This is the bulletin board that hangs over my little funky green table desk in the home office corner of my bedroom. It goes on to the left a little more than you can see in this photo, and in that space there is: a great picture of me with my dad; the postit note written confirmation code for a BIG credit with United Airlines from all the shitty dying and funeral travel rescheduling I had to do this summer; a picture of my three oldest kids when Sophie was still a baby; a drawing Sophie made for me; and a tarot card. This very one, only on mine you can read the word Prudence across the bottom.
I’ve had that deck of tarot cards for over twenty years, since the day that I walked out to my car and found it sitting in the road next to the front tire of my Volkswagen Rabbit, still in its brokenish box.
I don’t read tarot cards myself, mainly because I think it’s probably a crock, but even if it’s not I do believe that the future isn’t set, so what is the point in trying to predict it? I’m busy doing stuff, you know?
Since my dad died (I can’t get used to saying or thinking or writing that), my step mom has been going through all of the things he saved. There were a lot of things. Really a lot. Some of them are now mine, and if my house were on fire, I’d run back in to grab them. The thing is, she had a huge job, going through all of my dad’s things and figuring out what to do with them. Sometimes I came home to a box on the front step, and when I opened it I could tell that she’d taken a drawer (what most of us would call a junk drawer) and put it in a box and taped it up and mailed it to me.
Dude. I cannot say I blame her. It was a lot of stuff. And now I have for-real Property of NASA stickers and a few other things from his desk that probably weren’t supposed to leave the building.
My dad retired last October and he was already sick and not able to do things. But there was so very much he wanted to do. He was a woodworker who had rheumatoid arthritis that was getting so bad he couldn’t button his shirt and it was hard to drink his coffee in the morning. But still, he’d order books from Amazon about woodcarving because he wanted to try out some new methods. He was a person who loved to tell stories and laugh, but he also had COPD and rarely was able to say what he wanted without stopping to cough. He was a hard worker, who loved his career, but had all these things he wanted to do when he retired. And then he retired and started to get to do some things, like work on the animation and photography stuff he was so passionate about, but mostly he was visiting doctors and planning for the future and telling me how even though he was retired he was still busy all the time but he was getting to cook more. We started talking more often, which was nice. Better than nice. It was really wonderful.
Then on April 1st, my step mom called and told me that my dad had stopped breathing and she’d called an ambulance and the paramedics had resuscitated him and he was alive, barely, in the hospital on a ventilator and that cancer they found in his kidney at the end of March? It was also in his hip and his lungs. And he had stopped breathing because he had a staph infection in his lungs and it was not looking good. I flew to Houston right away.
My dad never went back to his house again. The only times he went outside were when he was being transferred from a hospital to a rehab and back to a hospital again. He never had another good meal (he was a total foodie), or a beer (sweet lord, did he love his beer), but he didn’t complain and was happy to get to see his family and he was so blown away by the response from all the people who loved him. He really was. He told me all the time how lucky he felt to be so loved, and he said that he shared a room for awhile with a guy who had kids in town that never even once stopped by to see him, and he felt so bad for him. I’d call him every day, a lot of times twice, and he said that his roommate’s phone never rang.
It’s been nearly three months since my dad died on the first day of summer. Almost a whole season has gone by and I am having a harder time with this now than I was then, I think. I cry in the car because I would always call him when I was driving to and from work. I cry in the shower, because, well, when I’m sad I always do for some reason. I cry when I look up at that bulletin board over my desk and see photos of him. I thought about taking it down for a little while, to give myself a break, but since I saw what cancer and infection did to him, and because the last time I hugged him and kissed him on the cheek he wasn’t alive anymore, I still need to be able to look at those happier images of him to push out the other ones. And I didn’t even walk in past the last row in the back of the chapel at the funeral viewing. [Note: DO NOT have one of those for me. PLEASE. The viewing, I mean. Funeral it up all you want, just don’t have an open casket.]
Almost a week ago, I got news that one of my friends died. When I was about 20 he was my very best friend, though we’d not seen each other much in the last ten years. I named my first kid after him, like we always joked that I would. I ran into him a few times around town over the last couple of years, and we’d hug and make plans to meet for coffee and then both flake because we were busy. I wanted him to give my boys guitar lessons, but with their insane schedules I never set it up. Cause there was always later, right? The rest of this is still too fresh to write about, apparently.
Last year, on my 40th birthday, my grandmother died. She’s the knockout on the top and bottom middle in the photo up there. We were close and I’ve been missing her lately, too. Since then, six more people either in my family or who I was really close to have died.
So, I don’t know, I guess this is the year that I deal with death, yeah? One of my responses has been to start clearing out my old things. Things like that dumb box of tarot cards I’ve held on to all these years. I took them from the box and spread them out, not to tell my fortune but to see if any of them were ones I wanted to keep. And, there was Prudence, the prettiest one and fitting, I guess, so I tacked it up on the board.
For me, getting rid of things is less about worrying about other people having to deal with all my stuff, and more about only hanging onto what’s important and by extension guiding my life toward the things that make me happiest. But, also, I don’t want to be saving too much to do later or spending too much energy saving things that are only going to end up in the garbage. Cause I think of all the time and energy that my dad put in to saving and filing every single paystub and paid bill and check register he ever put his hands on (it seems) and I wonder if he might not have made himself more time to do the things that he was saving un
til he had more time. Maybe there’s not more time.
This is for my friend Tim, who was super proud of his original Beatles Flip Your Wig Game.
You can check out some of Tim’s music here. And, yeah, that’s a much younger me in that music video for the song Hair at the bottom. Tim’s the one singing and playing guitar and breaking my heart in two.