that -- and my father, wherever he is, knows that. And (2) given my father's wishes, and deceptions to attain those wishes, E had done a mitzvah: a good deed.

E kept asking, "What could I have done differently?" He thought he should have called the police when he suspected something. I said, "I don't know how much more my father may have suffered if the police had stopped him and taken him to a hospital."

Mary had sent a terrific email to her folks, thanking them for all they've done. I chimed in, with copy to Mary, letting them know how blessed I am and have been to have Mary in my life, how she taught me, how they raised a good kid.

One of my father's new flannel shirts remains draped over a dining room chair -- for me it represents a comforting "presence." Every so often I place my hand on a shoulder.

I remind myself that it's up to me how I live my life from here on in, as it has always been. Not only has my cousin's death and estate mess prepared me for what I do here, but it has also opened me up, such that I could keep opening up over the past week. Between this house and everything else, I keenly feel the hybrid influences of my parents and childhood, and my life as an independent individual running under my own steam.

True, the circumstances are much, much different -- but I think of my cousin's state of mind when her father died: what I took to be due mainly to grief and to her physical condition and not to the effects of what I now believe were addiction and mental illness. I became The Capable One, wonder if I shouldn't feel more emotion than I do -- but I also see where my vulnerabilities are, and I let them show.

When I drove to the courthouse and then to the sheriff's office, I was caught -- fortunately temporarily -- in a Catch-22. Given title to the car, I was told that I needed to get the insurance switched over before I could get the registration, and before I got the registration I could not drive down the highway. The insurer had told me they could not switch anything over until I'd gotten the title changed.

Fortunately, they had a branch office about a half-mile from the courthouse. I learned that for someone like me who has never owned a car or carried auto insurance, there is a two-week waiting period to get it. I didn't have two weeks. My flight left in two days, and I faced the prospect of being stranded with the car a dozen or more miles from home. The woman who helped me tried to get something done on the computer, which kept rejecting her info and timing out. She called the main office, got a live person, and explained the situation -- and got me a binder number and temporary insurance until the rest comes through. That was enough to get me a registration and new plates, and I was able to drive back home.

I hear and deal with the old father voice that makes me feel like an undeserving burden, and remind myself of the new father voice that became my ally and supporter and that trusted me and my judgment. That new voice is an incomparable blessing that gets me through.

As I waited to have my first appointment at my father's lawyer's office, I got a call on the cell phone from the lawyer for my cousin's estate. That lawyer gave his condolences, said he'd sent papers for me to sign. He understood that my father had died "with his boots on," as I've been putting it.

Meanwhile, I deal with my own superstition that in this time of transition, something fatal will happen to me, leaving unfinished business. Which leads to my sense of fatalism that if it does, it does. Which leads me back to blind faith and an attitude of one day, one hour, one moment at a time. The plane could crash or be blown up. I could be shot in the subway. We could have an accident on the highway. Etc. Acknowledge the fear and superstition and get on with life anyway.

I need to prepare myself to step from this roomy, neat, warm house and climate into a cramped, cluttered apartment in freezing cold Boston -- Mary will meet me at the baggage claim area, carrying rubber boots. But I'll be reuniting with the cats, about whom I worry because I can't explain to them what is happening. We haven't yet been able to find a sitter for them. Worse comes to worse, I'll do another solo trip while Mary holds down the fort, or she'll be down for only a few days -- enough so that the cats can be on their own. As with everything else, I have faith that this will work out, too, however it does.

Last night, Mary told me she'd mistaken one of my binders for hers, and accidentally read some of my pre-millennial letters to "Elissa 2000." She wouldn't read more without my permission -- but, she confessed, she wanted my permission. I gave it to her, and added that if I died first, I wanted to warn her of the rants in my journal, that I didn't want her to be hurt by them. Often, after venting, I'm able to talk things over more calmly with her. She knew, or said she did.

Television has been particularly interesting, and timely. On Star Trek: The Next Generation, "Unification," with its relationship between Spock and his father, Sarek. On Voyager, an episode I've never seen before, wherein the doctor experiences a holographic family, complete with dysfunction and death.

I continue to believe that the universe has patterns, and that everything in the past (and, for all I know, the future) prepares me for the present.

Even the episode I watched last night of Cheers dealt with the making of a will.

Yes, there were other diversions: Goldfinger, news, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Not everything had a distinctive dovetail into what is happening. But enough to make me sit up and take notice.

2:16 pm. My flight back to Boston leaves in a little less than 90 minutes. I've taken along the greenery I'd bought, had a lettuce heart and a green pepper, and bought some bottled water. Back to healthy food, though I can tell I've lost some weight on this trip.

I don't know if it'll be a challenge to maintain my work schedule or to try to keep busy; we'll see. I'll lay off the freelancing for now, except for what I enjoy, like finishing up the commissioned artwork.

Had baggage check-in at curbside, which was wonderful. I asked the guy if I could bring food on the plane: lettuce and green peppers. He asked, "Anything sharp?" No. Guess that means cheddar's out (smile). My carry-on bag (with even more keys, now) went through without a hitch: no need to look through all the pockets and open up my computer, as they had at Logan.

Boston has light snow and 28 degrees.

(Later) We begin our descent before reaching NYC, flying through a crystal clear night. I saw the lights of Staten Island first, then recognized the Verrazano, then the foot of Coney Island. When I saw Manhattan I looked toward the southern tip. The boroughs were filled with light in the familiar grid patterns, but Ground Zero was the absence of light. Not a black hole but a sooty, gray hole, in contrast to the blackness of the water. Ground Zero, unmistakably.

Undated, early 60s. My parents and I are on the left, my second cousin J and her mother on the right (my father and her mother were first cousins). J was 21 months older than I and also an only child; when we were adults we called each other "sister". J died in 2001 (age 44) of morphine poisoning. Her mother had died in 1988. Mine had died in 1982, less than a month after her 57th birthday.


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