So my father went to Austin over the weekend, along with my brother and sister in law, to attend some Formula One thing. I know my mother desperately wanted to do that, but my father said he wasn’t willing to fly (due to his stroke a few years back). Well, he went, and I kept my feelings to myself.
“That’s good,” I said. “Sounds like an adventure.” I did not say, “Are you fucking kidding me, Dad? Mom would be so pissed if she knew you waited until after she died to get on a plane. I mean really pissed. She begged you to take a trip while she was on her chemo break. She called me in tears.”
Didn’t say it. Thought it. Hard. Then let it float away, because that’s what I do now whenever I get angry with my dad. We moved on to other topics.
The On The Road movie. What he thought of it. Good performances. I agreed. Somehow we started talking about Kerouac. He never read the book, so I filled him in on some stuff. I shared more details about Kerouac’s life. How he was older than the others, shy really, more of an observer than anything else. How he seemed to struggle with being Jack Kerouac, this larger than life character, when he was, at heart, an insecure mama’s boy. Then we moved on to Hunter Thompson. Really, I did, this particular conversation being one of the few between us in which I had the upper hand, knowledge-wise. How Hunter, too, couldn’t live up to his own hype. How the frail man my husband casually met at a diner one day was nothing like his gonzo persona. How I could see why he would off himself, knowing in his heart that his most artistic days were behind him, that his public image was no longer convincing, which left nothing but a personal life that probably involved one too many regrets. How I could see, with so many guns in the house, how one might… you know. Then my dad mentioned something about how some people choose to put a bag over their head in the bathtub…
He was talking about his sister.
“Is that how she did it? I thought she took a bunch of pills.”
“Well, pills, yeah, but the bag too,” he said.
And I kept right on going, because… um… I let things float, float away these days. Anyway, he went to Texas, and I stopped by once to check on his cats, though he told me not to bother. The house gets stranger with each visit. I can’t believe it was ever my house. I’ve rented my whole adult life, so it’s the only real house I’ve ever known, but it still doesn’t feel like it. Even in my father’s absence, I felt unwelcome.
I opened some photo albums to see all the old familiar faces. My grandmother’s Miss America photos. My mother’s Miss Something-or-other photos. Bicentennial photos, airshow photos, lots of bell bottoms and tight tee shirts. A marijuana plant that my parents must have been very proud of. Someone’s old dog. Bad eyeglasses, floppy hats… If all old photos are embarrassing, do we ever really look good? I mean me. My mom and grandmother still look good wearing sashes, faces glowing even in black and white.
It was good to see everyone again, at least for a few minutes, and then I carefully replaced the albums and took great pains to make sure everything was as I’d found it. To leave anything unsettled or amiss, to inadvertently leave a blade of grass or piece of gravel behind, would have been unforgivable and grounds for permanent banning.
Half the people I love are gone. It’s weird to think I’m the only one remembering so much of my past. Times with my grandparents, great-grandmother and mom. I can’t verify any details with anybody. I’m the only one looking back and smiling. It feels odd, like pleasant memories of an ex-boyfriend who dumped you that make you feel good for just a moment and lonely after that. If the other person isn’t remembering you fondly, it feels a little false. How much of it was real? Did they think about all those times, too, or were they always one-sided? Were they more to me than I was to them? Without any response from them, I grow more insecure.