Faint snores rise and fall next to me, filling our otherwise dark and silent room with signs of life. Chris’ bodily hums and groans gain momentum then again slow, fading into our night-drenched bedroom. It’s oddly comforting. Continuous sounds that let me know he is still here — alive and not possessed by a disgruntled spirit from Paranormal Activity. Because sometimes I think either of those two could randomly occur during the night. Doesn’t everyone?
I’ve got Max, our lab-mix, resting at my feet tucked under the covers. I feel his rapid heart race as his little body rises and falls every second. Emma is laying quietly for a change between me and Chris, curled in fetal position, her paw extended out onto my leg.
Then there is me, typing letter by letter on my iPhone since I still have no desire to pass out before midnight. But the fact that I just closed my eyes for a moment and had a full lucid dream that I was making pot brownies at a girl’s house from High School makes me think I should go to bed.
I woke up to the sound of my phone ringing. In my post REM haze, I half thought the default ring was the alarm letting me know that 6am had arrived far too quickly and Chris and I were due for our bi-weekly morning walk on the beach.
But it was no such alarm.
It was in fact my phone ringing. Before I could totally comprehend what was happening, Chris told me to hurry and pick up the call. It was the alarm company. They had just received a panic signal going off at our office. The police were en route.
It is now 3:48am and I meet Chris over at the studio. The police had arrived and were parked side by side like two sharks patiently waiting for Nemo. My heart still races every time I see police cars. A moment of, “Oh shit I’m gonna get caught, hide the…”
But then I realize it’s ok and I awkwardly overcompensate by waving and thanking them for their service so I come off as cool and calm with absolutely nothing to be suspicious about. There are no drugs in my system, officer. I am not hiding any pills or cocaine in my glove compartment, officer. Or under my seat. In my back console. In my pocket, officer. Smile and sweat. Those days are long gone but the residue of fear and guilt still remain.
A balloon in our studio apparently set off the motion sensor and sounded for the troops. A Mylar birthday balloon that had been hiding in the wooden rafters for the past few months finally made itself known in a big way. I have a love hate feeling toward that balloon now.
So I type away letter by letter on my iPhone again unable to fall back asleep. Something my father said earlier keeps drifting through my head and is taking up prime occupancy. He had major open-heart surgery fifteen years ago. A seven-bypass procedure that changed all of us forever.
He has since recovered and life continued to move forward. Our relationship was strained along the way, especially during those High School and College years post coming out as gay. Throw in my ongoing drug abuse and sprinkle on an array of colorful mental instability. Come to think of it, I can’t imagine I gave his heart much of a break after the surgery.
I was on the way to my psychologist’s office after work today, talking to my father on the phone about a mess of shit he is dealing with. He opened up for the first time since the heart surgery about his own mortality. How the effectiveness of his procedure is not a permanent fix and he fears that more as almost two decades have passed since the surgery. That life is too short to get caught up in the bullshit. How we have to appreciate each other and live positively. The reality of death is in fact a reality that becomes more clear as the years continue to pass.
I lay here unable to shake the idea that my father will not always be around. That I was a total fucking mess of a son who put his parents through so much shit. Heartache and disappointment that goes deeper than I could have understood then.
But it is what was, not what is.
Our relationship today is actually a relationship. Not this burden fueled by anger, resentment and ignorance of each other.
As I got older I realized just how much I am like my father, in more ways than I ever would have appreciated when I was younger.
[Max is snoring next to me.]
There is a depth to my father that I recognize today. One that I think became more beautiful as he and I got older. I am able to understand him better, now having life experience that allows us to relate. There is a mutual acceptance of one another, something that was not easy to come by. We battled through most of my teen years, never seeing eye to eye about anything.
I remember waiting at the bus stop in our development at age twelve, I was in seventh grade. I attempted to leave the house wearing a Kurt Cobain t-shirt and safety pin necklace that I had made the night before. My father matched my keen new fashion sense with a verbal slap in the face and an immediate order to change. Clearly he did not understand my deep spiritual connection with the late Cobain whose face I wore on my chest like a neon sign flashing I AM COOL. So naturally I put on a father-approved nondescript shirt over Kurt, hid the necklace in my Jansport and did a Superman-like transformation at the bus stop. I felt so rebellious at twelve years old, shedding my clothes in front of the other kids. Revealing the outfit my parents banned. Showing my peers that I was pretty much a badass and they should recognize my innate specialty, or at least maybe talk to me. There was a lot riding on that Kurt Cobain t-shirt and safety pin necklace. It was my in with the grunge kids. My secret weapon from total Middle School annihilation. It never did work.
I proudly showcased the shirt that I was certain would define my identity as an angst ridden, alt-rock rebel. But as I stood waiting anxiously for my fellow bus riders to offer their admiration, my father slowly drove by in what felt like cinematic style slow-motion. He glared at me through his tinted Honda Accord window with eyes that mangled my insides very much like that first bare-handed dig when gutting a pumpkin on Halloween. I knew then it was over.
And that’s how our relationship went for many years. He had his ideas, I had mine. He had his opinions, I had mine. I snuck around, lied and kept things hidden. But he always seemed to be a step ahead or way more aware than I gave either of my parents credit for at the time. They knew most of what I was doing, or at least figured out my delinquency fairly quick. I see today he only wanted what he thought would keep me out of trouble. Keep kids from dragging me through hell. But man I just needed to figure myself out.
I can’t shake the sudden realization that this movie could come to an end at anytime. That it will come to an end. My father will eventually die, like anyone, and I’ll be left with memories that become more distant over time.
This man who has been with me since my conception, who knows more about me than I am sure I’d like him to, will one day be gone. And life will continue to cycle on. His footprint will have been made, many people will say things like, “His memory lives on.” Blah, blah, blah.
But I really don’t want to lose him.
What I’ve learned in time is that my father (and I focus on my father specifically because of our rough past) is pretty awesome. He is a man of strength, understanding, patience and love. He is passionate, dedicated and creative. He is a man of follow-through and experience. I feel so fortunate to have him as part of my fabric, a main thread in my continued creation.
Those unbelievably long talks he had with me as a kid, the unbearable hour long “lectures” that I tuned out, have begun to resurface and actually make sense today. Talks about doing the right thing, treating others with respect, not caring what people think. God I wanted him to stop talking back then. I don’t think I could have rolled my eyes any further into the back of my head or given clearer body language to communicate that I was an unwilling participant in these conversations.
I only wanted to hear what I wanted to hear. Story of my life. I’m sure Chris would say the same about me today. I know Chris would say the same about me today. Stubborn and sensitive, to say the least.
I have never feared the death of my parents. Except for once as a kid I remember waking up crying after having had a dream about my mom dying then coming to visit me as a ghost in my elementary school cafeteria. But other than that, I never acknowledged that they would someday cease to exist. Especially now when Chris and I are planning to have kids of our own, I need my folks to see their grandchildren grow up. I need them to teach what they taught me.
But that’s where I come in.
Where I do what they say and keep his memory alive. Because I am a direct extension of my parents. I am my mother. I am my father.
I will pass on my dad’s love for awesome music, the bands he brought me up listening to. My kids will know The Beatles, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Motown. They will understand the expression: we all shit the same.
Even in death we are remembered. But in life we must have gratitude for who and what we have. Because death is never a good reason to find an appreciation for life.
My dad is way cooler alive than he will be dead. So I’d much rather him know that now, for us continue growing together so I can pass his message along.
I’m sure I just did by writing this.