By the time my father died, I had become intimate with his body. Its smells. Its textures. Its failures. Its promises.
In the preceding three years, it had become an experiment in sacrality. Purged by medical technology, repaired by African herbalists, anointed by Catholic priests, bathed by our tears, deafened by our prayers.
I wonder now at the cruelty our hope inflicted. The belief that our faith justified a half-life. That our attachment prolonged decay. That my last images are of withering.
In the twenty years since his death, I have been unable to process our final intimacies, marked, as they are, by too many erasures. A pre-diseased corporeality that seems imagined. A scent marked by a proper name, Aramis, that does not compute. I do not like scent on men. An avoidance of hospitals. A distaste for drugs. An emptying of certain faiths. Even, perhaps, a distrust of love.
It would be possible to trace in this list a certain psychic keloid, a not-getting-past that haunts certain choices, certain habits, certain intimacies, certain deliberations, multiple uncertainties. It would be possible to diagnose certain origins, certain directions, certain orientations, certain trajectories, an ongoing flirtation with. Certain silences.
I return home to be told I look like him. I am not haunted. I have become haunting.
One inhabits ghostly affects.
Bodies fail. Even when faith doesn’t. There was once a lesson in this.
A year after I completed my undergraduate degree, ten years after my father’s death, I attempted a kind of writing.
May 29, 2000
The smell of your mortality assaults me with its subtle and not so subtle reminder that we live in a state of constant decay and decomposition. This truth imprints itself on my flesh. I take a pumice stone to my skin to scrape off the ever-present deadness that clings to me, reveling in the pain of the pink that emerges.
Again and again the ash of decay gathers. My friend calls me ashy. I learn to embrace ashiness. I take it as a sign that I am marked by mortality, marked as your son.
I refuse to hide the scent of my mortality with harsh, foreign made chemicals. I am labeled eccentric.
I grow dry as our time shortens and the words do not come.
I want to sit silently and partake of your company, simply enjoy being in the moment, but I have to look at you, smell you, touch you.
I am sated. For my pores are clogged with bits of you, the skin that flies off you so easily and hangs in this white space we have been taught to think of as empty and sterile.
Clogging me, you impregnate me with the unspeakable. I struggle to restrain my gag reflex.
I learn to distrust beautiful men who proclaim their beauty.
There is nothing beautiful about this scene or about me or about you or about the words or the emotions or the thoughts that, haltingly, slowly, emerge from a place I dare not open, for it sweeps over and fills my mouth and my throat and my senses with the me that is distasteful. I tongue my skin constantly, as a mother does to her cubs. I wish you could do for me, and take in what I exude. These patterns of ingestion and retention continue and turn into a cliché: my credo “I internalize well.”
Cramping assaults my fingers as do little tiny biting sensations, army ants before they begin their voracious destruction, poised to strike. If I lie still they will not bite, will not hurt, will not reduce me to the husk that you have become, for above all I resist being you.
I am hurt and hurting and hurtful and stricken dumb and want to rain blows on your intubated chest.
May 30, 2000
Dying is a selfish act and you do it well.
June 1, 2000
Trained in the silences that men must maintain at wakes, I resist calling you back to me.
You are small and shriveled, no longer superdad:superman:Dad. I despise you. Above all I despise weakness; this is a lesson you taught me well.
So my farewell is not a praise-song for you but a litany of my failures. Desiring you, I turn to desiring others like you. You tell me that I am intelligent, that I will grow out of what is feminine about me, that I have a wonderful future ahead of me, but never that I am beautiful
Thinking myself not beautiful I give myself to any man who wants me.
I would not write it again.
As a record of grief, it tells its own story, a story of a person I used to be. Might still be. Though I find it hard to recognize myself. Something of its emotion still pulls. And I wonder for whom I am still mourning.
I have always written for you after your death, as the day ends, too late, with the strange sense that had I timed it right, you might have been here, the letter might have been delivered, the message sent, the sentiment received.
Perhaps the condition of all mourning. The belief that a letter still needs to be written. And that it might be delivered and received.
The well of grief is easily replenished, keloids displaced by new scabs, trace emotions newly etched in place. Time wrinkles.
But the fear of disappointment keeps me away from séances. Not that you might not be found, but that I might not want to find you. And if I found you, I would not know what to ask. Or would be afraid.