I came across this piece from years ago about the death of my father. I have no idea if I ever published it but just in case I kept it to myself all those years, here it is now in all its gory, pain riddled glory. May it help, may it heal, may it do honor to my father and all my Ancestors. Blessings.
My father is dying, I am told. What does this mean, dying? He is leaving this plane of existance for another, preparing himself for a grand adventure where most can not follow just yet, nor would we really want to. We aren’t ready. I am confused, joyous and disturbed all at once.
Ronald Francis Alston is my father, but I can’t really say that I know him nor did I ever really know him well. My grandmother told me that he spoke of me often and bragged about me to everyone; he always called me his baby girl and was proud of me. Hmph. The odd things we find out at such late hours. Who knew?
I found myself bewildered at the sheer torrent of tears I shed for this man who had played the disappearing magician for much of my life: now here he is; POOF! Now he’s gone. “The Daddy Guy” he called himself when I was little and managed to see him. He was married to my mother for a time. His skirt-chasing and months-on-end disappearances finally got to my mom and she left him, taking me with her. He said cruel things to me during their divorce that I thankfully don’t remember. It was enough that my parents were no longer together. My mom was a very good liar and I have no memory of my dad being MIA for long months at a time. She covered for him well. If my brother, a few years older than me, ever knew differently he never said anything about it. I was well sheltered.
Now, on the other end of the phone was my heart-broken, somewhat estranged grandmother asking me if I wanted Ronnie’s ashes. He always said he wanted to be cremated, you see. I remembered this much, but even that memory was forty-eght hours in surfacing. Mark, my brother, told me that I had said to my father that I wanted his ashes. I did? Well, apparently so – more years ago than my memory cares to search. I was a little girl. All his life he held on to the utterance of his little girl and in his end times, he made it known that I was to have whatever was left of him that the fires didn’t take. At seven am after a long night of watching movies and dancing in my bathroom (a sacred pleasure of mine – the bedroom’s carpeted), I was in no shape to hear this clearly. Suddenly the mild nausea I felt from being tired and startled out of my sleep became numbness. I’m dreaming, right? Well, no because I could hear Gadget’s tiny mutterings under his cage cover behind me. Oddly, not even the dovey-birds, who coo at the slightest hint of movement any time day or night, made a sound. I shlumped off to bed again, tried to go back to sleep and instead found myself jabbering out loud. The sun seemed too bright to shut out anyway. A tear slipped past me and I flopped over onto my pillow. Doug was awake and hugged me. I wanted it to help, but it didn’t. I didn’t feel safe; I felt confined. I would’ve fought, but I was too tired, so instead I just lay there like a log staring at the red lights on my clock. What time was it? I had no idea, the symbols weren’t registering. Whatever. I decided that I wasn’t going to be one of these mourners who fall apart and blather on about how “HE’S GOOOOONE!” My dad was a funny, good guy and I was determined that I would remember all the good stuff I could about him, however little it was. I found myself smiling through the trickle of tears that came in steady succession. Besides, I barely knew him. How debilitating could it be to lose a father you spent so little of your life with? I was due at the gym where I work at two pm. I felt fine enough, so of course I would go in, even if I did have a sneaky feeling that I didn’t want to go anywhere. Sometimes I ignore my intuition – not always, but sometimes.
I walked into work, said hi to Trish, admitted I wasn’t doing too great as I headed towards the back to clock in. She asked what was wrong and I fell apart – BAM! There she goes! Just like that. As we headed into the back to give me and my flood some privacy, my nose started bleeding. Doug had left less than five minutes earlier and already Trish was calling him to come get me. I was a wreck. It took him twenty minutes to come pick me up. My nose bled and the tears flowed for about seventeen of those twenty minutes. The nose bleed thing is a family trait, I later learned from my mom. Some people get head aches, our noses bleed. Woohoo.
Doug brought me a strong drink, which in the Stasiverse is a cup of regular Lipton tea – milk and sweet, of course. I rarely bother with caffeinated teas anymore, but these were rather extreme circumstances. He also brought me a coldcut sandwich. It made me remember the HUGE coldcut sandwiches my dad would make on Sunday afternoons. Every Sunday he and my mom would make coldcut sandwiches and watch sports. The time I remember best were always baseball games. My dad didn’t make ordinary huge sandwiches, oh no! He had to have his pickled hot peppers both on the sandwich and on the side! EE-GAW those were some damned hot peppers, at least they were to a 4-year-old. They made my eyes and nose run and my ears itch! And of course, the requisite drink was beer.
In all the chaos of the past few days, I’d forgotten my dad was an alcoholic. It was part and parcel of his life as skirt chaser/sports fan/insecure-lost-child-in-need-of-mental-help. It seems so insignificant now, but to realize that all that hard drinking, smoking and partying are what contributed to the recurrent strokes that have incapacitated him and what will be his undoing on this plane. Alcoholism may not seem a big deal, but the grand smiles, loud voice and ready laughter of my father were ultimately undone by this exact insignificant thing.
He had a beautiful smile. Such lovely teeth! I remember as a child his perfect white teeth. And when he laughed, it came from deep inside. He never faked amusement that I could ever tell. So many things seemed interesting to him. I remember riding on his shoulders as he, my mother and I went down the stairs of our house on the way to who-remembers-where, singing at the tops of our voices “All together now!” from my then-favorite movie, The Yellow Submarine. If there’s one thing I remember about my dad’s singing it’s that he couldn’t carry a tune if you strapped it to him. It never seemed to bother him, though. He sang anyway. My mom has a beautiful voice, as does just about all of her family, but my dad was tone deaf. His side of the family had their own artistic talents, but music was not one of them. Ronnie was great with words.
I only saw him cry once and I thought it the saddest thing on earth. When my great grandmother died, at her funeral I saw him with a slow trickle of tears, no sound, just the tears, the red eyes. Now it’s my turn to make tracks for the slow streams down my own face. My children have seen me cry before, though it isn’t a common occurrence. It takes a lot to make me cry. But that is a tale for another time.