Happy Birthday, Dad

You would have been 91 years old today.

As it turned out, you left last year, three weeks short of your ninetieth birthday.  You couldn’t hang around for the chocolate cake; you had places to go.  You stuck it out as long as you could.  But anyone with a brain in their head could see that you were finished.

You were my hero.  I adored you, and I still adore you, and I always will adore you.  My tiny house on wheels is adorned with photos of you and your art.  It’s a rolling monument; you have no other, since you chose to be incinerated rather than buried…I always thought you’d make an ash of yourself….

I chuckle when I think of the horrible puns you managed to dig up on every possible occasion.  You and I would roar with laughter while Mom twisted up her face in disgust.  I wanted to punch her, but you either ignored her or said, “Aw, come on, don’t be such a fuddy-duddy.”

The week before you died, you complained of boredom, so I brought a book of short stories that I had given you many years ago.  I began to read my favorite, then realized with horror that it was a very black story about death!

I said, “Uh, Dad, do you mind some black humor?”

Through blue lips you croaked, “The blacker the better!”  And we had our last good chuckle.

You never laid a hand on me in anger, except for the one time you gave me a real over-the-knee spanking, at my mother’s insistence, for the crime of running away from her (again).  But your anger was not at me, but at her, and after the deed was done, you left me crying on my bed and closed the door.  I heard you tell her to do her own dirty-work.  Then my door opened and you came in to make sure I was all right.  You never touched me again, except for your bear-hugs and rides on your shoulders.  I loved it when we came to a doorway and you would shout “Low bridge!” so that I would know to fold myself around your bald head, and you would crouch down so I wouldn’t get bashed.

Your body betrayed you, but you squeezed the last drop of your strength to make your beautiful art.  It was only when your mind finally failed that you made your last body of beautiful work, walked out your studio door, and never returned.

You mourned your work, as I mourn mine.  Our conversations about that laid to rest your bitterness about my leaving practice, and my bitterness that you thought it was out of laziness rather than disability.  Once you had tasted the bile of being unable to do the work you loved, you apologized to me, and the sweetness of that apology erased my pain, although I grieved the fact that you had to live my experience in order to learn it.

After I left home, and my mother disowned me, you would sneak and visit me, wherever I happened to be, on pretense of work.  We reveled in our stolen fruit. 

Once when you came to dinner, I slipped on the kitchen floor and spilled the whole pot of home-made spaghetti sauce, full of sausages and mushrooms and wine, which you must have known had cost me a month’s worth of wages to buy.  You made your “tsk” sound and grabbed pot and spoon, and scraped that sauce right off my kitchen floor.

“You mean we’re going to eat that?”

“Damn right,” you grinned.  And we sure did, and chalked up another of our secret treasures.

And that time in Chicago, when you had dropped a machine on your hand and crushed it, and had it in a cast; and I had had a soccer injury, and was on crutches; and Chicago had had one of her epic snowstorms–we tottered around town, holding each other up, a couple of cripples, hilarious at every near-miss slip.

Oh, you taught me how to scare minnows from under their rocks and catch them in my hands, how to tuck a frying pan and some bacon and cornmeal in my creel in case one of us actually hooked a fish, and how to make a smokeless fire on which to cook it, if it came to that.

You taught me to chew tobacco (yuck), how to smoke a pipe of tobacco (blech), and how to get roaring drunk and laugh and talk philosophy till the wee hours (yum).

I could go on and on writing about the gifts you gave me, and someday I just might.  However, since I know you want me to save some for later, I’ll just sneak these in:

Honesty, integrity, genuineness, ingenuity, and never, ever to do anything just to “go with the crowd.”

And to live and love fiercely.

Your loving daughter,


PS I miss you


As I write this my hands are shaking.  There’s a jigger of good bourbon at my left elbow, and hopefully Noga the Wonderdog  will decide to hop up under my right.  I’ve just downed my evening med cocktail, plus an extra milligram of Ativan, plus a extra 5 mg of sleeping pill.  I hope to G-d they work, and soon.

Monster Mother has been working her poison.  It’s very subtle and mostly accomplished with tone of voice and a twist of the face, a sarcastic remark, a minimization of something I find important, or an outright barb.  That’s not so subtle after all, is it?

This time is was merely that I had forgotten I have a therapy appointment on Thursday, so I couldn’t give her the day off from taking care of Dad.  “Why don’t you make up your mind?” was the irritable remark that set me off.  I was carrying in her copious number of plastic bags from Walmart when she said that, and I reflexively rattled the bags to cover up the fact that I was shouting “You fucking bitch!”  I think she heard me anyway, but good.

Poor Dad is triggered too.  I sat with him while he ate his lunch yesterday, so that Monster could go out shopping, and a bit of the orange he was eating dropped onto his sweatshirt, making a stain.  He panicked.  Oh, he said, I am so clumsy.  I should have been more careful.  I am such a slob.  Now this is language that I have never in my life heard from his mouth until recently when he has been confined to a wheelchair and completely dependent on you-know-who except when I am there.  And why am I not there more often?  Because if I was, I would drive my car off of one of the many handy cliffs that the Blue Ridge has to offer.

I asked Dad, “Are you upset that your orange landed on your sweatshirt, which will go in the wash tomorrow?”  “No,” he said.  “Then who is it that gets upset if you drop a bit of food on yourself?”  “Someone else,” he said.  “Do you get upset about it?” he asked me.

“No, I just think it’s normal.  It doesn’t upset me at all.”  “Oh.  Then we know who gets upset.”

I am 100% sure that she is verbally and emotionally abusing him, just the way she has done to me all of my life.  He has started to say “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” for transgressions such as dropping his napkin or drooling on his front.

And she is the reigning narcissist, who is triumphantly happy to finally have everything her own way.  It’s chilling to see it in action. I’m going to have to write a more cogent essay about this, as the drugs are starting to take effect.

What triggered me, other than the Me-Me Monster’s ugly mug, is all the reading I’ve been doing on Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the havoc it can wreak on the next generation, and the panic regarding the fact that even though I’ve been working with shrinks since my son was a 5 month old fetus to try to prevent my behaving toward him as my mother behaved toward me, there still might be some spill-over to feel guilty about.

The drugs are taking hold, and I am going to have a little bit to eat before blessed Nepenthe folds me in her arms and takes me down, down, down…