With traveling back from Morocco to New York and than to Massachusetts for the graduation and back to New York only to travel to California and back to New York again, it feels long and I am tired. So tired, but not in the usual experience. I might get a night’s sleep or just a few hours but with both I wake each day at 7am. Odd that I don’t feel tired although I do find myself instantly sleeping whenever a moment invites it, to which I instantly wake again. Instantly falling asleep even before the plane leaves the ground, even as they are demonstrating strategies of surviving death, even as I close my eyes for a thought. Falling in and out of consciousness for days has left me with so many dreams. Thoughts become dreams and letters compose themselves in half waking full on drunkenness. So tired yet so quickly awake with transitions blurred in between like they never have been before. There is no preparing for sleep and no moments for waking. I am running on full but tired and when I stop perhaps the exhaustion will hit but for the moment, I am well.
I’ve never experienced a funeral before. Especially not when it’s your own. And here was ours, our family’s funeral and I wasn’t there. Like I always wanted to be…gone. So I listen to the funeral recording that mom gave me. I hear Bryan somewhere in the chapel crowd, not fully understanding what we are doing there. I tell myself that I should have been there to read the eulogy, to speak for Angie like she needed me to. I should have been there… Here this small gathering of the seven of us and a few more, no more than that, was the collective that came for him.
He’s been dying for so long but still it doesn’t click. So even though I asked my momma coldly, “What! Is he dead?” I never expected her to say, “Yes.” Yes, it was my question but I didn’t mean it. It wasn’t what I meant to ask at all. I worried about their silence. I worried about him. I wanted to know what comfort I would have in her house. Would I be cramped in a small space with him in his smelly skin and way too big clothes that used to fit his towering figure, but now just draped over his frame. I wanted to ask if he was alright. I wanted to ask, “How is dad?” I wanted to ask but…how can we accept the compassion. I wanted to take back what is now replaying—me asking and her stuttering, “He’s not with Uncle Ed any more…he’s…he’s…he’s, ahh (pause)…ahh, he’s…” “What! Is he dead?” Looking at me she hesitates and quietly says, “Yes.”
I remember him but it’s hard with the gap of recent memories from age 16 until now. I remember him though well from the Christmas before I left for Morocco. It was the first time we were kind to each other since I was nine. He smiled at me a lot, watched me closely as I opened gifts, and acted as if he could provide for me. He couldn’t move very fast so everything he did looked thoughtful. He smiled at me a lot and I let him. I didn’t turn away. I even looked back. I kept his gaze.
I worried that he was too small even as he still wanted to cook for us. Omelets and tomato rice, and Mexican eggnog…no body cooked better because no man will cook like that for me again. That was him. And that was me. Angry like background noise but for all of my noise, I loved him.
Mom gives me a tape of the funeral where they play a song that says, “Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be. There will be an answer. Let it be.” Listening to the tape and listening to my brother speak it was painful to know that I never really knew my dad. I don’t believe I really knew him. In many ways I can barely remember him now. As he was when I was little. Perhaps it’s because I tried not to see him but when I did finally look he had changed. I know that he made me laugh but I can’t remember how he did it. He was so sick for so long and so weary that it’s hard to remember what it was like in the years before, in the years when I was still home. Those little ghost memories of his gestures, those corny repetitious gestures that he did all the time that made me laugh. I remember him charming and disarming. Making himself the seed for our joy. I tried to emulate him but failed. Where he looked charming I looked foolish. Trying to imitate him and realizing how impossible this was as his sexuality and his person was written all over it—complicated and infused with so many wishes and desires for us. He made it look easy but it wasn’t at all, that way of walking into a hostile room and smiling. The way he would roll his hands around like pom-poms and sing something stupid that made everything laugh. I thought he did it just because, just because he was a fool, but he did it, all of those dangerous silly things that put him at risk of our mockery, because he loved our happiness. Despite our anger he could charm us out of hate by letting us believe we weren’t the ones that were crazy. Stepping up to possible humiliation he was full of something…strange and unlike me.
We’re a family, as David would say, that is full of it. We can tell a good story but he unlike anyone could out do any of us. Of the storytellers in the family, he was by far the best, keeping any mundane event down to a legacy. Falling on trucks, throwing dough into hats, filling water jugs, tricking, fibbing, lying, words he spoke that made us smile against our wills. And when it came to our family, I’ve always counted the others and said that if they weren’t here we wouldn’t be the same. David brings beauty. Windy comfort. Faithy satire. Tina gossip. Angie wisdom. Marie reflection, but daddi…I never knew that he was the life. I never knew he was the sustenance of the family. The cook and the refuge from our mother, the lightness even though he brought the darkness too. I never knew that he meant anything to me. But he loved me. Driving me miles to weaving classes. Weaving classes! Useless stupid weaving classes. I thought nothing of it. Thought he was the norm until I found normalcy and realized he was exceptional. Genuinely unselfish. Curious and trying hard to be better than himself. Allowing us to be better than him.
With his hand coming across my face, I remember being ten and defying him. I hated him. It took so long for me to love him. Years spent hating him and years more after fighting guilt for loving him. I cannot condemn him any longer. I could no longer be his judge, jury, and guard. And this is what I told you Abdelilah coming back from the dunes. It’s strange that I spoke about him then for the first time in years. Strange too that I didn’t let anyone go away believing in me. Believing that I was right. I sat with you Abdelilah and I spoke about him. I told you my struggle and I told you my name. My name that I have fought with and fought over and finally now held as mine. You said my name was beautiful, but for so long I thought that if I could just erase it he would go away too, even though now I didn’t want him to. You let it be. You didn’t ask me to justify my peace with him. You let me be and you let me cry for the years. So on our way back home you let my father appear redressed. And allowed me to be at peace with not blaming someone. Not myself not him not my mother not anyone…and as I wrote to you on a note I passed on that day, ‘There’s nothing to fear, there’s too much to love.’
Two days later he died thousands of miles from me. My only comfort was that as my life was turning from seeing the edges of the sun, I thought of him and he was with me, and we found peace. After such silence I spoke. I wish I could have been there with him as he left but I was here with you seeing the sun rise over the dunes with his name on my lips when I should have forgotten him. My father who I wear on my neck. I chew in my teeth. I love you.