Three pieces about loss following the death of The Man I Called "Dad."
The nightmares began the day my father died. Harrowing, torturous things which come to me as soon as my eyes find sleep and leave my body contorted and struggling to wake. Sometimes they toss me around and leave me fighting all night and at other times I manage to pull myself from their grip almost before they begin. But they do always begin, and it's been so long now that it feels like they've been plaguing me forever.
The dreams are always different and the dreams are always the same: My father, dying, stretching out for me and pleading for help. Sometimes he is in a hospital gown in a hospital bed. The bed is in a room and the room is white. It is all that exists in the universe. There are no windows, but it is dark outside. You can feel it, an infinity of black nothingness stretching out into forever. We are deep into dreamscope.
I am standing either just inside or just outside of that room. I have a profile view of my father from the left. He is on his back, slightly propped up in the bed. A sheet covers his body up to his neck. He looks smaller than I remember, weaker. He looks dead. His face is drained of all tones but grey. Over to his right is a machine. A calm green ripple runs across its screen. It's the only real colour in the room. My father opens his eyes. The skin around his cheekbones stretches a little tighter. Without moving his head he shifts his eyes across so that they are looking at me. Like that he speaks, his mouth talking to the space above his chest. He always starts by using my name. His voice is normal but quivers with fear.
“Shane, is that you? Shane???”
“I'm here Dad,” I say. He becomes agitated. Not at my presence but because someone is there and not ignoring him.
“Shane, where's the doctors? Shane, why are there no doctors? Shane, it hurts. I think this is it. I can't believe it. Two hours ago I was fine and now I'm dying. Death's here. Shane, this is it. Shane, do I look bad. Shaaane?”
By now his upper body is uncovered. His face is stained in hard and ugly ways as he tries in desperation to reach an arm out towards me. He looks like an old religious painting. His eyes are straining so far in the corners to keep fixed on me that they're almost looking back in on themselves. He starts saying my name over and over....
“Shane... Shane.... Shane. Shane, I'm dying. Can't you do anything? Can no-one do anything? Shane, it hurts. I'm hurting. Living hurts.”
I want to tell him he'll be OK but it seems useless to say that, and I don't want to admit nothing can be done because that seems even more hopeless. And so I say nothing. I stand there and I want to run. He is reaching out to me with ever more desperation. I'm not sure if he wants help or human contact. Whatever, it scares me. I want to cry and I don't want to cry. I need to cry. But I don't cry. He's never seen me cry and to see my tears now will only terrify him further. I want to tell him I love him and have always loved him and that HE is my father, but I know if I tell him that now, here, like this, it will surely kill him. And so I do and say nothing. I stand either just inside or just outside of the room, watching the strain of his reach and the strain in his eyes. And though he doesn't know it, that look he is wearing, that perverse, twisted face of desperation, is the first manifestation of death in hs body, making it pull strange and ugly shapes. It's a real nightmare. And as my father struggles to live, I struggle to wake – we struggle together. I am somewhere between two worlds and for once I want the waking world.
In another dream my father appears out of a smoky distance. He's limping and in pain and looks like he's come home from a long hard war. His head is bandaged and there is blood, red on white, as he limps out of the dust of time. He's not old but more as I remember him as a child, as my father, invincible, The Man with Tattooed Hands, a gold tooth, and a square and solid jaw. There are tubes up his nose, black sensors on his body and a drip in the tender region of his wrist. He limps on in pain and he tells me it hurts and that I'm good with needles and could I remove the drip. He is deteriorating by the second and his lips have a faint blue/grey tint. He looks awful, kinda braindead, but he isn't – he's just scared. His eyes and cheeks are sucked in. It's like his body is eating him up. He's heaving and spluttering and a constant groaning is rising up from his chest. “Yesterday you was a boy and I was your age,” he moans. “Yesterday.” He says other stuff. I can't make it out but I know it's sad. He groans in pain but never stops to allow me to help him. He staggers right on past like he can't stop even if he wanted to. To stop is to die and to carry on is to die too – just a longer way about it. I don't fight his wishes, there's nothing I can do. He's not dying in a way which can be helped, and it's not his physical pain which is my nightmare. I watch him walk on. Trailing behind him are tubes, a leaking drip bag and wires torn from a machine. He is heading towards a shed, a shed which is an airing cupboard, the same airing cupboard that my mother's cat crawled into to die.
There are other dreams, a thousand different variations of the same theme. And in all these dreams, no matter how bad or ill my father looks, the worst thing is that he's always fully conscious of his condition. He is living through his death, aware that it is in him and taking a hold. That what only yesterday was an abstract thought is now here, conquering him. But my father is never conquered in the dreams - he never dies, just suffers on. And that is the real, real nightmare.
Each night, at the peak of my father's pain, my eyes shoot open and I wake exhausted sat up boltright in the bed. And in the dark of the night, with the aura of the dream still fresh, I light a cigarette and lay back down, blowing out smoke as warm tears run free and curl up behind my ears. And some nights I let out a squeak of pain and sob “Dad... Dad”, but mostly I don't. I just lay there in the dark, on my back, in silence, not wanting to sleep any more. So agitated I'm awake and up, writing or mopping the tiles or doing the dishes or arranging my bookshelf. When the sun comes up I'll bed down, I say, it's much more peaceful that way, and cooler. I tell myself it's the summer and that the heat is unbearable and that when winter comes I'll sleep much better and at normal hours. And I will. I believe that. It's just been a long hot summer.
60 Rosaline Road, Fulham, London, SW6
The house doesn't look the same any more. The door's been painted, the crumbling front wall fixed, the missing windows replaced and the weeds from the front yard pulled up by the roots. But the house is still there, and no matter what repairs it has taken it still faces the east, still takes the best part of the sun on summer days, and no doubt the back rooms are still dark and suffer from damp. I think often of that place. It's a good memory, even the bad times. We were all there, all young, all alive, and it was home, as tragic as it was. But a new family lives there now, maybe a happier family – I don't know.
When my father died early on this year he was no longer living in the old house. He'd moved out years earlier after my best friend had succumbed to a slow and suffocating death up in one of the top rooms. He said he couldn't bare living there after that, that death seemed to have a permanent presence in the place and was always on the prowl. He said he could feel it in the rooms at night, creeping in on him as he sat watching TV alone. By the end he'd moved everything down into the small front room that looked out onto the street, living there without visiting the other rooms in the house. Then he moved out, into a property opposite.
In a way, my father living across the road was even better. While visiting him I could then look out his window and stare over at the old ghost and reminisce of all the comings and goings, the tragedies, the fights and all the broken people and lives which had staggered to and from it over the years. Somehow, like that, it took on an even greater significance in my life. I suppose because I could no longer enter inside that it felt more like an encased chapter which could no longer be meddled with, or meddle with me. From my father's new place I could watch the old house and fantasize about getting back inside, taking a walk through the rooms and seeing how the new family had arranged them and if they'd discovered the loose floorboards under which I'd hid many young secrets. And while my father was still alive it remained like that, a presence across the road and something which housed an era of memories which seemed to grow dearer each year.
But my father is dead now and the council has taken back the property he died in. The name Levene has no residence or business on that road any more. To see the old house now I must specifically go there for that reason, and even then I could only pass by as slow as I can to try and savour the moment and remember how things happened and how we all used to be. If I go there now I'll be a wanderer; at home and with no place to go. When my father vacated his space something else went with him, but it's not quite clear what. That's when I started searching
60, Rosaline Road, Fulham, London, SW6. That's what I'd type into Google Maps. The address. I'd zoom right in and visit the street, walk down to the house and turn into the yard. It felt real. Other times I'd zoom in 400% on the house and look through the windows, examine the brickwork and guttering, searching for some trace of our old existence there – a name scrawled somewhere or a piece of brick I remembered knocking out. After I'd make my way up the street and think of how we'd play football out in the road all summer long and how we'd peddle our bikes to freedom around those streets. I'd go down to the opposite end of the road, the place where Josh's garage used to be, and imagine how my father used to look coming around the corner after losing all his money in the betting shop and with only twenty paces left to figure out how he'd raise money to feed us that night. Other times I'd follow the route I used to take to school and observe all the things that have changed just as much as all the things which have stayed the same. It seems like a different time now. Just invisible footprints and dead skin in a street I still think of as mine. And the weird thing is, after all that happened, after all the blood and years of life that was spilled in that house, if it came on the market tomorrow, and if I had the money, I'd buy it. I'd prise open that encased chapter and risk more tragedy. I'd move in, alone or with a lover or a dog, amongst all the old ghosts, visiting the little corners of the house where mighty things had once happened.
Sometimes, just for tears, I wish I could go back.
The Snail Bank
I think it's only normal. After the passing of my father I've been preoccupied with death: His, my own, and everything from bugs to plant life. Somehow death and dying seems more real, and at the same time, more mystical than before.
I pull a petal off a flower and look at it. “That's death right there,” I think. “It's in my hand... gone for all eternity.” At the bushes, across from the bench where I sometimes sit and smoke and read, I look at the symmetry of the leaves and try to work out what birth and life and family and death really is. I try to understand why the death and rebirth of leaves and flowers seem so natural and acceptable, and yet the same birth, growth and death in humans seems tragic and flawed. At home I stare at the dead flies and moths on the window sill and it seems impossible to believe that they can never be re-animated. That even given infinite time these things will never again Be. A fly – It's hardly made of anything. Why can't such a little thing be fixed? It's hard to understand. There is no understanding. One moment things have a conscious existence the size of their known universe, and the next, the lights are out are we exist no more.
From my bed, as I write, there is a bug making its way nimbly across the floor. It's a small black rain beetle. They get in here all the time, crawling in from out the cold and wet of the plant beds just outside. My instinct is to jump up and squash it flat. But I've given up killing bugs, instead I drive them into a glass and then rattle them to freedom out the window. The other night I even went outside and picked up all the snails which had slithered out after the evening rain. I carefully unstuck them from the concrete and moved them out of harms way so as they didn't get crushed by the evening crowds. Why? I don't fully understand, but I know it's because my father's dead.
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Thoughts and Wishes to All, Shane. X
Labels: The Death of My Father