father

Mångata

My father was so damned specific about where and how he wanted his ashes spread, but it wasn’t just one location. As he wrote in his will: “allow equal measure of my ashes released to the winds, at ten of my most favored spots in the universe.”  This included a list of ten places, most of which he had never even visited himself. I’m not sure why I felt so compelled to complete this ridiculous list of wishes he left for me in his will. That was literally all he left me–his bucket list. And, not to mention, he was dead. Who would complain if I skimped a little or missed a few? Who would even notice? My father, that’s who.

Even though he was dead, I felt certain that somehow my father would know. He was such a perfectionist I didn’t for a second doubt that he could somehow return from the precipice of death to haunt and criticize me for eternity should I not follow through on these last wishes. Even now his voice still clouds my head. I was never good enough. I will fail. That’s what the voice is telling me now.

I divided up his ashes into ten equal and easily carried packets, and transported these to the various locations he requested, whenever I found myself in position to visit them. Some were less involved than others. One portion of his ashes was poured into the wind from the center of the Golden Gate Bridge, and another dumped into the headwaters of the Truckee River, each of which was a day trip.  The portion of ashes released at Bad Water Basin in Death Valley was also a day trip, but a little more involved since it included chartering a private plane, and a near death landing experience at the sad little patch of dust known as the Furnace Springs Airport. But past these spots located in state, it got more complicated.

His list almost read like a list of the world’s wonders. There was Table Mountain in South Africa, the Kilauea crater in Hawaii, and the summit of  Mount Everest. There was Machu Picchu, the Great Wall of China, and the Statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio.

I hiked the Machu Picchu, the Great Wall, and the Christo Redentor trails. A giraffe stole my sandwich in South Africa, my shoes caught on fire from lava in Hawaii, and I paid a sherpa a whole lot of money to take my father’s ashes to the summit of Everest. Please don’t ask how much it cost. Over all it had been a series of expensive, exhausting adventures, and now all that remained was number ten.

Number ten was the one I at first disregarded as impossible and absurd. Impossibly impossible and absurd. But still I carry the equal and evenly divided packet number ten, still I wait for one last chance to finally deliver this last packet. Just to prove I am not a failure and I am good enough. Just to get my father’s voice out of my head once and for all.

And on a night like this when the moon shines off the water so clearly, it almost seems like number ten might be closer than I realize, like maybe I could walk there on a trail of light. Then I hear my father’s voice in my head, and I realize number ten is actually much further away than I think.

It is further away than I can even imagine.

Full moon rising over Belvedere, Angel Island and Raccoon Straits |via Flickr, by Jessica Merz

Mångata – Swedish (noun) – the road like reflection of the moon in the water


Number 4 of the Lost in Translation series

Advertisements

Mork from Ork

mork

This photo came to me in a box of my father’s stuff. My stepmom had collected a bunch of my father’s belongings into a cardboard box after his death, which she then gave to me. It was filled with some of the random and wonderful things he had collected in his later years, including autographed baseball paraphernalia, antique stock and bond notes, random old movie posters, strange prints and artwork, and some wonderful photos of him and me together. Most of these photos were framed and were pictures I had given him for his birthday or Christmas or father’s day. This one was a card I must have made him for Christmas, which explains the ribbons and frame made out of wrapping paper. I’m sure the inside read something witty, such as… like father, like son. You see in the picture we both have casts on, him on his ankle and me on my arm. Hilarious irony.

This particular photo sits on my desk, and seeing it everyday has somewhat diminished the memories it dregs up. So many memories I don’t really want to talk about. I don’t want to talk about my dad’s amazing red pants and matching turtle neck, or the crazy blonde mop of 80’s hair perched on my head like a wig, or my patriotic tube socks. I don’t want to talk about the thumb cast that I got after badly dislocating my thumb while trying to roller skate down the paved cliff in front of my house with ski poles. I don’t want to justify what I was thinking at the time, having witnessed my cooler than cool neighbor place skateboard trucks on an old Rossignol ski and go plummeting down that steep hill numerous times, and my own sad attempt to replicate the feat with cheap roller skates and ski poles, which ended tragically for both my thumb and one of the ski poles.

I don’t want to talk about the Mork from Ork shirt that I’m wearing, or the rainbow suspenders (thankfully not pictured in this photo) that I just had to have to show my affinity for the crazy alien from Ork. I’m guessing this photo was probably taken around 1980, and I don’t want to talk about how my father would have been roughly the same age as me now. Mork and Mindy was one of my favorite shows, not only because Robin Williams played this amazing and hilarious alien that made funny sounds and flew to Earth in a giant egg, but also because my younger sister’s name was Mindy. Hilarious irony once again. I would pretend I was Mork and then we would became our own sad little version of the show, even though my sister never wanted to play along. I would say things like nannu nannu, shazbot, fly be free while she played with her Barbie dolls. When Barbie landed on her head at least she didn’t break open like an egg. I don’t want to talk about my parents’ separation and eventual divorce, about how my father and mother argued so much and with such venom that I was glad when he eventually left. I don’t want to talk about how I saw less and less of him as time went on. I don’t.

I don’t want to talk about how much I miss my father , and definitely don’t want to talk about the bicycle accident in 1994 that left him a quadriplegic, leaving him bed ridden and confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his days. I don’t want to talk about the grief and depression I felt after the accident as I watched him spiral closer and closer to the proverbial drain. I don’t want to talk about how he had such a profound effect on my outlook and life that went largely unrealized until it was too late. Sometimes we don’t realize how important such influences have been until they pass tragically out of our lives, and a different point of view provides us with perspective that is simultaneously enlightening and heart breaking. After they’re gone all we have left is a box of random stuff which we go through again and again trying to decipher some deep profundity and meaning. I don’t want to talk about that.

I don’t want to talk about how I was looking at this photo when I learned that Robin Williams had killed himself, or about how affected I was by it. I don’t want to admit that, much like my father, Robin Williams had a profound but unrealized affect on my perspective in life. Judging from the tributes and stories being shared across the interwebs I sense I was not alone in this connection. I don’t want to talk about how depression is an unrelenting bitchslap, or how someone that could have brought so much joy to so many millions of people could be so dark and troubled inside.  I don’t want to talk about how this makes me realize that our time in this life is limited and a thing to never take for given. I don’t want to talk about how the world can suddenly seem so much smaller when someone with such profound unrealized impact is suddenly gone, and all we are left with is a box of Mork and Mindy, Dead Poets Society, and Fisher King to sift through and try to remember and forget at the same time.

And above all, I don’t want to talk about how these two tragedies will now somehow be linked in my mind because of this picture.

I just want look at this photo and appreciate that moment, without all the other stuff it brings up.

Shazbat!

RIP Ralph Hager (1939 – 2006)

RIP Robin Williams (1951 – 2014)

 

Fear

I used to be fearless. Nothing short of my father’s alcohol induced explosions scared me, and those were so scary that it almost made up for everything else. I was fifteen years old and couldn’t wait to reach sixteen, get my license and hit the road. I wanted to go everywhere and see everything. I had planned to steal my father’s car and just keep driving toward the horizon until I found someplace worth stopping, or until I got caught or arrested and eventually beat up by my father again. But fifteen was the year my father left for work one day and never came home.

Two months later we learned that he had been stabbed and killed in a barroom brawl in Houston, and they had no leads in catching the killer. Not that I cared. I was glad he was dead. He had never been anything to me but abusive and menacing. The only time he seemed to notice me was when he had some sort of complaint, some reason to yell and scream and belittle me, some reason to strike and slap me until the tears rolled down my cheeks like I had sprung a leak. My tears and screams just infuriated him more. His favorite saying was I’ll give you something to cry about as he hit me harder. Sometimes I was able to escape and hide on my own accord, but usually my mother would step in like a sacrificial lamb and distract him, and I could escape while he refocused his drunken fury on her.

When I learned he was dead I felt relieved, like some huge, oppressive burden had been lifted. The weight of his anger and abuse was a herd of elephants perched on my spine, and knowing I would never see him again felt like a pardon from crimes I had never committed. I had been freed from my fear, a sweet and joyous relief.

It wasn’t until I hit my own son years later that I realized how heavy the burden truly was, and found a brand new thing to be afraid of.

Day 29: Knockout! (by Anamorphic Mike)