Tuesday, April 03, 2007

And Hope That I Might Find You

Monday morning:

Daria: How's your hangover?
Tata: Why are you screaming?
Daria: I'm whispering. You're hungover.
Tata: How could you possibly know that?
Daria: Because the sounds of my little children's tiny steps on my kitchen floor feels like roofing nails being pounded into my brain.
Tata: Anya told me everyone wound up at Auntie InExcelsisDeo's last night. I thought she was sobbing but she said "I'm so allergic to InExcelsisDeo's dog I could plotz."
Daria: Anyway, I don't have to be there to know that when I might've been a teeny bit intoxicated you were a dirty drunk and so was Darla.
Tata: No such thing. We have Get Out Of Jail Free cards. We could run naked through city hall shrieking Rod McKuen poems and not get arrested because we're the grieving family of Dominic LongItalianLastName.
Daria: Wait, so I was a dirty drunk and you were afflicted family members?
Tata: Yup.
Daria: I need a better zip code.

On Saturday, Darla asked me to write Dad's obituary and I admit to panicking a bit. Darla found a recent bio for some festival Dad was planning when he got sick. I stared at it, then called Daria for help. Dad has led a complicated, sometimes secretive life the details of which remain obscure. After many fits and starts, I tore bits and pieces out of the folksy bio and added a list of surviving relatives. Then I looked across the kitchen table and found the solution to my what-am-I-omitting? problem.

Tata: Summer, read this and tell me what I'm forgetting. Please!

Dad's second ex-wife and my baby sister Dara's mother Summer put down an elderly copy of People and stared at the text file. First of all, everybody who wandered by said the same thing.

Mourner: He didn't write his own obituary?
Tata: Nope.
Mourner: ...I didn't see that coming!

Summer, like the rest of us, couldn't believe Dad hadn't scripted his demise and screened sponsors. He was a prowling, growling set of uncompromising standards for himself and others and this cancer thing was unacceptable, so when he told Darla he hadn't written an obituary, even she didn't believe him. There's a magnet on his wonky oven that reads: CULINARY CONTROL FREAK. Naturally, we searched his computer for tributes he'd written to himself. We braced ourselves to read posthumous revelations like Now it can be told: Dominic LongItalianLastName invented pantyhose in 1958 so he'd have something to peel off women in 1959, but he was true to his word and we found nothing. Summer read an obituary draft rough as a gravel footpath and asked, "What about his bonsais? Remember when he was a professional musician? Didn't he take pictures for a living? How many countries did he visit? Did he make that Olympic team?" Christ, if I knew. I wrote it all down, rearranged it, and emailed a draft to Darla, who was, of course, in the living room with Dad. Then, I added something, and emailed a revision to Darla, still only thirty feet away. Darla rewrote the crappy draft I'd sent her in a competent manner and sent it back to me, in the kitchen. The timestamp says 4:12 p.m. She hit send, she said later, and turned to see why Dad made a funny noise, which turned out to be a last breath, then no more. As I mentioned before, Darla's father Nigel told his wife Nina Dad was dead. She came to the kitchen table where Summer, Dara and I waited and said, "I'm sorry but he's gone." Summer and Dara burst into tears. I stood up, walked around the table like an apparition and into the living room. I saw that Daddy was dead, that Darla was sobbing, that Nigel was distraught because his daughter was distraught, and I pulled the list of phone numbers off the wall. I said, "I will take care of this," and walked back to the phone, where I called hospice and got the answering service. It was Sunday, after all. An insufficiently understanding operator spelled and re-spelled LongItalianLastName five or six times, though it should have been clear to her that the person leaving this message had just lost a significant figure in her life. Someone was supposed to call back immediately. Fifteen minutes later, no one had, I called back and made it entirely clear I was reporting a death and delays were - say it with me, children - unacceptable. At just about 5:20, a very sweet on-call nurse arrived, checked Dad's pulse and respiration and smiled at us. She had no legal power to say the words, "He's dead" and since I knew that, I'd already called the funeral home and said, "Dudes, it's happened. Stand by for a hospice nurse to call you." She called, over and over, for an on-call oncologist to pronounce Dad dead. In the meantime, sobbing at the kitchen table had given way to frustration with procedure and staring into space when the nurse sat down with us. I couldn't move this process forward without taking a hostage, so I changed the subject for my teenaged sister.

Tata: So: thanks for leaving me that load of laundry.
Dara: ...no problem...
Tata: I'll tell you what I said this morning: "That's enough! Those bitches are going to fold their own thongs!"

Summer and the nurse burst out laughing. Dara stared at me for a second, then snickered.

Dara: Nobody folds their thongs. What, do you fold your underwear?
Tata: Of course not. I solve that problem by not wearing any.

The spell of the last months is broken when mourners and the hospice nurse can't stop themselves from doubling over. I don't know what possessed me to say this but I should be checked for ectoplasmic fingerprints.

Tata: Listen, there's no reason for you to stay here any longer. Why don't you go home with your mom?
Dara: Daria will come back tomorrow, right?
Tata: Right, and you can have the cuddly sister then but in the meantime, why not go home?
Dara: I guess I could...

She ran upstairs to pack while Summer looked at me like What just happened?

Dara ran back downstairs with her backpack just as the nurse got a doctor on the phone. The formality of pronouncing Dad dead occurred two hours after his last breath, and then the mortuary people could leave their office an hour away. Dara kissed Daddy goodbye and I walked her and Summer to their car.

Dara: Hug me!
Tata: I...just...can't!
Dara: You're prickly but you're gonna get over it.
Tata: I'm prickly, but you're all trippy and fall-downy. Talk to you tomorrow.

When the vehicle from the mortuary arrived in the driveway, dinner was ten minutes' from ready, by which I mean everything on the stove bubbled gently. We have been eating where he slept, but I worried it might be too much for the undertakers to arrive and find us passing the gravy, especially since there was no way Darla would leave Dad's body. So. Again, we waited.


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