Specter of Death

1782 days

Charles Dempsey

It has been 1782 days since a person I barely new died.

I read a blog post this morning that said, “Welcome to the Dead Dad’s club.” It said something about someday, we all become members. I thought, flippantly, “Hah, not me.”

Each passing day I think more and more about how my actions, thoughts, and more importantly, words, can affect the lives of those I know. There are countless imaginary conversations in my head that keep me from talking to people I know, because the conversations themselves would hurt them. They start off accusatory, as though I alone in this world have the right to wield the sword of truth, and they almost always end with me feeling terrible.

And it was all in my head.

I was at home the day my father died. It was a Sunday morning, and I rolled over in my bed, noticed how sunny it was outside, and I grabbed my phone.

One missed call: Carol Cordrey

“Huh. I guess he’s dead.”

I rolled out of bed, slumped in my chair, kicked my feet up and dialed the number. I have no idea what I said. I have no idea what my mother said. The conversation was short. I then stared at the wall for a minute, and at 10:55AM, I posted to Facebook.

Today is a day for distracting myself. Uhg.

Two hours later, at 12:54PM, I posted this:

Distracting myself has not been going well. x.x

I had no idea what to do with my hands. I had no idea what to do with my brain. I was alone, I didn’t have anyone I felt comfortable talking to about this particular problem. How do you talk about the death of someone who, at once should be one of the most important people in your life, and yet was nothing more than a name bandied about in passing?

When I was a kid, I got mad at my sister once. We were in a restaurant in Texas together with my mother. We’d played several games of solitaire on those truck stop arcade cabinets that suck up your money one small dollar at a time. I think I’d played 8 games in a row because someone else had left money on the machine. It was Vegas style – more points per play, but you only got to go through the deck once, and it was 3 cards at a time. Not very easy to win.

I don’t remember what we were fighting about. Something stupid that young kids fight about, I’m sure. Mom had made a joke in passing about our father showing up and sitting down to eat with us, (so we were probably in Corpus Christi) and i said something stupid like, “I’d just get up and walk out to the truck.” Shortly after that, I pissed Sandra off and she said something hurtful to me: “You know, we’re not really related. You were Freddy’s kid.” I got mad, ran away from her, and then got in trouble because I hadn’t stayed with my sister, and they didn’t know where I’d gone.

Freddy was my mother’s husband. Not that I knew him. I had a vague memory of him laughing when I burned myself on a cigarette as a kid. My mother, when I talk about that story now, says, “You knew better than to be anywhere near that car.” I was between 9 months and 2 years old. I clearly had a firm grasp of cognitive reasoning and the action/consequence pattern of life. No wonder all my high school teachers thought I was brilliant, but lazy.

Growing up, I’d heard all kinds of terrible stories about Freddy. How he used to hit mom, do drugs, was a general asshole. The works. So of course I didn’t like the idea of being his. Irony that, given between the two, I would have rather belonged to the long absentee father that I wouldn’t even sit down to lunch with rather than the guy I had vague memories of. When I tried to explain to Mom what Sandra had said, (holding it up like a shield that would deflect the arrow of punishment I could feel coming,) my mother said that I knew better, so it wasn’t an excuse.

I brush people off with the same logic anymore; if it’s obvious to me, it should be obvious to you and the way you feel about it doesn’t matter. I’ve noticed that, and I’m trying to work on it. But it isn’t easy.

I started working on the gif you see above at 10:55AM. Although, at the time, it was a short video. I’d been spending time making videos, and this seemed to be the best way to handle my inability to focus on anything. There are only so many ways I know to handle situations, and one of them is to dive into some kind of work, and just block out the rest of the world. So that’s what I did.

But it didn’t help. I posted it to Facebook at 12:54PM, and then sat there staring at it over, and over, and over again. The mournful, sad music filling my bedroom. I felt alone. I was alone, but I felt very alone that day. It didn’t make sense to me how someone who was never a part of my life, who I’d just recently met, could have any impact on my life. Let alone one as debilitating as this one was.

People tell you to write what you know. That way, your work has heart, genuine feeling, and depth. I think they view words as an ethereal scalpel, ready to slowly slip between the meaty pieces of your soul and filet them so they are exposed to the air. Or maybe it’s just a way to try and help you work through something, and the catharsis of pouring out the words you keep jumbled in your head is supposed to make you feel better.

This is not the first time I’ve written about death. This is not the first time I’ve written about my father’s death. I do not feel any better about death, or the death of my father. My great grandmother’s death still stings when I think about it. Just writing that sentence brought a tear to my left eye, and spawned off a thought about my grandmother’s death in 2006. To commemorate her life, my aunt, her kids, and my uncle light paper lanterns and release them into the sky. I hope to be there when they do so next year. I’d like to honor her memory in some way.

I don’t remember the rest of the day after uploading the video. I know I talked with my friend Pat, I know I talked with my mother and sister. I found some solace, (or maybe kinship) in this XKCD comic because I posted about it on Facebook.

I remember one conversation on Monday, more for what I said than anything special. I was talking to my bosses, Jeff Watler and Steve Miller. I was trying to explain to them that I was okay, but not okay. I was doing a very poor job of it, too. A single phrase rolled off my tongue, and I wanted to take it back, because it was a lie, but nobody would understand why.

“I’m doing alright. But, I mean, it was my Dad, you know?”

So I did my job, and I went home, and I just stumbled through the next week in a stupor. I got through it, though I’m not sure if I ever really processed it. I remember focusing an inordinate amount of time on the word “Dad”, because Chuck certainly wasn’t a “Dad” to me. My brother-in-law Luke? He’s a “Dad”. My uncle Bill? He’s a “Dad”. My grandfather? Closest thing to a “Dad” I’ll ever have. But Chuck never earned a title like that.

For years before my sister found him, I was mad. Inordinately mad. The idea that I had a father that wasn’t part of my life was fury-inducing at times. But after Sandra contacted him, it just… vanished. Overnight. I had my pride to hide behind, which kept my fear safely and securely hidden. The fear was baseless – I would be less of myself if I admitted that I wanted to get to know him. So I contacted him, and I was arrogant and rude. A real dick, to be honest. We spoke briefly via e-mail a couple of times, and then he was gone, and I realized I’d lost any chance of getting to know him.

That’s where my sadness came from. But I wanted anger and rage. I wanted to feel the power of breaking something with my bare hands. I wanted to put up a wall full of fire so thick that trying to get near me would burn everything to the ground before it could touch me. I was a raw nerve, and I wanted to snap. But I couldn’t. The spark wasn’t there, or maybe the fuel was bad. People live, and people die, and you can only accept it and move on.

I think, maybe, I got my membership card to the “Dead Dad Club” really early in life, and found out later that the guy it was supposed to represent actually died 25 years later.

It’ll be the 5 year anniversary of his death in 45 days. I’ll probably forget about it before then. I remember his death less often than my Grandmother’s, or my Great Grandmother’s. And compared to those two amazing women, I’ve given him enough of my time today.

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