Thursday, February 03, 2011


It's the sixth anniversary of my dad's death tomorrow. Let's get right to it. On February 4th, 2005, the phone rang in the late morning. My mom's voice was contorted, and I don't know exactly what she said, other than "He's dying." We hung up quickly. I lived ten or fifteen minutes south.

There were split-second questions as we stumble-raced to get to the car and get up to my parents'...parent's house. Do I brush my teeth? God, fuck, of course not. Jesus. Shoes? Which are closest but which go on the fastest? Shoes become on. We fall headlong out the door, are in the car.

Which fucking way? Which route? I-5? 99? Just fucking pick one. I-5, obviously, just go!

I don't remember getting to the freeway but I remember driving up this freeway and suddenly being visited by none other than a fucking ACTING lesson. An acting lesson decided to reveal itself right at this moment. Simultaneously ridiculous and profound, irrelevant and breathtakingly relevant.

Objective and obstacle. I suddenly understood it with crystal clarity.

Objective: Get to my parent's house as fast as I can so I can see my father before he dies. This means drive fast, drive so fast, drive incredibly fucking fast. If you don't drive fast, you won't see him before he dies.

Obstacle: Don't get in an accident or pulled over. You must drive safely, respecting the laws of both physics and the road. Can you imagine? Talking to a policeman? Standing next to or sitting in a stopped car? Unthinkable. If you don't drive safely, you won't see him before he dies.

I felt sure and unstoppable, like an arrow shot from the bow of some Aztec god, the aim of me so straight, shooting to this death with the utmost force and velocity. I've never known what I needed to do so clearly, and executed it so surely. A feeling of extreme power. Objective, the Platonic ideal, in shocking technicolor.

And I felt furious and oppressed, like a horse who wants to run until its heart bursts, but is reined, somehow, in all directions, held down, held back. You have only one want in the world, and you can feel the answer coming from all existence, and it is a resounding, hysterically unacceptable NO. Supreme powerlessness. Obstacle: Like something wants to kill you, and appears to have the upper hand.

We turn onto my mom's street. (It's my mom's street now. God, though, let's give it back to him for a second.) We turn onto my dad's street. They live (I think they live. Is it they who live, still? Or just she?) just one block down, on the right. A giant red fire truck is parked outside. I park and burst out of the car, burst into the gate. A medic is walking away from the house, a blond woman. She smiles at me sorrowfully. She's walking slowly. That makes no sense. Why would a medic be walking slowly? Instinctively this is bad. But I'm running. I'm running into the house.

Initial impressions confuse. My mom is on the stairs. That makes no sense, and is a bad sign. If my dad were alive, she would be with him. But then she says over and over again, "It's all right," and so that's wonderful news! My face lights up, I can feel it light up, because this means I've made it! I try to ascertain where I should go - where is he?! But then she clarifies her statement, "It's all right. He's gone."

I'm turning around. There are medics in dark blue, looking at me kindly. No. No. The quality of NO briefly suffuses everything in existence. It's likely that I say the word a few times [A phrase that was certainly repeated: I didn't make it] but I remember the feeling of the word no suffusing my body more than anything. I make an essential, invisible, involuntary, internal gesture. I crumple. Not outwardly. I don't go down, drop to my knees or anything. It's like an implosion, like there's a black hole suddenly in my gut, and it pulls at the fabric of me, which makes a crumple. This is exact. This is exactly what happened. (I almost want you to find a piece of fabric, and lay it over your partially closed fist, over the circle of your thumb and forefinger, and then reach around with your other hand and pull the fabric through from underneath. I just want you see it and feel it, like a crude little diorama. Death at the second grade science fair.)

He's on the floor over there. That's where he is. Lying flat on his back ridiculously in the middle of the floor, in the middle of the living room. Head facing west, feet facing east. He's in a grey-green fleece robe. And he is dead. He looks like he's been dead for a thousand years, that's how inscrutably dead his face looks. I'm kneeling by him. I kiss his forehead, a dead forehead. A corpse's forehead.

He was very likely already dead when my mom made the phone call. It was a heart attack, or maybe a stroke. My brother tried CPR, but he probably went within 30 seconds. That's what they say. If only I'd known that, but then I wouldn't have learned anything on the way.