I ate a really gross pizza with pineapple chunks on top and slept in a hotel the night I lost you. I would later tell my therapist this, and she’d respond, in her breathy-almost Marilyn Monroe-esque voice.
“It’s interesting the things that stick out to us when we are coping with trauma. You might not have even remembered the pineapple in other circumstances,” she’d whisper.
“No, I would still remember. It was disgusting.”
She always spoke in such hushed tones, like maybe someone could be watching. I didn’t like this about her. It made me uneasy. I thought maybe the room was bugged, and my dreams about elephants crushing my skull, or that time in kindergarten I punched someone for saying I was stupid would soon be archived in vague, classified government files. I’m not sure what this information could really provide anyone, other than a little reassurance that there’s someone out there more messed up than they are.
“I’m not going to cry,” I said, reclining back in her blue suede couch after she pushed a box of tissues towards me. It seemed like a weird choice of furniture for a therapist to have. It was almost gaudy, like something Hugh Hefner would hoist himself on, a perverted old voyeur watching Thing 1 and Thing 2 dance or giggle, or whatever it is they do in the Playboy Mansion.
“Crying is a very natural thing that we all do, Ari.” she’d whisper, again. It was one of those, “well, yeah, duh” moments that had I not been concerned with her liking me, I might have actually vocalized. I was still very aware of what she thought of me. I wanted her to like me. Yeah, constantly needing validation, good thing I was in therapy, right?
I didn’t want to talk about you for a really long time. And I didn’t. I read old emails and journals Mom kept, and she spoke about me with such concern. I think she was really afraid she was losing me. I was 16, and disconnecting from everything. I think I did that to survive. I had to. I barely remember your memorial service.
I was just trying to stay afloat. Isn’t that what happens? That’s how people are able to survive the craziest trauma? They become numb from shock. It was like having my goddamn arm pulled off. You were my arm, Dad. I wasn’t ready to get by missing a piece of me.
If I wasn’t going to talk about it with Mom, she thought at least I could have someone. Enter Susan, my therapist, the whisperer. I still didn’t want to talk, but I was there, so what else were we going to do?
Susan asked about the night you died. So, I told her. The pizza. The escape I was granted when family friends rented a hotel room for the night so I could have a decent sleep. I hadn’t slept properly the past 8 weeks. My eyes had permanent dark circles under them and classmates who didn’t know better probably thought I was on drugs. I would fall asleep in class, drag my near-lifeless body down the hallways, dodging looks from kids who understood what was happening. I knew you were dying, but I guess I didn’t really feel alive either.
The cancer had invaded everywhere, and you started Hospice. You were in and out of moments of clarity. Once, you called out, “Mama.” You kept saying it, garbled. Nana had been dead for so many years, but I didn’t know what else to do. I held your hand, tried not to cry, and said softly, “Mama is here.” This seemed to settle you. You closed your eyes, and drifted in and out of sleep. I sat by your side, alert. I was ready to be whatever you needed.
But my body was starting to fall apart if I didn’t get some rest. Mom’s friend came into town to help us, and I spent the night in a hotel 5 miles away. It was the first full night of sleep I had. But at 5 am, I heard the phone ring. And Dad, I have to tell you, I’ve never hated a sound so much. I have never wanted to ignore a call more. Because I knew. I fucking knew.
Susan asked if I ever wrote about you. I said no. Because at the time, I didn’t. I stopped writing for a really long time. I didn’t want to do anything that required too much thinking. Thinking meant thinking about you, and that hurt too much. I told my boyfriend at the time all creativity died with you.
Pretty foolish, huh? I see that now. I know you are with me in everything I do. Everything I write. You taught me about poetry. Remember when we had reader’s theater? You’d crawl into my bed, and with my head on your chest, we’d take turns reading books out loud. I miss that. And I miss you, but I know I have you here with me.
I see you in pizza with pineapple, in therapy offices, in silly jokes I make that nobody else laughs at (but I know you would). I see you everywhere. And now that I realize this, I will never stop talking about you. You’re everything I do, Dad.