On weekends, my friends and I play pickup tackle football. Coop is the only younger kid who is allowed to play with us because he’s tough enough to compete with the older boys. By his junior year, colleges will begin recruiting him to play defensive back.

One Saturday, my father plays too. My friends and I are excited to see how he mixes it up. We’re fifteen. He’s forty-five but still in excellent shape, and we want to see if we can hit like him, hit as hard as an NCAA Division I athlete. None of us have played college sports yet.

Our two teams trade touchdowns without me going head-to-head against my father. Then my team kicks off, and the ball rolls right up to him. I shade to his side and come sprinting down, imagining that I’ll lay a vicious blow, imagining my father ripped off his feet, thrown wickedly to the ground. But he doesn’t pick up the ball, and I slow down. He steps forward and lets it roll between his legs. Slowly. The game stops as he stands over it.

I’m in front of him. “Pick up the ball, Dad.

“No,” he grins, “you can down it.”

We both hesitate. The ball is between his legs. Sitting there.

The game is live but we’re both standing still, waiting over the untouched ball.

“Come on, Dad. Pick it up.”

“No. Go ahead and down it.”

I’m confused, but I shrug and lean down to reach the ball.

My father bends with me, slowly, then tenses and swings his forearm like a short axe. I don’t have time to get out of the way. My nose snaps and lodges underneath my right eye. The hit takes me off my feet, lays me on the ground. I blink. Lying on my back. My nose opens and the blood spouts over my mouth, choking me, then off the side of my face. I stand up. The blood runs down the front of my white shirt like abstract art.

My father jumps toward me and I step back wobbling. He’s pointing and laughing and ready to block but I don’t make contact with him. Coop picks up the ball and runs off to the left. All my friends stop playing as Coop runs for an uncontested touchdown.

My father yells, “I broke your nose! I broke your nose!” He’s laughing so hard that he’s hyperventilating. He jogs down the field following Cooper.

My friend Doige says, “Man, that was fucked up.”

“Yeah, whatever.”

My father jogs back. “Want me to set it?”

My friends laugh at the ridiculous scene.

“I guess.”

My father sets my nose at mid-field. “You’re going to feel a lot of pressure, Pete.” He works his thumb left to right. My septum slowly moves out from underneath my eye. He puts his right thumb opposite. Counterpresses and wiggles. Counterpresses again. He shakes his head. “You should’ve seen your face when I hit you. You were so surprised.”

He’s still smiling.

My friends shake their heads.

We keep playing. The blood on my shirt dries to a starch. When I run hard, red mist comes out of my nose.

After the game, my father buys all us ice cream at a shop two blocks away. The girl behind the counter looks uncomfortable as I pick my flavor. My shirt has a two-foot peninsula of blood down the front and my right eye is swelling shut.

1. My brother and I loved to torture and kill things when we were kids. With a pair scissors we’d snip off the wings of butterflies and moths until only their stubby bodies were left. With the same scissors, we’d bring the “praying mantis” to its knees, its little body flopping forward from the sudden loss of its big head. Someone told us that caterpillars and worms grew back the part you lopped off. We tested one after another until lay scattered on the dirt like cigarette butts. Who would have guessed that with a sprinkle of salt a snail would bubble up and melt like the Wicked-Witch-of-the-West? In the summer, when you could cook an egg on the sidewalk from the heat, we’d take a magnifying glass and steady its pinpoint beam over ants. Smoke would rise as their little bodies shriveled up. Our backyard in Fresno, in old Armenian town, was chock full of fruit trees. Birds found it a good place for putting up their nests. We had Easter egg hunts all Spring long.

2. There is a Polaroid of us standing at the end of a walkway that stretches to the front porch of our house. We look just shy of school age, four and five years old. Shadows stretch from our feet, and on the curb in back of us a black Buick is parked. We wear tidy white shirts buttoned to the neck, roomy shorts, ankle length socks and shiny dress shoes. Our hair glistens as though a wet comb has just been run through it, and we are standing at attention with toy army rifles at our sides. My best guess is that we were on our way to Church, and with a few minute to spare our mother probably thought “how cute” and ran in to get the camera. We in turn fetched the rifles. Go ahead, mom—- you shoot first.

3. I felt sorry for the Jews, enslaved to the Egyptians that way, but I felt pretty bad for their enemies too. First, you had the flood; then the Tower of Babel. The people of Canaan and Bethel were all slaughtered, but worst of all is what happened to the citizens of Sodom: burned alive. When the Jews took a city, they even killed the animals, cows and goats and pigs, as though they had something to do with it. There were so many wars and killings I couldn’t keep track of them. Our Sunday school teacher taught us: “Thou shalt not kill,” and then we sang songs about the people in Jericho getting buried alive.

I was happy when Jesus came around. He didn’t kill anybody. Only himself, sort of.

4. Why were people afraid to die if they were close to God? The bible said they were going to the bosom of God. How many people could fit in one bosom? Maybe they were scared they’d suffocate in there.

5. On Thursday nights, we watched Wild Kingdom. Marlin Perkins was the fearless host of that show. He bravely stalked savage animals, all in order to give us a window onto their world. Sometimes he would show how beautiful the wild was; a field of Flamingos, all on one leg; antelope coursing over the plains like a river; giraffe with necks long as palm trees loping into the horizon where the setting sun was colossal and turned the whole sky blazing pink. Mostly, though, these were backdrops for what we all wanted to see: one animal killing another. I remember the lion waiting in the grass, crouched. How, low to the ground and with stupendous patience it crept and suddenly bolted. It pounced on the gazelle, went for its throat, and within minutes the bucking and kicking stopped, and all on the Serengeti was calm. Then it began feeding, remorselessly. The way it calmly stared at the camera, its muzzle all covered with blood, left no doubt: it had done what it had done, and it had the right.

6. Murder: when someone bad kills someone good.

Capital Punishment: what they do to murderers where the president lives.

Massacre: when a whole bunch of people gets killed at the same time.

Genocide: what they did to the Armenians.

Slaughter: what they do to animals (or people who they think are animals).

Execute: when someone shocks you to death

Suicide: when you kill yourself.

And now what happened to Robert Kennedy—-assassination: killing someone important.

It was in the newspaper, a picture of a man cradling Kennedy’s head in his arms. It reminded me of the way the Virgin cradled Jesus when he was pulled off the cross. A dark cloud descended over the whole school. The Mexican kids were so upset you’d think they were relatives of Kennedy. Some of the girls cried on their desks. Later, I learned that they like Kennedy were Catholic—all of them went to Catechism.

“The Kennedy family is cursed. I feel bad for Jackie,” my mom said.

Dad said the Kennedy family, way back, made their money “bootlegging liquor.” It had to do with how every bad thing you do eventually comes back to get you.  Martin Luther King died the same year on a balcony. King was the one who told us “I have a dream.” His face was child like, but his voice was big as a river. Even my dad said, “He was a good man, King.”

I’d barely heard of Robert Kennedy or King before they were assassinated. Now everybody talked about them. I was amazed at how important people became after they died. I thought it was unfair that they should become famous without being around to appreciate it.  My dad said it always went that way.

“Not only that,” he added, “but the meanest people live the longest.”

He named a few of the meanest people he knew, and said that they had strong “constitutions.”

Just like America, I thought.

Dad ventures outDad always loved taking the long way to wherever he was going. If there was a way to get to school, church, or the Little League baseball field that involved twisting and turning our way through the backroads of Raleigh until all us kids were turning green and ready to hurl, that was the route Dad preferred to take. Just like in that Robert Frost poem.

When he, Mom, and my two older brothers moved to Raleigh from Gulfport, Mississippi, in the late 60s, one of the first things Dad did was get out his Raleigh roadmap and trace out a route from our house in the newly developing suburbs of North Raleigh to our church downtown that involved a more satisfying amount of winding roads, stomach-churning turns, dizzying hills, and gnarled asphalt.

This was all fine with me, for the most part. As a boy I was never in a hurry to do anything that involved going somewhere. But I did have to go to school. My 8th-grade year I transferred to a school downtown after a few years of tedious bullying at my local middle school, and since Dad worked downtown at the power company, he took me to school every morning. Our lengthy commute into town gave me more time to enjoy the idiotic antics of Gary and Nola on the Morning Zoo on 94Z every morning as I bit my nails and stripped cuticles off my fingers in bloody anticipation of another horrific day as a 13-year-old.

I was bequeathed the “take the long way that’s kind of tedious to other people” impulse by Dad, and it used to make my high school friends nuts because I was the only one with a car, so in order for them to hitch a ride they always had to go to the bayou and back to get anywhere. (And they’d be forced to listen to all of my awesome musical cassettes while enjoying the view.) But most of the time in my adult life I’ve never been able to indulge it because I’ve always been running late. I was never able to sit back, relax, and calmly make my way through the unnecessarily labyrinthine journeys Raleigh had to offer—or rather, I could, but I had to do it very quickly.

But I could always rely on Dad to take the scenic route whenever we would go somewhere on my visits. The journey, to him, was at least as important as the destination.

 

Even in the latter stages of Dad’s Alzheimers, when we had to take his driver’s license away from him, his meandering continued. He couldn’t sit still. He would constantly be wandering around looking at things, trying to sneak out of the house, and moving toward some unspecified and probably nonexistent target. The further he wandered into the fuzzy headspace of his disease, the more he seemed to want to get up and go places. Of course, this behavior stemmed directly from the Alzheimers, but it was nice to think more fantastically—that Dad was rapidly aging backward, say, and that he wasn’t a sick 79-year-old man but rather a cheeky 6-year-old full of wanderlust, curiosity, and mischief, stalking frogs, leaving dog turds on doorsteps, and choosing his own adventure.

When our family gathered at our time-share condo at North Carolina’s Atlantic Beach last August for what would be our last beach trip with Dad, he was restless and fidgety. We had to keep a constant eye on him to make sure he wasn’t slipping off to do some exploring.

“Crap! Where’s Dad?!” I said after dinner one night, realizing that he was no longer standing in front of the television with his dog Lilybit in one hand and the clicker in the other, clicking. He’d quietly wandered off as mom, my sister Laurie, my brother Kevin, and I were talking at the table. Everyone looked around, got up, and started searching. I went out the front door into the hallway and, sure enough, there was Dad trying, unsuccessfully, to turn the doorknob of the condo next door.

I popped my head back into our place and there was mom, on her way out the door to look for him.

“Found him,” I said. Then I turned and walked toward Dad.

“Hey, Dad, what are you up to?”

Dad stopped trying the doorknob and headed toward the staircase leading down to the boardwalk, muttering, “Oh, I’m just going over here.”

“Okay, that’s fine. I think I’ll come with you.”

“Nah, you don’t have to do that,” he said, seeming a little annoyed.

“I’d really like to. Let’s go for a little walk.” I tried not to sound patronizing—when he was in this kind of mood he was easily stirred up.

“Oh,” he said. “Okay.”

I followed him as he shuffled down the hallway, down the stairs, and onto the boardwalk that led out to the beach. There was a pool off to the right and down some steps where kids screeched and splashed and their parents lounged and chatted. Dad was walking pretty slowly, and while I was following him I zoned out as I gazed over at the wet children flailing about the pool. I watched as a little boy pulled a girl’s bathing suit strap and snapped it back against her back. Without missing a beat the girl twirled around and slapped him across the face.

This excited me, obviously, because who doesn’t like to see a child get bitch-slapped by another child? Is there anything more life affirming? I smiled and looked back over at Dad, hoping he had seen it and would give it a thumbs-up. But he was still moving determinedly ahead on the boardwalk, now at a quicker pace, out to the little gazebo area overlooking the pool on one side and the boardwalk trail out to the beach on the other.

At the gazebo he stopped and sat down, so I sat down next to him. We watched people pass by, greeting them with smiles and soft “hello”s as they passed. Dad never seemed to be looking at anything—rather, he was looking past everything into an ethereal realm that perhaps he alone could glimpse.

After a few silent minutes he stood up and started walking—faster now—along the last leg of the boardwalk out to the beach. I got up and followed him, struck by the determined pose he assumed: hunched over with his upper body bowed forward and arms swinging resolutely as he barreled ahead. He moved down the stairs and slowed down briefly as he began slogging through the soft sand near the dunes.

I followed on his heels, trying to keep up without looking like I was acting as his minder. We were heading east toward Fort Macon State Park, and toward the jetty at the corner of both the park and the island. He and mom had walked down to the jetty for years during our beach trips, early in the morning. But he hadn’t been able to make it to the jetty last year or, sad to say, this year. He would tire out when he was about halfway and be encouraged, by mom, to turn around. He’d tried again yesterday again, but . . .

So was the jetty where we were heading now?

“So how’d you like that chocolate cake we had tonight, Dad?” I ventured. Dad always hated chocolate. He loved dessert but hated chocolate. But after dinner tonight when mom started cutting slices, Dad requested one, and, to the shock of everyone at the table, he ate the hell out of it.

“It was pretty good,” he mumbled under his breath, as if he was saying it to himself. His eyes were still looking straight ahead.

“Yeah, you seemed to really like it,” I laughed, finally breaking even with him.

His pace didn’t decrease, and I began to worry that he would tire himself out again and that we would be a mile away with him not able to walk.

“So where are we going, Dad?”

“Just down here,” he said, gesturing ahead with one arm.

“Okay. We probably shouldn’t go too far, though,” I said gently. “I don’t want you to get too tired.”

“Just over there,” he said, pointing ahead again.

Up ahead a few hundred feet I saw the green sign announcing our entrance into the grounds of Fort Macon State Park, the halfway mark on the way to the jetty. I squinted my eyes and gazed beyond it trying to gauge how much farther it would be to the jetty, and while I was lost in those complicated mathematics, Dad slipped off. When I surfaced from my advanced calculus lesson I realized he was no longer beside me. Looking around I saw that he had darted off into the dunes, clomping awkwardly over sprouts of beach grass and sand stumps. Uh-oh.

Recently, Dad had taken to going outside to go to the bathroom. At the house in Raleigh Mom had regularly started finding him out by the trashcans with his pants down taking a whiz. Fearing for the worst, I quickly hopped over to the dunes to see what he was up to.

“Dad, where are you going? I thought we were walking on the beach.”

“You don’t have to follow me,” he said irritably.

“I know, but I just want to make sure you don’t fall.”

He stopped and looked around the area of dunes. Was he looking for a place to pee? I hoped not, because how do you tell your dad not to pee somewhere?

He stepped passed me and started moving back down toward the beach. Following him down, I sighed with relief.

We continued on in the direction of the jetty, passing a few shirtless guys fishing in jean shorts. Up ahead in front of another series of dunes and close to the Fort Macon sign two abandoned beach chairs were perched, their flimsy seats and backs flapping in the wind.

“Oh, these are ours,” he said, pointing them out.

“No, I don’t think they are,” I, the insufferable literalist, responded as Dad sat down in one of them. It occurred to me to say we probably shouldn’t sit in these, they’re someone else’s, but then I thought so what/who cares?, shrugged, and sat down next to him.

We sat and watched the waves roll in together.

“This is nice, isn’t it?” I said.

“Uh-huh,” Dad replied dreamily. “Sure is.” He looked ahead toward the sea stretching south toward the Bahamas and onward to oblivion. I followed his gaze, my mind wandering again into his headspace, wondering what he was thinking about, where he wanted to go, and if I’d have to be stronger in urging him to start moving back to the condo. Then I got lost in another thicket of time and distance measurements, wondering how long it would take to jet ski to Grand Bahama island and would there be anywhere on the way to stop for snacks…

Dad stood up, walked over to the Fort Macon State Park sign, and then stopped. I got up and walked over to him. He looked at the sign and out to the sea.

“I think we can turn around now,” he said. And with that, he touched the sign and turned to start heading back.

“Oh, okay, are you sure?” I said.

“Yeah.”

We walked back passed the seats we’d just been lounging in, passed the shirtless fisherman tossing their lines out, passed the dunes where we had detoured, all the way back to the soft sand and the boardwalk, up to the gazebo, and over to the faucets where we could wash our feet and legs off. Then we went down the boardwalk stairs onto the grass. I looked over to the pool: there were fewer kids running around now, and, sadly, none of them were slapping each other. Dad made his way up the stairs to our second-floor condo. I followed him up and we went back inside.

 

A few hours later we were playing cards at the dinner table while Dad sat on the couch with the clicker, clicking. At one point I looked over to the couch and saw that Dad was gone again.

“Crap, where’s Dad?” I said. I started to get up to go out to the hallway and check that he wasn’t trying to open anyone’s door.

“There he is,” Laurie said, pointing out to the balcony overlooking the beach.

There he sat in one of the plastic chairs on our beachfront balcony, a little boy with a television clicker in his hand and his dog on his lap. Staring at the sea.

It starts innocently enough.You are experiencing the tedium of the afternoon, restlessly wishing the ticking second hand on the clock would just only tick faster, though you’re not entirely certain why you might wish for this to occur, as not one single thing will be different by dinnertime, and in fact, there is a good chance you will feel worse when dinnertime does come, because dinnertime is in the future and more of your life has been wasted and thrown away in the future.Nevertheless, you wait, and you begin to feel the anesthetizing languor take hold.In order to combat this sensation, you start a game of spider solitaire.Your father loves this game, and you love your father, so you play the game.It is more challenging than regular solitaire (a game for neophytes), and when you win, you know your father, sitting in Miami in his tropical print shirt, is psychically proud to have had a hand in raising such a brilliant child.

Start with typical.Stand in front of your kitchen cupboards wondering what you’re going to make for dinner.Something quick and healthy and delicious and still quicker to clean up.Haul out the same pots and pans you just washed from lunch.Get the food into small, yammering mouths through concerted negotiations or last-ditch ultimatums, then remind three times about both the importance of brushing teeth and not unrolling the toilet paper.Then shuffle the little bodies now emitting their last crescendo of energy into bed where you read a book and sing a song and answer correctly a question about what you will do to save everyone if a volcano full of sharks erupts in the middle of the night and then kiss goodnight.The lights-out silence that follows reverberates against the walls with such a contrast to the uproar of the day that you’re left too disoriented to clean the kitchen or speak in complete sentences.Wake up the next morning much earlier than you thought possible and immediately throw together a breakfast and dress everyone and comb hair in a way that must be as painful as a Civil War hospital amputation because of the wails that accompany each stroke, and then speed up to get the shoes and coats on in time to reach the school entrance before the final bell, after realizing you didn’t match the socks with the top and never combed your own hair which might explain some of the looks from the teacher’s assistants at the door.But it doesn’t matter now because you’ve got a day of folding the socks (the ones that do match) into neat piles ahead of you and now it looks like mildew is growing in the shower which you’ll need to be on your knees scrubbing before it’s time to get the littlest one, who has developed a cough in the two hours since you last saw her that you should probably make a doctor’s appointment for just to be on the safe side.Before that though, it’s lunchtime where you’ll be back to the cupboards pondering the exact same question you didn’t have a good answer to yesterday.The only thing you can say, to yourself and your starving children, is “be patient.”

Dad? Are you high?

By Zoe Brock

Essay

Not so long ago, on a rare San Francisco day of surprising warmth and humidity, I was sitting at my nice orderly desk when an email appeared in my nice orderly inbox.

“Ping,” said my Google Notifier.

“Ooo,” said I. “Somebody loves me.”

The Google Notifier said nothing in response and I took it’s silence to mean that it was brimming over, like a fat and happy porcelain Buddha, with benign agreement.

I was right.

Somebody did love me…… and I am grateful.


That morning an almost sickly-sweet jasmine-scented breeze was blowing through my curtains and threatening to destroy my newest art-work. Like randy teenagers at an unchaperoned party the fine threads of my mobile danced together, much too closely, libidinous and teasing, flirting, tantalizing, making promises and whispering secrets. The  ancient photographic paper, like the very fabric of my small, cloistered reality, was in danger of ripping…

… so I got up and, with one last, grateful inhale of flowery air, I prudishly closed the window on breezy San Francisco, locking her outside to play with her other friends.

I wasn’t worried, she has many.

Once those windows were closed all sound abated. I was in a vacuum and all became still, muted…. and yet somehow quite dense. On this day my very white room felt more like a sanctuary than a sanatorium, a lucky occurrence that has as much to do with my mood as it does with the weather. On this day I was Home, and I was Happy. It was the perfect environment to be in when I opened my email and discovered these pictures-

The man-child in these photos is my father.

I had never seen these images, nor any of the ones that follow.

I was stunned.

There he is, my daddy, in all his youthful splendor, not quite a man and yet no longer a child.

Playing, preening, posing, entertaining, acting the fool – a rock-star artist lunatic.

He looks high.

If he isn’t high then he sure knows how to pretend to be.

My father died in 2001. I never knew this version of him. I knew the later incarnations, the older, more jaded, disappointed and infinitely wiser and wearier versions of this creature I now found before me. The person in these photos is an innocent- a naughty, cheeky, confident kid- full of swagger and sex and adventure.

I was, and am, completely taken aback by these photographs. They do not make me sad but they do intrigue and confuse me. The guy in these photos is My Father, but his obvious youth and the striking physical resemblances we share trick me into thinking he is, despite my being an only child, my brother. I recognize him as much as I see a total stranger. These pictures overwhelm me. I cannot ask him where they were taken, or even who by. I cannot ask him what he was thinking, hoping, dreaming… or what happened in the years between this recorded day and the year of my birth to temper his innocence. I cannot ask him anything.

He’s dead.

I stare at these pictures, here in my clean, white space and feel certain of only one thing….

The guy in these pictures is one of Us. That guy is someone I’d like to hang out with. Get drunk with. Talk shit with. He looks like any one of a bunch of San Francisco neo-hipsters that loiter in the cafe’s along Valencia, or lean against warehouse walls with paint on their fingers and smirks on their lips.

He was a special creature. And, much to my amazement, a better, more daring artist than he ever let on. Maybe he forgot? Maybe he lost that part of himself? Maybe he just got bored and moved on… but I know for certain that, despite his dabblings in ceramics and the totem poles he was carving when he died, he never painted anything in my lifetime like the canvas he is working on here.

It’s fascinating to me that I can find a new facet to my dad so many years after his passing.

I’m so proud and impressed. I feel bigger and greater and more powerful knowing I have his blood and passion inside me. He could play, inspire, create, amuse, reprimand, take no shit and always encourage.

In his honor I will continue to play, preen, pose, entertain, be a fool and a goddess and a rock-star-artist-lunatic… although something ever so unsubtle is telling me that I probably have no choice.

The proof is in the pictures.

This one’s for you, dad. x


Comment by Bruce King 2009-02-17 03:51:41


Zoe,
It is with considerable delight and interest that I “accidentally” discovered your wonderful chronicles by searching Google for snippets relating to my old mate, Warwick. Your Dad was one of my closest friends in Christchurch back in the early to mid 1960’s. We partied wildly and sang together heaps; in fact we often performed together at some of the great folk venues around town in those halcyon days—before Brock & Eggs, before Lyttelton, before the wheel . . . if you know what I mean. Could I have met you in your early childhood at that wonderful house overlooking the Port of Lyttelton? Recently I (amazingly, through a common interest in woodworking) met the German woodcrafter who currently lives there. Just the other day, I unearthed a poster I had done for the occasion of the Wellington Folk Festival several years ago (I am a retired graphic designer—a career choice in no small way inspired by your Dad). This visual chronology, in the form of a photomontage, has many pictures of Warwick, along with his old friend Bruce King, alias yours truly. If you would like a copy I’ll email a pdf to you, just say the word. The last time (literally) I saw your Dad was in Newtown, about 10 or 12 years ago. He and Cath lived a couple of streets away from Owen Street where my Mum used to live. I have never before seen the photos you have shared on this site—marvellous. I do miss his indomitable spirit and wicked laughter! Go well, Zoe, Bruce
PS: My wife Jessica and I live in Golden Bay where we are currently applying the final touches to our new adobe hacienda. What a joy!

Dad

By Zoe Brock

Memoir

Death.

It’s a curious thing.

I don’t mean to sound macabre but I’m feeling a bit philosophical and whimsical.

If it’s possible to feel whimsical about things of such a heavy nature.

I’ve had a fair bit of death in my life, and as time passes I’m able to look back on some of it and even giggle.

Of course, most of the time there isn’t very much that’s funny about death at all. Unless you’re reading the Darwin Awards.

Most of the time death is a vicious, sad, horrible and frighteningly inevitable part of life. which means, that on the odd occasion when something is funny about death, I have to seize it and run like a cheetah for all I’m worth.

Laughing in the face of fear is often the only weapon we have to combat it.

Sometimes I wonder if I have a sensitivity chip missing, or if I’m trying to protect myself with humor.

And I think, no, perhaps I’m just a little more twisted than even I give myself credit for.

And I think it’s genetic.

Brocky2


Throughout my life, and his, my old man would joke about how he wanted to be preserved upon his death, a death that occurred in a most untimely fashion a few short years ago in 2001.

He wanted to be stuffed.

Naked.

With an erection.

And used as a coat rack.

I could probably end this story right here but unfortunately there’s much, much more.

Obviously we, his devastated survivors, failed to comply with his wishes. Nor did we bother honoring his alternative desire, cremation, either. I’m not sure why we ended up burying him, but in retrospect I figure that once he was dead we thought he kind of gave up the right to having any involvement in the decision making process.

“Screw him!” We probably thought. “If he’s going to bugger off and die then he doesn’t bloody deserve to get cremated!” or something along those lines.

Revenge of the Living.

And so he’s buried in a beautiful little cemetery in a forest, surrounded by old gold miners and towering trees, with a bottle of Scottish malt and about seventeen joints to keep him occupied.

Seventeen is not nearly enough.

Brocky1

When my father died I needed to say goodbye in my own way.

I spent time with his body and held his cold hands. I stroked his beard and cried a lot. I spoke to him in whispers and wails. I begged and pleaded and asked him questions he’d never have answered in life, let alone death.

And then I painted his nails.

Silver glitter, if you must know.

For old times sake.

It was an overdue apology for asking him to refrain from decorating himself in this manner when I was small.

At the funeral I gave everybody a jar of gold stars to throw down upon him in lieu of Aotearoa’s cold and wintry earth.

We sent him off in a shower of golden rain from above. It was beautiful. And a bit kitsch. And I think he’d have hated it. But that wasn’t his prerogative either anymore, was it?

Dad left behind many a legacy, the least of which was a collection of plastic yogurt pots containing the cremated remains of our family pets.

All of them.

Three dogs and countless cats.

That’s right.

My dead pets are still lurking on a shelf in south central New Zealand.

Waiting for me.

When he was alive my Dad always wanted to find a good use for them, something artistic, something natural. He’d been mulling over the idea of breaking out the old kiln and firing up some pots so he could use the ashes to make glazes, but I was mortified at this suggestion and used my only-daughter routine to shut it down.

And so they sit there still.

And I have no idea what to do about it at all.

My somewhat lackadaisical attitude towards death comes from both sides of my family.

Several Christmases ago I was appalled to open a gift in front of my entire family and discover it was a beautifully wrapped box containing the ashes of my recently deceased companion of twenty years, Baby, my cat who had died while I was overseas traveling.

“Gee. Thanks Mum.” NOT.

For some reason every single family member had also decided to give me a token to memorialize her- a photo, a card, a bit of her hair.

It was quite possibly the most inappropriate and awful Christmas of my life, and I behaved accordingly. It sucked. The intentions were pure, the reaction… nyeh.

Baby’s around here somewhere too.

And I have no bloody idea what to do with her either.

When my grandmother Ainslee died several years ago her funeral service and it’s rather earnest, morose vibe was ruined completely when my cousin Guy took matters into his own hands with regards to the coffin.

As the pallbearers were sliding Ainslee’s boxed remains onto the rollers that gently glide coffins into waiting hearses, young Guy put his hands on the end of the box, yelled “Bye bye Nana!” and gave an almighty shove.

There was quite a racket.

It wasn’t pretty.

Guy proudly smacked his hands together, as if to clean them, and looked mighty pleased with himself. It was a job well done.

It’s hard to get back to concentrated mourning after a scene like that.

I think about death a lot, I guess.

For a few years I was depressed and wanted very much to die.
But not anymore.
Now I’m glad to be alive, and thankful.
But I still think about it and what it means and where we go and if I even care.
I don’t have any answers, and I barely have questions, but I do know this- it’s something I want to experience without fear.
I’d like to be cognizant through my own death, to accept it, to be at peace.

But I suppose that’s a lot to ask for.

I’d also like to be remembered with humor and honesty, much as my old man was at his wake.

“Jeez the old bugger was a bloody bastard.” Someone muttered into his tenth pint of beer. The very same someone who’d traveled halfway across the world to be present at that funny, forlorn little service in a pine forest in the middle of nowhere.

I smiled and sipped my own beer, nodding my head in agreement. It was true. He was a bloody bastard sometimes. But he was a bloody funny, honest, human, loving bastard too, and he was mine.

Wbandzb

Here’s to you daddy. I’m awfully sorry about the damn coat rack not panning out for you, but the neighbors would’ve had a fit, and honestly? I’d’ve had to have kept a blanket over your head to preserve my own sanity.

See you on the other side, and save a joint for me, if you can bear it?

Z


25 Comments »

Comment by Howard |Edit This
2006-09-20 03:42:06

Wow…I’m not sure why, but your image of you with your deceased father really moved me. I suppose in lieu of the no-relationship I had with mine. Somehow, seeing those so full of life, like yourself, stopping and having to deal is a hard image to watch.

And for the record…I’m glad you’re alive. I’m glad you’re here…bringing a bit of color to a world of gray walls.

Comment by st0ker |Edit This
2006-09-20 03:59:13

philosophical – check
whimsical – check

You forgot to mention humourous – Revenge of the Living is a nice one.

And also extremely touching

xoS

Comment by Jon Mahoney |Edit This
2006-09-20 04:14:38

Zoe,
Wow, you are quite the writer. I enjoy reading
what you write very much…striking.
I am 10minutes from DFW airport if you ever fly through

Comment by MTHIOTVOSB |Edit This
2006-09-20 04:29:30

I think Jon Mahoney wants to propose. – You know he’s right about the writer part but even more you are quite the daughter. Cheers! Oh wait! Scratch that!!! I’m sober and I’m out!

Comment by Goddess |Edit This
2006-09-20 06:29:02

Beautiful… found myself thinking a lot of my own dad when I read your piece… trying to imagine how I will deal, and how you did deal… very moving piece.

Loves.
kj

Comment by beau |Edit This
2006-09-20 07:03:34

Rip Dad.

Comment by Glenn |Edit This
2006-09-20 08:54:15

You are an amazing writer.

Comment by Trip |Edit This
2006-09-20 09:25:14

What a beautifully written memorial. Thank you very much for this. Your dad sounds like he was quite the character, I can see where you get your strength and humor! Thank you so much for sharing this, Zoe. Say hi to Owlie for me. -) Kudos!

Comment by Spencer |Edit This
2006-09-20 13:28:08

he didnt want to donate his penis for use in a penis transfer to some poor asian guy who had his cut off?

Comment by Todd Darling |Edit This
2006-09-20 13:33:59

Hey Zoe.

You know – I never met your father – but I’d bet my life he’d be proud of the beautiful person you are.

Todd

Comment by deborah jones |Edit This
2006-09-20 17:09:50

Yes, Todd, I was thinking that too

thankyou Zoe… your story gave me

a whiff of Warwick
welcoming to his home
Hey Deb he’d say,
swiveling on a stool
warm and brotherly

so much love between the two of you

Comment by Joshua |Edit This
2006-09-20 17:39:03

Well done, Zoe. I also lost my father in 2001, June 12 to be exact… right before Father’s Day. It’s a struggle at times. And it’s always the little things, like when I have trouble remembering what his voice sounds like, that make it particularly tough. Anyway, this piece really hits close to home for me. Thank you.

Comment by Becky |Edit This
2006-09-21 09:40:49

Shucks, Zoe.

I wish my dad wanted to be a stuffed-cock coatrack.

I think I’d just like to have my left hand stuffed…holding a cigarette…giving the finger.

It could be a door-knocker.

Big kiss for ya.

2006-09-21 09:43:18

Zoe:

Great work, once again. Also, in regards to the Darwin Awards, a friend of mine, Finn Taylor, just finished a film entitled the Darwin Awards. He took some of those death ideas, melded them together, and came up with an interesting story line.

Hope all’s well…

Comment by 1159 |Edit This
2006-09-21 10:11:46

Dangit Zoe, I wanted to be the first to write about death and existential longing and you went and did it all good too.
Snif.
Your best yet.

Comment by solar |Edit This
2006-09-21 10:12:36

zoita, what would i give to see the two of you in action as your ridiculous selves? well…i’ll wait patiently. and like you, enter into my own death, fearless, with my eyes wide open.

i’m so glad you’re still here.
my love.

2006-09-21 11:17:20

Nicely done. I agree–that picture of the two of you is very touching.

Comment by meg |Edit This
2006-09-21 11:59:15

Crying at work? Not a good idea…

You know how sometimes you worry that no one will ever know how you feel, ever know what the point is?

I don’t even know you and you got it. You pinned it down in an armload of sentences and…thanks.

Comment by Ernie |Edit This
2006-09-21 15:52:17

Wow, Zoe. Very impressive. You always make me laugh or at the very least; feel “something” and you out did yourself with this one.
Best wishes as always.
Speechless, again.

Comment by Anonymous |Edit This
2006-09-21 16:47:39

Baby girl, this was breathtaking. I adore you.

Comment by Lara |Edit This
2006-09-22 09:16:40

Hi Zoe – I gasped at the photograph of your father in the woods. I can’t explain why, but there is something hauntingly beautiful about it within the context of this lovely written remembrance of him.

2006-09-22 16:01:47

You painted your dad’s nails? You are awesome.

Comment by Maureen |Edit This
2006-09-25 13:32:23

Zoe,

First of all I LOVE your name, and I used to use the name Zoe as a moniker when I did a job where anonymity was important.

Yours is the first post I read on this website, and I loved it. I too have had quite an “obsession” with death, feelings ranging from fearing death, wanting death, glamorizing death, accepting death, then realizing I hadn’t accepted the idea of death. But mostly I think death can be really really funny. I love your dad’s idea of a coatrack )

Comment by Angie |Edit This
2006-10-30 07:45:46

This was very beautiful.