My father, the mad man.

Crazy

“Schizophrenia with paranoid delusions.” The lady doctor drops the diagnosis, her features pinched with that «I’m sorry to tell you» mouth. My father takes my hand with his long and dirty nails. He squeezes hard. Me too. I am thirty years old, he’s fifty. We both realize that, now, I have to be there for a father who abandoned me.

Very young, it was over with my mother, but he came by. Handsome, so tall and charismatic. He would belt out a folk song strumming his guitar, sitting on my tiny chair, his velvet flares worn at the knees. Then, one day, he didn’t come back.

So I sublimated.  My dad was a famous Irish singer, with his touch of auburn hair, his proud forehead and that arched nose cutting the air as he sailed for glory and adventure. I waited to be of age and of strength to go ring at his door. He opened, as handsome as I remembered.

I enter his apartment. It’s dark, it’s dirty, it stinks. My father is breathing hard and sweating profusely, his eyes wild. Discomfort comes and plays Twister with my gut and my stomach. The stranger in front of me is amazed of how we look alike, how well I speak English. He then tells me things that I recognize as lies, fabrications. I share a coffee in a dubious cup, synthesizing my 15 years without him. I give him a picture of me and promise to come see him again. Once on the pavement, my heart beats punctuate my disappointment. Mad. My father is mad.

We try to bond, awkwardly. But I’m damaged and aloof. He is flayed and fearful. It makes for vertigo ridden conversations. He is mainly a recluse, having pushed away family and friends. I sense that I am all he has and my instinct sounds the alarm. I move away from the drowning man. To save my life, cowardly.

He calls sometimes, wishes I would visit more often. Elusive, I make excuses. I forsake the one who has left me. Until the day I receive a visit from the police. My father ran almost naked in a park, prey to obvious distress. I’m not surprised, but riddled by painful guilt.

They put him under medication, under psychological counselling and under my care.  I’m with him to appointments and I look after him, but keep my distance. I offer many fudge-sicles under the sun, trying to cheer him up, but his life is dark. He feels overwhelmed and so do I.

From time to time, the hospital phones to tell me that he has had a fit, was picked up, and placed in the psychiatric ward for a few days. I bring him clean underwear, socks, Ferrero Rocher. I’m so sad for him; I believe that there is nothing to do, that he is broken beyond repair.

One January evening, six years after his forced return into my life, I get a call. Am I my father’s daughter? Yes, I answer, what has he done now? They inform me that he is dead.

My dad … Mon papa … Me Da … I am both relieved and shattered. Relieved to announce to his family, I barely knew, that he passed from a heart attack, standing in the street, rather than by hanging himself in despair. Relieved that his suffering is finally over. And relieved to no longer be responsible of the insane.

The next day, I get to his apartment before his sister and brothers arrive.  The place is disgusting, I’m used to it, but without him in it, it’s worse. I take a good look, as I never really dared before: The blankets nailed to windows because the light prevented him from sleeping. The walls covered with fabric and cardboard boxes to muffle the sounds of “neighbors” who were talking all the time and too loudly. The whatever picked up in the trash and now trinkets. The garbage bags stapled to the floor because it was raining all night in his head. And in a corner: a child’s sled … My soul squeezes and my heart falters.

He had recovered it for my boy. He wanted to take him tobogganing on the Mont-Royal near his place. I always found a reason for my son and my dad to not see each other too often or too long. My father did not get to play with my son. And the shame of him became the shame of me.  The remorse still gnaws at me to this day, overwhelms me whole.

The small sled leaning on the dirt and residues screams the horror and tragedy of the situation and I crack. I collapse on the Glad trash bags. I weep for failing another human being. My father did not die of his mental illness. He died of the isolation that it brings. He died of a real tenderness deficiency, a lack of hugs, soft words of encouragements and love. His friends and relatives have neglected him because they were powerless in the face of madness.

I wish he didn’t let go of my hand when I was little. I wish I didn’t let go, later on. I should have gotten help to cope instead of managing alone. Now, I’m left with only regret and sorrow.

I cleaned the grime and sorted his possessions for days. I kept some of his paintings, his guitars, his journals, his baby shoe cast in bronze, an old baseball and some of his ashes. And I often re-read the last few sentences left on his old typewriter, just to remember his essence, the texture of his spleen, the smell of his ailing.

«Hanging on by the very skin of my teeth

Winter is coming. I should visit my mother. Maybe next week.

I’m making job appointments, not keeping ’em.

A new wrinkle in my life.

My Place is imperfection, always a dangerous time.

I’m hearing voices and noises from my neighbors.

The knives are sharp and the gun is loaded.

We will see if my landlord fixed my thermostat.

At least, my typewriter works.

The music starts to get peaceful.

I must rethink Many Things.

I have a virgin canvas and must find a way to break down and write a song.

I am so old, the World Has Changed Beond recocgnition

And my spelling sucks …»

 

May you rest in peace, me Da, and May I find a way to live in peace.

 

 

 

 

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Time to feel the moist.

HeatWave

It’s time for hot steamy weather. Time for damp washcloths on the nape of necks and makeshift fans. Time for sighs, moans and groans. Time for heat wave nights where we spread ourselves, making angels on top of our sheets. It’s sticky, sweaty and the streets are filled with screams.

Yes, it’s time to speak loudly outside. To swirl the scorching smog with our suddenly erectile bodies. Time to buy a small cotton dress and cherry red lipstick. Time to seek the patios, the men and the cold pitchers of beer.

This is the time for picnics with family and friends. In freshly mowed parks, Frisbees are thrown to the unleashed dogs and fines are given by pigs. It’s time to air the guitar and ventilate the lungs. It’s full of joy and laughter and barbecue smells.

It’s time for Monet greens and Van Gogh blues. The time for happy luminosity, that feels great sunshine. It’s time to throw our heads back and offer our throats to the God Ra. It’s time for butterflies, time for petals.

It’s vacation time. Time to become impatient at the border, to get angry at the children in the back. This is the time for mileage and spending.  It’s picture time and pee-pee time and time off and for the last time leave your sister alone.

This is the time of amplified sounds. Time for cicadas and flip-flops. Chirping and screeching and wailing. Yellow helmets whistle girls, white gloves whistle cars. It’s mower, woodpecker and jackhammer time.

It’s time to sweat. Salty pearls that mustache the lips and calcium the armpits. Hairs curl, computers overheat and menopauses swelter. It smells of musk, spice, feet and ass.

This is the time for celebrations, fireworks and pyre. Piñatas, raffles and the gay chatter of toddlers. It’s time to honour the flags and kiss the brides. Honk the soccer goals, bargain the garage sales and crowd the festivals.

It’s time to go to the countryside. Pitch tents, pick raspberries and gather lantern flies. It’s time to scratch the bites and cream the peeling skin. It’s time to hike, kayak and twirl at the end of a rope to plunge into a lake, naked.

This is the time for passion. Humid souls that mate until the wee hours. Couples who howl at each other in front of the disco. This is the time of engorged moons. It’s time for evil forces and feverish crimes.

It’s time for the splitting of the skies. The fresh cooling wind created by a tropical silver shower. It’s time to sprint, to take shelter, to get into a wet t-shirt contest. It rumbles, it flashes, it suddenly pisses down hard and good.

This is the time so longed for. It’s time to revel in it. Because, not tomorrow, but soon, it will be the return of the dark times, the return of the somber times. The windows that we have to close and the woolly clothes.  With all the shudders and the chills of yet another of our proverbial winter.

Handle with care.

Fragile

We’re at the dawn of a new home. Let’s go. We’re ready to box it off, we’re on the move, let’s bubble wrap this up.

We magic mark “kitchen” on the cardboard. We roll dishcloths around utensils that bear the effects of time and turmeric. We have nothing to cook with. We left the old pots and pans to the son and it’s the ex that had the “top of the line” in stainless. We’ll have to get equipped. We’re a middle aged woman that has to pheonix herself. How cliché.

Our books bust the loosely bonded bottom of the bin. We alternate with stockings and panties to make it lighter. Madame Bovary is alongside Zarathustra eyeing Marilyn. We have way too many books on the pill poppin’ pin up. Paul Auster seems to judge us. Come on, Paul! Come join Anaïs Nin she’ll show you a good time.

Our unclassified paperwork crumples against the tax returns of recent years. Each receipt and invoice proves a certain irresponsibility with money. It’s not that true, would reassure our mom. It is rather quite true, would rectify our accountant. We empty the lot in one swift motion. We’ll get office organized in our new life. But it is to be feared that clutter will follow us until death.

We make the mistake of flipping through an old photo albums. Smiles with missing teeth and protruding ears. Memories of the deceased, places now dynamited, loves before tears. Pictures of our child, rosy cheeks, arms extended towards its reason to live: us. Our baby … The desire of a sob tickles the nose. Quick, we close the flap before nostalgia compresses our throat with its ruthless hands.

We stack video games on the console for future moments of nothing at all. We hesitate with the old DVD’s. We never watch them, anymore. We’re surprised how little music we own. It was always the others who decided of our soundtrack. In our new nest, we will choose to tap our feet to the beat of our own drum.

We persist on bringing clothes that fitted ages ago or never did. We throw in the granny jacket with the whory skirt. A row of pearl offered for our wedding strangles a dusty garter belt. Swarovski crystals sparkle between oils and useless creams. We’re huddling the fuck-me shoes and the sneakers, the blue jeans and the little black dresses.

We’re piling frames that have been around for too long and no longer mean anything to us. Sheets of newspapers on useless trinkets, an old typewriter, a baby shoe of one of our fathers, some of both their ashes, a mold of the fist of our newborn boy, our coat of arms, a Capodimonte, some stuff, some junk, some knicks and some knacks.

There. Our whole existence reduced to a cardboard tower at the center of the room. A slight melancholy sigh at the edge of our lashes. We have to drink …

Let us work on a hangover. Yes. Let’s get numb.

But the wallet remains unfound. Not in the bags, not in the pockets or between the cushions of the couch. Where can it…? We glance at the stack of beige cubes circled with tape.

And then begins the cursing of the saints, an X-Acto knife in hand…