Notes on Grief II

1. I’m watching the tail end of Conspiracy Theory right now before one of our favorite shows comes on. I forget the movie for the most part, but in the last scene, Julia Roberts kneels at a freshly filled-in grave the dirt fluffy and brown. She takes off her sunglasses, revealing tears. The grave is for Mel Gibson’s character, the “obsessive New York cabbie” who falls in love with Roberts, a government worker.

1a. The camera pulls back and I think it’s Arlington Cemetery, rows and rows of military headstones. I was just about to cry for the first time about my father dying when that shot was followed by a scene with Julia Roberts riding a horse in full equestrian gear.

1b. An SUV drives up and it’s Mel Fucking Gibson. He’s still alive.

2. My father, you see, was a bit of a conspiracy theory guy. And he loved the military and was in the navy. Growing up, we had our Shit List for people who we’d get “for when the revolution comes.” We cheered on G. Gordon Liddy as he sparred with Dick Cavett. UFOs were real. The Boys from Brazil was more documentary than alternative history.

3. My aunt writes on her Facebook page, “How do you mourn someone who was a part of our lives, part of some of best laughs, part of the best people I love, and who has not been a part of our lives for so long?”

3a. I don’t know how to answer that question, but I almost cried, again, watching Julia Roberts reading the temporary grave marker from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs.

4. When my dad left our house I was 17 years old, my sister was 16. He just left.

4a. It’s a long story, but the key part is he left. You know Frank Zappa’s song “Truck Driver Divorce”? I do. I hate that song because it’s satire, because it’s true.

4b. He flew off to Tucson, where he grew up, where he started a whole other family. He had a single suitcase.

4c. It didn’t sink, not until 10 years after he left, that he’d never come back. Not even for visits. After the weddings. After the births. After the fucking chemotherapy, the deaths, graduations, phone calls, Christmas cards.

4d. There’s a difference, I believe, between leaving and desertion, between separation and abandonment.

5. When I missed my father, I missed him terribly. It was a bodily ache. I imagined hugging him, his torso and mine meeting, the squeeze that took air out of my lungs, his rough skin. My attempts, once I got tall and strong, to dead lift him, to trade punches and not flinch.

5a. We read the same books, learned the same words. Music was the place where our paths first diverged. Music and religion. And politics. But those matters are small between a father and son.

6. I promised my sister, on the first phone call at least, to go out to Arizona with her. Then it became impractical, or not necessary. He’ll be cremated, ashes scattered out at sea. Part of the Neptune Plan he had purchased.

6a. When I first heard the name, I thought it was one of the crazy fucking schemes he’d bought into when I was growing up—soy bean stock, Herbalife, Amway, concrete fucking pool tables. But Neptune is legit, apparently. He’ll be cremated, buried at sea.

6b. Something about a name on a bench somewhere in an Arizona grave yard I’ll never see.

7. I don’t mind being unsympathetic anymore. I don’t fucking care, actually. I don’t know why I’m blurting it out right now but it’s important for me to say it, to write it, to click publish. Maybe because I’ve decided not to go out with my sister to Arizona. Or some other reason I can’t put into words.

8. He’s gone. It was going to happen, but in most ways he’d gone years before. He was a ghost before he became a real one, which is what he is now. He seems, in many ways, more real to me now than before.

9. I had accepted as my lot that I would obsess over this until I arrive at what I call The Unified Theory of Everything. 

10. I went to a talk once by a professor on The Great Paradoxes. She started with “impossible objects,” illusions like the 3D cubes I’d doodle in notebooks, then moved onto mind-dependent versus naive realism, or whether we should trust what we perceive as objects in front of us.

11. Grass is green, we might say, but maybe not. All you need is to give a graduate philosophy student thirty minutes and you’ll be talked out of it. I love telling my freshmen that, that language is nothing more and nothing less than a social contract, that the desks we’re all sitting in are called “desks” because we all agree on that word and idea coinciding.

11a. It feels very much like the kinds of conversations my father had growing up, wrestling, debating, doubting, jousting, wondering.

12. The Grelling–Nelson paradox differentiates words that fit their own description or not. The word “short” is itself short; “long” is not long. This is a paradox.

12a. To describe something as “fucked-up” is kinda fucked.

12b. Then there’s the Naive Set Theory (e.g., if x (i.e., me) is a member of A (i.e., the Nester male line), then it is also said that x belongs to A, or that x is in A, or x ∈ A).

13. I know I have this wrong, but after dad left, I think I had the desire to place my father into an equation, to say he was what he was and I am what I am.

14. The moment that happened, I would crack the code of the Unified Theory of Everything, and I’d move on.

15. I know now my desire for a Unified Theory of Everything is just another conspiracy theory dolled up as logic.

16. He was what he was.

17. I’ve never moved on. And he has.


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5 responses to “Notes on Grief II

  1. RitaPHL

    This is very rich Dan. It reminds me of a Bukowski line, “I think my father made me a writer.”

  2. dana

    i am really sorry, but your dad was a dick. you just don’t leave your kids like he did… your wife maybe, but not the kids. its just not fair. be sad at the relationship you could have had with him if he hadn’t left. But that’s where it ends. It was a dick thing to do. Now, you’ll just be a better dad to your kids.

    dana d.

  3. Terry McFadden

    I’m wiping tears away… sad because you are hurting and so very sad that you, Meri and your mom were so hurt many years ago. All I can offer to you is that despite it all, you, your sister and your mom are okay. Hell, more than okay. Hold on to the good, funny and wonderful memories in the front of your heart and someday, please, find a final resting place for the hurtful and sad memories. Uncle Tom and I are so proud of the man, husband and father that you are and we will always be here for you. Love you lots, Aunt Terry

  4. Much of what you’ve written here has given me food for thought, Dan. Perhaps when there is separation from a parent due to divorce (at one point I didn’t see my mother for 17 years although we did talk from time to time) and that parent is far away with a new life, that new life is such an unknown to the child that there grows a mystery and a longing to know what isn’t able to be known about this person anymore who had such an impact on our lives. Perhaps the parent has shed skin in adjusting to the separation themselves and somehow compartmentalizes their life into what was their “other” life and now their “new” life. The child doesn’t want to disturb the parent perhaps (afraid of creating more separation) so much is left unsaid and unknown. When the parent dies, all the unknowing turns perhaps finally into maybe more of an acceptance, finally, of that parent as a person. It doesn’t remove the pain and the hurt, it just allows for another knowing, maybe finally a new knowing. It is sad that it’s death that finally brings this understanding.

  5. Chrissy

    You forgot the chichella (??spelling) farm…… my sorry need to make you laugh

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