Punching the Dalai Lama and Other Thoughts for 2014
We're in the polar vortex this week, and last week we had a blizzard. I know I'm not supposed to talk about the weather, but you would've really liked this storm – you would've thrown on your loden coat, duck boots and tam o' shanter and jauntily stomped down the length of sixth avenue, your mustache collecting flurries. You would have said, "Football should always be played in the snow," and I'd have agreed, just to be sociable, just to make you forget that you spawned three children who don't give two hoots in hell about the New York Giants.
Almost everything makes me think of you, Dad. I'm trying hard to remember you as you really were, not as you were at the end, but sometimes, in a moment of happiness my mind conjures up those last hours after you died. It goes something like this:
Your profile, more beautiful than I had ever appreciated, growing sharp and waxen, the contours of your cheeks hollowing out.
Then, a film clip: my hands chasing the life fading from your body. Look – he's still warm. Here, feel.
Cue a voiceover: the unearthly sounds Mom made when we left her alone with you. Me covering my ears like a child.
I'm embarrassed to write this, Dad, because the world has a two-month tolerance for grief unless your entire family has been killed in a tsunami, in which case you get to feel like shit for all of eternity and eat Doritos in bed and no one can tell you to do Bikram yoga or move on.
I had to suppress the urge to call you today. For some reason, I needed to tell you how much I wanted to punch the Dalai Lama for making me feel like crap about my life, as though starting my day sardining into the A train with my nose lodged in someone's armpit isn't as bad (or as good) as escaping Chinese brutality and living in exile. It's the time of year when people start posting inspirational quotes from the Dalai Lama on Facebook, the kind of shit that makes me fly into an irrational and homicidal rage for highlighting how shallow and meaningless my existence is. I'd ask you if you thought this made me a negative person, someone whose natural optimism has been sucked away, as Mom recently noted in a concerned voice during a completely different expression of negativity. You'd probably agree with Mom because she's mostly, if not totally, right, and so I'd tell you that I'm going to work on that in 2014 – and then not really do it.
Is this what they call the Anger Stage? Maybe I need to meditate more, Dad, and by "more" I mean more than once for three minutes until I get bored. I feel rudderless without you. Our family is lost and at sea and I'm trying to navigate blindfolded, to hold the ship together as it breaks apart. You wouldn't be happy with the way things turned out after you died, how we've let the side down as a family. In your quiet way, you inspired us to be better than we actually were, because none of us could ever behave in a small way around you. If you were alive, I would never, for example, let on about the Dalai Lama, say "shit" in your presence or show you my blog, which is riddled with profanity, indignity, and personal failures. Instead, I'd try to impress you with my humanitarianism/noble bearing/awesome trapezius muscles. I'd tell you all about my garden design class and how proud I was of my final project, glossing over the fact that my presentation was autistic at best. And then I'd unroll the vellum to show you my drawing and you'd make me feel like a star. That was a privilege of being your daughter that I've now lost.
I've tried to follow your example – to love and protect Mom, to be her biggest fan, her defender, her constant companion, but I always fall short of my own expectations. The glaringly and gallingly simple fact is that I'm not you. I'm just your child - but not even that anymore, really. I'll never be able to fill the void you left for Mom. You'd think I'd realize that and quit trying to compensate for your absence, but I just can't seem to. I'll work on that in 2014, Dad. In the meantime, if you could just come back for 15 minutes, just to check in, it would really cheer Mom up. She misses you so terribly and I feel utterly helpless in the face of such fathomless heartache.
If I'm honest about what's gone down over the last 10 months since you died, I'd say that in addition to lacking a positive outlook, I'm well on my way to needing two airplane seats from freebasing stilton and pecan brittle to get through the holidays, and from several years of not really giving a shit about how I look. That's not entirely true - I like make-up and smearing expensive things on my face, but I can't seem to get behind the "sound mind, sound body" movement, or any movement that involves movement or acknowledgement that I have a body.
Dad, I need to meditate AND exercise AND stop eating crispy basil duck as though it's my job. Not necessarily go on a diet because that's antisocial and makes everyone else feel bad about themselves (that's the kind of humanitarian I am, Dad, always thinking of others), but just be more like you. You were always so balanced and even and disciplined and sure. I often wonder how I turned out to be so immoderate and muddled and unsure of everything. I said this to Mom the other day and she reassured me that your love and grace will give me strength and guide me in the right direction. I'm waiting for that, Dad, because I really need it.
Love you always,
For sweet Esther. Whoever you are, wherever you are – thank you.