Thursday, November 02, 2006

Dia de los Muertos

I've been thinking about my dad all day.

He's been peeking out of the shadows in my mind all week, playing tag with my thoughts. I don't know if it's because it's that thin veil time of year or what, but I really miss him. More so this week than last. You know, it fluctuates. More at holidays. More when I smell pine trees or cigarette smoke or Polo or woodburning fireplaces.... More when it snows at night or when the leaves change. More when I hear Jethro Tull, The Who, Simon and Garfunkel or the sound of snow crunching under my boots. More when I really, really need a hug, the kind that only your dad can give you. And more when I need to talk about something that only he would understand.

The last time I saw him we passed around Freddy the Leaf by Leo Buscaglio. We all knew his time was short, though none of us said it outloud. We planned his funeral, together. We sat quietly. He played with the girls. We took him to the Alamo. We watched funny movies. We hugged and kissed and I spent a lot of time feeding him, holding his hand, holding his head in my hands, feeling the energy dissipate from his body. Trying to get a sense of what was going on. Trying to connect.

He died a month later.

It has been two and half years, and I'm still trying to connect. To understand. To work it out. I have, largely, but I don't think death is something you ever have worked out once and for all. It's more like getting your hair cut. For a while it's fine, but it changes, it grows, and you have to work it out again and again.

The kids and I were planning on celebrating his life for Dia de los Muertos, something I have purposefully neglected to celebrate since he died. We took part in a parade before he died, just to feel it out, knowing that his death was pending. That year I was interviewed by the local press: "What's a white girl like you doing at a parade like this?" they asked. Feeling it out. Thinking about death. Thinking about my dad, and myself, and my children. Thinking there has got to be another way to handle dying, I said.

Moonshine asked me today, "What does dying feel like?"

She's four. Where does she come up with this stuff?

Last night I missed my dad a lot. He was the King of Halloween. He loved everything about it --the pumpkin carving, the gooey candy, the spooky sound effects you can attach to your door to scare unwitting little children. He was a jokester, but in a good way. A fun way.

That's not to say he was perfect, mind you. He was also the self-proclaimed "meanest SOB that ever walked the face of the earth." And he was, for a time. He was very human. Smoked too much, drank too much, cursed too much, yelled too much. It was a life of excess. Read too much, loved too much, told way too many bad jokes. But he also loved to cook and bake and decorate for the holidays. Over-celebrate. Sing. Dance. Crank the music up louder and grin madly like a five-year-old.

I see him in that twinkle in Sunburst's eyes, and when she grins because she's up to something. He used to call her his little Meg Ryan. She remembers him as being a playful grandpa. The kind that read her stories, held her hand, carried her around, jumped on the trampoline, made funny jokes, and cuddled her in his arms. And he was. Moonshine remembers his face, nothing more. And Kitty Bill came after, as a promise to give my dad a body to reincarnate into. As freaky as that sounds, he did ask, and we were planning on another child anyway.

And me, what do I remember? How do you sum up a life in mere words? He would always tell it to me straight. He had an answer (or a joke) for everything. And he was deeply romantic about nature and ideas. He loved a good story and a good snowfall. And he gave the best hugs.

He caught me as I came into the world. He was my dad. Period.

And I'm still working it out.

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