by Yash Seyedbagheri
Dad’s finally dead. My older sister Nan and I get roped into writing an obituary by aunts with crinkled faces and oodles of guilt, even though we’re Episcopalians and in our thirties. Don’t you want to honor your father? Well? Nan, tell your brother. We smoke joints and sort through words, hunched over tables, Nan smelling like lavender perfume and me, well, Nan says I reek of garlic and onions. We fire off occasional jokes, search for words and love among Dad’s bottles and history of verbal dissection, voice playing like a stalled record in our minds. Weak son, mouthy daughter, the world’s a jungle, don’t trust anyone son, use people. Tuck your shirt in, Nancy are you going to wear that? Don’t look like a strumpet or a slacker. And we try to dredge the things he gave us when he wasn’t complaining about money and the academic bureaucracy that sapped the fun out of teaching history. Hey, Nan there was the bottle of Merlot he gave me on my twelfth birthday, since he thought it’d make me a man, said I should learn to drink young. And the offer to personally shoot my boyfriends if they ever hurt me. Oh yeah, Nicky, one dick at a time, he said, words commanding. That memory resounds all too clearly.
We dredge our minds again. A gruff, almost shameful I love you? Did he say that? We dredge more. Words that come to mind: aggressive, verbose, he made his presence clear, thumping footsteps, booming doors, a wife driven into the whirl of the world, two children huddled, words flying back and forth, kiss my ass, kiss our asses, two children survived him, murmuring love, love, love, and retreated into movie theaters every Friday, saw The Big Lebowski fifty times in one month. A father drank, John Goodman promised soothing insanity with a gun in a bowling alley, the Dude’s rug was pissed on, the world was absurd and we lingered through the end of the credits every time, took the longest paths home. And now there are two children alive, but still in critical condition, a teacher whose voice is as deflated as a balloon and a psychiatrist with rings under his eyes who blasts Tchaikovsky at 3 am.
Another image rises to us both: A man hunched before a TV, watching historical documentaries, correcting incorrect facts. Rasputin was not a priest, damn it. A navy-blue bowling ball dropped through a window on Mother’s Day, a figure towering, proclaiming victory. Images without couplings, like abandoned boxcars, waiting, waiting for the train to pull them away to logic, one event after the other. The train isn’t coming.
We just tear the obituary up, scrawl dates and names in his life. Born, devoured Howard Zinn’s People’s History of The United States, found time to date, grow a Stalinist mustache, marry, spawned us, ate raw eggs, lost a wife to the world, turned to onions and crackers, drank, abused his liver, and died. We refer to ourselves in the third person, omit the word father, dad, daddy, papa, or anything in between. It’s easier. Nothing rises between the words and spaces. But the energy lingers, electrical, darting like lightning. We feel it right down to the day he’s buried, flaccid figure laid into the dirt, mustache standing straight up, and we wait, wait, as if he’ll rise and issue his next command. We cling together, pour desperation into too-thin wine glasses, wonder what that command would be and try to issue our own. Our words crack and still crack. We can’t fully glue them.