Ed note: Oh hai! It's a smidge strange to write my own editorial note, but I figured this piece deserved a little context. I've been attending an open mic night, You're Going to Die: Music, Prose and Everything Goes, who's theme is your friend and mine: death...and I wanted to write something to share. So I did, and here it is.
This is a story from my Thanksgiving:
You know, we redid our trust recently. My dad stacks his fork with a sliver of turkey, a blob of mashed potato, and a snow pea. No matter what happens, any inheritance we might leave you will never be community property. With that, he takes his first bite of Thanksgiving dinner and looks at me.
This conversation starter is weird on many levels:
Level one: I’m single, and as Jane Austen puts it, without much in the way of marriage prospects. That my dad is future-tripping about my divorce when I have a penchant for non-commital men twists a knife in my significantly-lacking-otherless spine.
Level two: Discussing death during dinner makes food taste like the inside of recently rolled roller blades. Talk about rude to my mom’s cranberry sauce.
Level three: My dad enjoys showing me things, like articles he’s clipped from the AARP Magazine with titles like, “How to Maximize Your CDs” (and no, they are not talking about how your old copy of Jagged Little Pill makes an excellent coaster). And my dad enjoys telling me things, like how my vanity license plates correlate to the “fact” that I don’t value money. We don’t really do “let’s talk about some hard shit” conversations.
Level four: My dad is petrified of dying. To be so blase about it right now, as if death were just a fact of life, is unnerving.
Tears creep into the creases of my eyes. I look down, but all I see is how much my pile of gluten-free stuffing strewn across potatoes looks like the fluffy interior of a casket with the proxy of a body on top of it. He’s so alive right now, which makes the visceral image of my dad, motionless, in Costco-coffin, suffocating. (Though I’m not listening to his last wishes, I’m sure he’ll insist that’s where we buy his final resting place.)
It’s not like I’ve never thought about my dad dying. Visions of finding him keeled over in the bathroom, hand on his heart...or shot in the head for being in the wrong liquor store at the wrong time...or of picking up the phone to my mom barely gasping the words out...haunted me from ages 5 - 25. Nowadays, my dad’s inevitable death comes to mind every time I’m making a mental list of ways to get my ex-boyfriend attention. I inevitably toy with how useful texting “My dad died” would be in getting him to see me again — if not in person, to at least recognize my existence.
The fact that I have this thought disgusts me, because it puts me in the ranks of who I like to call death groupies. You know the type. They hang out in the walls of Facebook, listening for who succumbed to a siren’s song. Someone else’s loss is their gain. A reason to vaguebook. A reason for attention. A reason to be seen. Proximity to death somehow casts aliveness upon us, reassurance that we are here, and that we matter.
My dad is now talking about where “Grandkid Ostarello” fits into this trust equation, because in my father’s fantasy deadworld, I’m not only divorced but a single mom.
There’s plenty about my dad that makes me crazy. Like how I still live in fear that one wrong step or dropped fork will lead him to stonewalling me, and how no matter how many conversations we have, he doesn’t believe in white privilege. But despite all the bad, there’s so much of him I’ll miss when he’s gone forever. Like how when he sees a kid selling candy bars for a fundraiser, he’ll buy every single bar so the kid can go home; how he talks to strangers in a way that makes them open up because he’s so relentless in his questioning; how I know that he’s using the best emotional tools he was given to show me and tell me that he loves me.
My dad is still talking.
My mom is nodding along.
My dad is looking at me, but through me.
I don’t know how to tell my dad that he matters right now.
The tears, they’re coming.