BY CORY BENNET
On the side of his bed, in an empty licorice container like the big ones you get at Costco, were a few rings and bracelets that I never saw him wear. Loose change. BART tickets. Two knives. His sandals were on the floor next to the bed, which was made, like he planned sleeping in it that night and not hanging himself about the neck until dead. Nothing suggested that a man had taken his life a few days before. The despair or madness or vengeance that brought my father to a position that he could no longer handle was not physically manifest. I wanted it to be. Only because he was my father did his personality appear to me through the things he owned and I disliked the feeling. I did not want a reunion with him. He had been dead six days. I called my sister and sat down.
“I’m at dad’s house.”
She was quiet for a beat.
“With who, what does it look like, what are you doing there?”
“I’m with Robert, not sure I’m in the living room but normal, I couldn’t help myself. I had the key. I was at work and needed to come here. By the way, there was a coroners tag on the door, we won’t get in trouble?”
“No you’re fine. Okay, walk around and tell me what you see.”
I walked around and told her what I saw. She asked if there was any booze around and I said no. She asked if I found any drugs and I said I wish. She asked me what his clothes smelled like and I ran my hand across his t-shirts and stood in his closet. I have already forgotten what he smelled like. That is the first to go, than the voice. I don’t know what I’ll lose of them next. She asked me if his bathroom was clean. She asked what the garage was like. She asked if it was weird how many questions she had. I said no and that talking with her was comforting. We joked about his life morbidly. We laughed. We did not have to. We could have drowned ourselves with grief and self-loathing but we instead decided to take cheap shots at a man that was unable to defend himself and we relished in it.
Lindsay and I decided we wouldn’t have a funeral for our father. As next of kin, the authorities wanted us to decide what we wanted done to his body. I suggested burying him in the desert and marking the plot with a pile of stones and something ominous. I didn’t mention it until the day after he died while sitting in the backyard that I had opted out of any and all responsibility.
“Well, I’m the oldest so I just felt like I should take care of it,” said Lindsay
“You did enough last time anyways,” my mother added.
The last time was eleven years before and in that time it spread and infected another host. My stepfather Jim hung himself when I was sixteen. I found his body in the garage. I cut him down and called the ambulance. His is the voice I have forgotten. His mannerisms are dissolving as well and with it the tangible reality of his existence in relation to myself while looking back. He once said that it was going to be interesting to watch me grow up and I ask: is it?
We signed some legal documents; my sister forged my signature and gave all of our power to our aunt. We abandoned him like he us. The power we inherited and then gave away just as quickly was an odd sort of responsibility to his corpse. It felt like a complicated way to throw out the trash. No dead dad responsibility for us. No worthless corpse bureaucracy. I felt some guilt about forcing this on my aunt, but I thought myself away from it. I can think myself away from almost anything.
The day he died, we sat in my mother’s backyard and felt relief from the tension of not only my fathers’ existence but also of his inexistence. We knew this would happen and the first few days after were bizarre in a way that I enjoyed. The tension would be back, but for those first two or three days in June I had experiences of tremendous joy, a violent and surprising re-education that is pleasing in my mind.
The last contact I had with my father was hateful. He was being sentenced for violating probation and maybe in an attempt to save some of his soul, he gave me money for college. Not a week went by before he started to hit me up for a hundred here, a hundred there. They pushed his sentencing date back and back and back. I knew he was drinking the money away but I couldn’t do anything to change him. I don’t remember when or why I had enough but I lied to him and said I had spent it all on school and to please leave me the fuck alone. He told me I was ungrateful and that he would honor my request. The encounter before that though was the opposite. I met him outside his house under dark clouds. He cooked me breakfast and we watched sports. He opened his freezer and handed me an envelope. He lifted his mattress and handed me another envelope. He told me to get new wiper blades. We hugged and I told him I’d put money on his books whenever, to write and to call and I asked if he’d be alright and he shook his head and said “bid isn’t a problem” and a gesture that seemed to be sweeping something, like a child walking by a table with his arm out knocking all the shit on the table to floor.
His death produced in us a similar reaction to a cure which is in itself painful but necessary, and most importantly, finite. It is measurable. I can look back and see where the highest watermark is.
We second-guessed ourselves. Maybe having a funeral would have been healthy for us. It’s for closure and for those that loved the person to gather and to share a curetted version of the person they knew with one another. I always felt that funerals forced me, in a passive way, to be “over” the death. Burial rituals add too much weight. I prefer the soft goodbye that can last years rather than an event that tries to create 3-dimensions out of none. Our uncertainty that we had made a mistake was short lived. It was easy for my sister and I to steel our hearts when we needed too.
I searched his house for suffering. Fridge for booze and garbage cans for the same but everything was in its place. While he breathed, the only reason I forgave him was so I could tell him how shitty of a father he had been. I didn’t forgive him and never will. I wanted to hurt him. It is a disconcerting feeling to want to inflict pain on your own father. I questioned my humanity. Maybe when I was talking shit to him, I was being no better than he was when he’d verbally abuse my mother. I also thought that I could save him. I knew where he was going and maybe if I were around, he’d stay. But why would I want him to stay? Every second with him was anxiety-filled and all I wanted to do was flee his presence and forget him. Inherited from my mother, this anxiety was self-preservation. Thinking of him on his birthday, leaving his house, saying bye on the phone, these things would crush my heart.
Any suffering can be lived through if time is broken into the smallest possible fragments. Count to one. Count on no one.
The day after my father died, the day after he murdered himself, the day after he self-annihilated, I was with my friend Justin. We had been friends since kindergarten. There was a kindness within him that I felt lucky to witness. He took care of me that day and we headed for the coast. We stopped to get heavy narcotics on Pill Hill. We didn’t talk much on the drive there. We switched off somewhere in the middle of California. I chain-smoked and he slept. We stood in front of the waves in the Pacific Ocean and we let them toss us violently back to shore and there we learned how to keep our head up when the worlds whip came down savagely and unexpectedly. This became for us a ritual when tragedy struck. Embedded with every traumatic event of my life are images of the infinite ocean stretching under skies so blue it doesn’t make sense. We had been here before and we will go there again.
A hot night in June in the hills of my suburban childhood home, I smelled the jasmine my mother planted outside my window. I didn’t try to sleep that night, no dreaming of his blue corpse, his bloated stomach. I never had nightmares about finding Jim but I did dream of him often. The scenario that repeats itself in the most basic form is that he has been missing and I ask where have you been and he doesn’t understand the question. Wouldn’t it be nice if that meant he was always with me? In my heart or soul? He is not with me, neither of them are, and that is not a tragedy. They are dead, burnt up and scattered to the earth. This is the way things are, the way events around me unfolded while I stood dammed but not doomed. Avoiding sleep was easy that first night. Lying in bed and sweating on top of my sheets, I listened to the frogs near the marsh sing and focused on my rottweiler breathing, his stomach rising and falling like the waves and the rhythm mimicked the perfect parabola of a metronome.
The author lives in Northern California with a pack of junkyard dogs.