I heard a muffled cough, a clearing of the throat, my father getting up, about to start his morning routine. Softly closing the door to let my mother sleep, padding down to the garage to do his stretches before going on his morning jog---my mother would tell me that ever since I had told him he should always stretch before and after jogging, he had done so religiously.
For a moment I felt utterly content and secure, knowing that I would walk down the hall and see fresh flowers on the table, either cut from his own rose bushes, or picked up at the store on the way back from his jog.
I smiled to think of the routine I knew so well, and then I heard it again, the coughing. I opened my eyes, not to my childhood room, not to my father’s soft footfalls. It was my house mate in the next room, this room was miles away from my childhood home, and my father almost seven years gone.
It was a cruel trick of sense and memory.
For the first year or so after my father’s death, I dreamt of him almost nightly. Eventually the dreams subsided, but I still have the occasional bout with them. It is always the same. It is some strange mistake and I haven’t lost him, merely…misplaced him, almost as one would an earring or a pen. He’s on a trip somewhere or an errand and I catch brief glimpses of him, sometimes even catch up to him for brief conversations, and then the search is on again. The settings change. Sometimes it’s Colombia, sometimes Myrtle Creek, sometimes places I don’t recognize, but always there is the searching and the feeling that this is all just an elaborate pernicious prank.
I’m not much for regrets. That rare regretful moment I might have is usually fleeting. I figure once I make a choice, I’ve made it, and that path will lead me to my lessons, even if it is by a more circuitous route. Lately however, I’ve had the nagging doubt.
Would I be having these dreams if I had gone with my mother to the funeral home to see the body?
I had scoffed at the idea then, and wondered why she would torture herself with the sight of a lifeless shell, a likeness which was no more “him” than any of his pictures hanging on the wall.
Of course, I went to the farce that was his funeral. It was a Catholic mass. The priest wore white sneakers under his robes, like he’d just popped in on his way to an evening jog. He stood before my mother as she sat in the front row and went on at length and in great detail about how horrible it was to watch a loved one gasping for breath and desperately clinging to life, watching a loved one suffer for weeks on end. He then told personal anecdotes of the agony of watching his loved ones struggling for breath and desperately clinging to life and suffering for weeks on end.
Those wacky Catholics have a strange notion of comfort.
After I returned to Portland, I still felt no sense of closure and I asked my dear friends, Jen and Keith, to give him a send-off, Dahlia style. It may be the one and only time the band began, rather than ended, a show with their haunting didjeridoo/vocal improv, and that night it was dedicated to him.
Some time later, the family–– my mom, my brothers and a couple of our respective significant others–– met to scatter his ashes. The two stepsisters had gone from pledging undying fraternal affection over our father’s deathbed, to battling us for parts of the estate before the body was even cold. They declined to join us, but the rest of us drove to a lovely spot, where he had first wooed my mother. It is a beautiful lazy little creek where I once caught turtles and chased frogs, while he whispered sweet nothings to her under the shade of the myrtle trees.
The last time I saw my father in any physical form, he was a twisty-tied baggie stored inside an exorbitantly over-priced wooden box. It may have been particle board. I think we had to pour lighter fluid on the thing to finally get it to burn.
These days I’m left to reconcile the contradictions--- being aware of a realm beyond the physical, and having been raised in a culture which only acknowledges that which can be proved, measured, or perceived in a “tangible” way.
I often sense peoples’ energy in a way that is much more real to me than their external trappings, but it’s just that--- energy. At times that energy can be so strong that I can feel somebody’s presence long before they enter the room, sometimes even if they never physically do.
And yet, thanks to cultural indoctrination, people don’t really become solid or “real” to me unless I have actual contact with them.
I have been aware of my father’s presence since his death. When I find myself in a situation where I would normally turn to him for advice or comfort, I often have odd experiences, mostly involving hummingbirds, for which he had particular affinity.
The last encounter, however, involved a small figurine, presumed lost for six years. I had been living in my new home for several weeks and I was out on my porch telling a friend that I was leaning toward attempting a monogomaous relationship with the guy from “The Talk”.
A man started walking toward me from my old building across the street, saying he had found this figurine in my old apartment and thought it might have sentimental value for me. My eyes welled up. I had been crushed when I lost it 6 years ago, as it had very strong associations with my father.
It was the last bit of encouragement I needed to give that relationship an honest go.
(By the way, Papi, I have a bone to pick with you regarding that last bit of advice…)
So I am left to ponder…would I still have these dreams? But it is an exercise in futility, the product of stress, disrupted sleeping patterns and impending holidays. Who knows? There are cultures that see no separation at all between what we call waking reality and dreamtime, rather seeing them as two manifestations of the same thing.
Right now I would settle for some sleepy-time.