I think what bothers me is that my dad’s ashes are still in a little baggy in a box under my mother’s basement stairs.
I am learning how to let go, release. I was not entirely ready for him to not be anymore. Unless this is a lie. Unless I remember to stop and consider how after one of the many times when he was drunk and crying and suicidal and I was sick of hearing about it, again, and so I challenged him to die. It was then when I was first ready to have him not be anymore. Skip ahead seven years from that moment, and he dies one week after his fifty-fourth birthday. Skip ahead another seven years and I am in my bed writing this after I hear a song playing on the radio about possibly falling in love at a coffee shop.
It is entirely possible that tonight while at a coffee shop I fell in love with my father, remembering him seven years after his death. But it is also just as possible that tonight I am so detached from him, from the drunk man who took seven years to finally die after I finally realized I wanted him to, that my love is more for the idea of him. For my ideas of him, of how we would possibly connect now.
I want to connect. I want to write him a love letter. But my father can no longer see. He is dead. So he will instead have to read it from his heart. And I will have to write it from mine. A letter from my heart to a speck of ash that used to be a heart that is still in a baggy in a box underneath my mother’s basement stairs.
This is what it would say:
I want you to be set free. Released.
Because “release” is the word I felt when I learned my father died. I sat in my parked truck, the world pouring rain around me, and I released my anger by pounding my clenched fist into the cushion of the passenger’s side seat, screaming, “How could you do this to mom?”
And I didn’t necessarily mean the fact of your dying. Perhaps I meant you. How could you do you to mom? Because you represents dishonesty. You were dishonest. You were a lie. But some of us, like my sister, praises you because you told her the lies, the specific lie that said “don’t worry.”
But the lie that was you, the lie that said “all will be okay,” is the lie I saw through. Still see through. Not because I didn’t or don’t have faith, but because I could see you forcing your faith into the world, fighting for it to be. You told yourself you were released, when in fact you had a fist clenched around your bottle of vodka, chugging it because it did not taste like the good shit, did not taste like how you wanted the fact of the drink to taste, to taste something like good, to feel good. I know this because after your funeral I bought myself a bottle of your kind of vodka from the liquor store near your house, the house you died in even before your heart stopped beating. I thought it would be a funny little way of honoring you—drinking your vodka after your death. What wasn’t funny was that I did have to chug that bottle to get past the awful taste of it. And it didn’t feel good. And I passed out, like you. But I woke up alive.
The awful taste of you still lingers in my spine.
But this is about me, about the me in the now, about how I slouch further into my bed, realizing I have slipped into the “you” from the original “him.” I also slouch and remember I was going to smoke a cigarette while writing this, because he smoked. Because I am trying to remember to honor him.
Funny the things we forget.
Like how I forgot about when I was little I loved Jim Croce, because my dad did. How we would sing “Bad, bad, Leroy Brown” in the car just to drive my sister crazy. Because it was our thing, and my sister hated it. How we laughed. How it was a release to feel my dad and I laugh together. How young I was. I don’t remember how young I was, but I was young enough to not know what it is like to try to talk your drunk dad out of suicide, and then finally giving up on the conversation. Giving in to what he was saying.
It also bothers me to think about the fact that I think of the spirit of my father also thinking about the fact that his ashes are still in a little baggy in a box underneath my mother’s basement stairs. He’s probably pissed. But he also probably finds it kind of funny. I do. This drives my sister crazy. I think my mom forgets he’s down there. I wonder what she labeled the box. Most likely, it says “Jeff’s Things.”
Which makes me wonder if he can really claim his ashes as his own. He never took responsibility for anything he did when he was alive, so I doubt in death he feels like he should be responsible for what he left behind.
What he left behind is a daughter who can’t tell if tonight at a coffee shop she fell in love with her dead father, or fell deeper into that anger that made her jab at the passenger’s side seat with her balled up fist seven years ago.
I now smoke a cigarette while writing these things because I don’t forget. I fear I will forget. So I ball my heart up around memories of my father as I need to remember him. Flex that heart muscle as necessary, condition myself into remembering. Into honoring. Squeeze so I can connect.
What I remember most is how he would pick at the skin around his thumbs. I do this now. I remember how he would tap a beat on the steering wheel. Whenever I drive, I remember this, and tap along with him.
And now I will speak to him:
Dad, what I remember most is when you came up to my room in Round Rock, because you heard me playing your old Beatles album on your record player from high school. This memory has played so many revolutions in my head, I feel as if everyone knows the story. But they don’t. They don’t know how we sat in the soft light, sat singing and humming along to an entire side of “Revolver,” sat connecting over what we did not say. What we never discussed was the fact that we had a lack of words. We sat in silence, connecting over the fact that we could never connect. We sat in silence, connected. And then the album finished. And then you left.
And then you left.