My Dad Died But I’m Still An Asshole (Updated)


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Below is the updated version of an earlier piece, which I read last night at Miss Manhattan’s Second Anniversary Reading.

A funny thing happens when your perfectly healthy (albeit aging) father is ripped out of your life by an Alps-weaned avalanche. You tell yourself that it will change EVERYTHING (about you and your inherent shittiness), because, amidst devastation, you need something shiny and hopeful to grab onto. So, almost immediately, while you are sob-packing for your sudden trip to France to say goodbye to him, even though he is essentially already dead, you start plotting what this transformation will entail.

For starters, you’re going to start eating like a normal human, because that’s what he would want. The berry smoothie you’re currently chugging (purchased in happier times, a few hours ago, when you were just an average twenty-something ingrate with a living father) but not actually tasting whatsoever is just the start. His death will wipe away the years worth of residue from your eating disorder because now, Jessica, you will come to realize what’s really important in life. And, incidentally, it’s not your thighs.

Next, you will make more of an effort with your family, immediate and otherwise. You will resist the urge to hide behind a book or a computer screen when you are with them. You will play their board games—no, you will RELISH them. The second coming of Bananagrams, you can feel it, is nigh. You will chop vegetables with them as your father would—with an unusual zeal that you never understood but took for granted, because the results were always nice. You will stop justifying your cool or nonexistent relations with extended family with a chorus of “Just because we’re related doesn’t mean I have to love them.” Well, maybe. You will certainly try.

At this point in the bettering-yourself brainstorm, your hyper-religious cleaning lady will come in to hug you and tell you that she’s praying for your father and that everything will work out. Much will be made of Jesus. The hard part of you wants to punch her, or shriek, or something, but instead you’ll just stand there numbly and nod your head, letting her force you into a very unbalanced hug. Look, it’s already working, you’ll think.

When a neighbor rushes over to console you, having heard the news, you’ll find solace in her attempts to derail the religious babble in your orbit. Her “shut the fuck up” look won’t translate, but the effort itself is refreshing—dulls the pin growing in your side from a life without prayer. And while you stand there, stuck in a hug that’s gone on far too long, you’ll just stare wide-eyed at each other, pooling your cynical breed of sadness into one stinky pit on the floor. Dickinson said hope is the thing with feathers, you remember—and you have none.

But you’ll forget this once they leave, returning to your list. You will put the obsessive writing you’ve been doing for months to good use, instead of just sending it out into the thirsty Internet where it will ripple a few random readers and then fade into oblivion. You will put your future before potential Facebook likes. You will….you will…write a novel! Yes, of course. 100%. Despite the fact that crippling self-loathing has stopped any prior efforts to do so, you will instantly overcome this for the greater good: a novel commemorating your father that is like Wild but with less drug use and physical activity. Naturally, everyone will want to read this novel, because you and your Dad are (were?) very interesting people. Yes, this is what you’ll do Jessica. This is your calling.

Now, you’ve finished packing and the Jesus-thumper is driving you to the airport. Your phone rings, and it’s the good friend you’re maybe sort of in love with. You guys haven’t really been speaking because, well, the love isn’t equal on both ends. This is all so dramatic, you think, like a perfectly choreographed episode of some shitty but addictive TV show. “I wish I was there with you,” he says, like pretty much anyone would say that cared about you at this time, but you think to yourself—that intonation, was it love? Does it signal something deeper? Here you are, en route to say goodbye to your dead father, and you’re focused on tying up the loose ends of a nonexistent romance. Your heroism knows no bounds.

At the airport, where you’re sobbing again as you pull your luggage out of the car, the cleaning lady decides to add a little zest by RUNNING OVER YOUR FOOT with the full weight of her vehicle. Accidentally, of course. That really just happened, you think to yourself, unsure whether to laugh, cry or throw the rest of you under the car. You settle for a rageful laugh-cry that seems to frighten everyone in your vicinity. “Screw them, your Dad’s dead,” you tell yourself, always justifying.

You can’t feel part of your foot now, but the part that you can feel is turning blue and vibrating with unmitigated hatred. Hatred towards Jesus groupies, bad romances and dumb fucking avalanches who think they can just saunter on in and do this to you. You get in the security line, still crying as you relay the last ten minutes to your mother on the phone. You can tell from her tone that she’d just like to tranquilize you, ensuring that you make it to France without killing anyone or yourself.

The family standing in front of you keeps turning around to stare and you determine that you’ve never hated all of humanity more in your life (you choose to ignore the fact that you’ve had that same exact thought many times before). “What happened?” one of them asks, as if public crying is part-invitation to delve deeper into the current state of someone’s life. Evidently, they’re not from New York. You put your transformation on hold and respond with “You know, I really don’t want to FUCKING talk about it.” Jesus, Jessica. Was the cursing necessary? you think, the steady drip of self-induced shame speeding up. This man is not the avalanche, you repeat to yourself as if mindfulness has always been your jam. Be less despicable, and you think you might puke.

What you don’t know is that for the eight-hour flight ahead, mindfulness will be your jam. Kind of. Not being able to sleep, and finding music a little gauche for a time like this, you’ll settle for Eckhart Tolle reading The Power of Now, which you downloaded months before in one of many-unrealized attempts to be BETTER. It won’t work this time either, but it helps paint your misery in a richer hue—one sprinkled with the false clarity of Tolle’s metaphysics.

Back in line, when a TSA agent asks you if everything’s okay, you’ve calmed down a bit and serve him the simple truth. My dad just died, and everyone looks at you in the same pitiful way that you would look at you if you weren’t you.

You’re receiving a slew of texts now: first, from your Mom, about how you must get ice from a bar and put it on your foot immediately; second, from your stepmom, who is by your Dad’s side in France telling you that you’ll have to call soon to say goodbye over the phone, as he may not last the night (all of us still in denial that he’s already far gone). This is awful, you know, but you stick to the task at hand: salvaging your foot.

You ask the bartender at the United Club if he can pack up some ice for you. He looks annoyed. “Sorry, someone just ran over my foot with their car,” you offer up, hoping the tear-streamed face will help your case. Oh and also, MY DAD IS DYING or POSSIBLY DEAD, YOU FUCKER, you think to yourself, but opt not to vocalize. “Rough day?” some vaguely attractive idiot sitting at the bar asks you, and you start to laugh because if only he knew what he was hitting on right now. You shoot him a look that you hope says simply, DON’T, though in a way you’re thankful for the reminder that the rest of the world is still spinning on its dumb, sex-privileging axis.

The ice arrives, begrudgingly. You trail away to find a private nook that screams: here is where to say final goodbyes to your father. Oddly, nothing is popping out. You settle for one of those dark cubbies that people use to make “very important business calls” or, probably, to navigate the waters of whatever affair they’re having (calls to the family to assuage the wife, calls to the mistress to plot further scandal, etc.)

You start talking to your Dad, out loud, because you stopped caring about proper social etiquette a few hours ago. This is a shitshow, you tell him, you’d absolutely love it—your only certainty right now. You can hear him laughing, about the prayers for Jesus, and the car incident, and your lofty plans to write a book all for him. “Oh Bug,” he’d say, his nickname for you now taking a little bite at your heart. You know he’d be handling the situation with much more aplomb, but that he probably wouldn’t expect you, in this moment, to have handled it otherwise. I’m literally saying goodbye to you—a dad who I’ve loved and sometimes loathed—in a cubicle at Newark Airport, you think, as someone pops their head in to ask if you’d like crackers. This is the worst, Dad…but it’ll make for some great exposition.

Categories: Reflection.

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