The story of my father’s death has always ended with the actual death, followed by my feeling responsible for it. Mostly because that was how it happened. Now I am going to talk about what happened after that, the names will not be changed, no one was innocent.
If there is one thing that I learned from my father’s death (aside from the obvious; a sick person is not the best judge of how sick they are) it is certainly that you only know who your friends are when you die. To be a bit more specific, you don’t know what your friends are really like until you die. Of course you are already dead at that point so it is not like you can really make any changes to your friends list. So I was the one that got to see just what kind of friends dad really had.
The day after his death (you know, Christmas day) people were already calling and showing up at the house saying things like, “he told me that if he died he wanted me to have “x”. I didn’t let anyone take anything, I was still holding out hope that he had a will stashed away somewhere. As the coming weeks would show, no such document existed. Events that would soon transpire would make that a moot point anyway.
The most pressing issue at this point was what was going to happen to me (I thought it was the most pressing issue anyway). I had been dating a girl for years, we had plans to get married. We really didn’t understand that we were as young as we were, and couldn’t understand why everyone wanted me to move out of the county to live with dad’s relatives, or out of the state to live with my mom. I wanted to be emancipated, since I was 16 it should have been possible. I don’t remember exactly why that couldn’t work, it might have been opposition from my mother or possibly the Social Security payments wouldn’t come to me if I was emancipated. I don’t know. What I did know was that I was not going to move away. I had been dating this girl for like three years, which may not seem all that long but at the time it was almost 20% of my life.
That was when I made the second worst decision of my entire life (the first being that I didn’t take dad directly to the hospital. And the third came only two years later. Glad I got those horrible life changing mistakes taken care of at a young age.), I agreed to let my oldest brother become my legal guardian. This would allow me to finish my High School years in Oregon, with basically no adult supervision. My brother was four years older than me, but he was not an authorative figure. He told me to jump, I told him to go fuck himself. This was the worst decision I could have ever made.
It is funny as I think back on it. Everyone was trying to do what was best for me. Best for me always seemed to include being ripped away from all of my friends and transplanted somewhere else. Since I haven’t had the opportunity to see what life would be like for me now had I agreed to do what was best for me, I simply assume that it really would have been what was best for me. But children can’t seem to distinguish the difference between what is best for them and what they want. Since I really was just a child I was thinking only of what I wanted.
As I think about it, I bet the only reason that it all went the way it did was because of how hard I was being on myself. I was totally convinced that I had killed dad. That was something that I was trying to deal with this whole time, and I often couldn’t hold back my emotions. Throw out a few comments about how you are going to have to tell kids in your new school that you are only there because you killed your dad and the grown-ups kind of give you some leeway. I was not trying to use that as leverage in any negotiations, that was how I truly felt. So it was decided; I was going to live with my brother in Oregon.
I will go into more detail about the time spent with my brother, as well as give you some idea of the measures people went to to get ahold of dad’s stuff at a later time. Right now I want to go a bit more into the mind and actions of, well, me in the days/weeks following dad’s death.
First off I just have to mention that I had always had a dream that dad would die in a car accident. Though he was always in the Corvette in the dreams. It always happened at the same spot on the road to our house, where he would miss a corner and go careening over a cliff, not a particulary big cliff, to be found dead the next day. The death was always from drowning though. The car would end up upside down in the little creek and he couldn’t get out. Since the car had power locks and windows I have always assumed that the windows simply wouldn’t roll down and that the lock had somehow jammed (I had been having this dream for a long time before he actually died too). I believed this dream so much that I would often stop to look over the ledge, where he wrecked in the dream, on my way home from work. Sometimes I would actually get up and drive to that corner at about 3:00 in the morning just to make sure that he wasn’t laying in that little stream (I think I only did that two or three times).
There were times that I would get really worried that he might not make it home. Since this was before pagers or cell phones I had no way to make sure he was alright, but I had a system. You know how it seems like the second you are doing something that you shouldn’t be doing your parents happen to show up? That was my system, and it worked like a charm. I only really ever worried about him when he was driving the Corvette, and it would usually keep me awake until I saw his head lights come down the driveway. When I got really worried, around 3:30 or so, I would do something that I wasn’t supposed to be doing, like, say, handling one of his many guns. I wouldn’t take it out an shoot it or anything like that, hell wouldn’t even load it. I would just sit on the couch with the gun across my lap polishing it, buffing the finish on the wood, oiling the mechanisms, anything, just so I had the gun in my hands. Then, like clockwork, I would see the headlights coming down the driveway, rush to put the gun and oils away, and make it into bed just before he popped his head in to make sure I was there. Irrational behavior to be sure, but it worked for me.
It was with a similar attitude that I faced the reality of his death. I would alternate between times where I thought there would be no punishment for whatever I did, to times where I did something wrong on purpose, in the hopes that he would appear there and scold me for being such a bad son. I had always been so intelligent that it seems odd to me that I would have done such a thing, but it turns out that I might just have been in denial; as long as I wasn’t willing to admit that he was dead that meant that he wasn’t.
I did a lot of really stupid shit over the first few weeks. I mean insanely, near suicidally stupid. One thing I did was play a game of quarters with a guy twice my age. We weren’t playing it with beer though, it was Bacardi 151. I was so wasted afterwards that, I shit you not, I got into the passenger seat of my car and tried to start the glove box. He laughed at me and told me I was on the wrong side, then let me drive home. Even at .8 MPH I was hardly able to hold the road and hit the gravel shoulder many times on the two mile quest. I thought for certain Dad was going to be at the door to give me the lashing of a lifetime, he wasn’t there at all. I went to bed wondering how I had made it home at all, and where the hell was my punishment. It never came.
I never did anything quite that stupid again, but I did a lot of other crazy stuff. Once I realized that I was not getting any punishment for my actions I felt bulletproof, not a good thing for a teen. The reason that it took me so long to get around to actually mourning the loss of my father was that I had spent that entire time either at school, at work, or at a huge kegger down the street. Not thinking about it made it seem not real, at least not my reality.
The most unfortunate thing is that when it finally hit me, the very second I knew that he was never coming back, I happened to be at work. I caught a glimpse of his beard and Roseburg Lumber jacket through a window in the back room. My heart jumped. I ran like hell towards the front (where he was headed) turned the corner to see him and yelled “Da……What can I do for you, Sir?” Everyone in town had one of those jackets, it was only a matter of time before someone with that jacket and a beard would walk past that window, yet, it was at exactly that moment that I realized he was really dead. I made up some sort of an illness to get me away from work for the remainder of the night and drove away.
Away was the only destination I had in mind when I got in the car, alone might actually be more accurate. By this time we had long since been forced to move out of the house where dad died, but that was the direction that I was heading. I went past the turn to the Byron Creek Estates and kept going as the road turned to gravel. Twenty minutes later I stopped, jumped out of the car, and ran blindly down the hill. I had been here many times, but never in the dead of night. I walked the trail carefully during the day, that night I just ran blindly. I ended up in what I will call the amphitheatre (a beautiful rock formation near where I lived with my dad. It was an outcropping that had about a fifty foot vertical drop with a very small stream falling off the edge. If you took the time to walk down behind the waterfall it was even more beautiful; There was enough room that hundreds of people could have pulled up lawn chairs and watched the little waterfall, with nothing but unspoiled Oregon wilderness in the distance. -maybe I should be writing tourist guides-) stood there for a moment. Sat there for a couple more. Then I completely lost my mind.
I was pissed off. At myself, at my dad, at the earth, the universe in general. This was the first time that I was able to express that anger. I screamed my lungs out (maybe I knew where I was going after all; the amphitheatre made it sound a lot louder when you screamed, but no one was within 30 miles of the location), I told my dad how much I hated him for dying, I told myself how much I hated myself for killing him, I told God that I was going to try to sneak past St. Peter just so I could kick him in the nuts (no shit). I yelled at the universe in general. I was mad, damn it! I took my aggression out on the only thing I could find, which was, quite unfortunately, the beautiful outcropping that I previously described. (score that God/Universe:1 My knuckles:0)
How long I stood there screaming, trying to beat the shit out of a rock, I will likely never know. It seems that I had exhausted all of my energy in the endeavor, which was probably for the best. I woke up the next morning laying in the softer portion of the gravel/sand mix. My knuckles were crusted with dried blood, my voice was all but gone (something I wouldn’t learn until much later. When it come right down to it you don’t audibly talk to yourself very much), and I just wanted to get home. I was freaking freezing. The standard uniform in the food service industry may be 1)Uniform. 2)Suited to the job. 3)Forgiving of imperfections. They are also 4) Very, very thin. But, I still had to get back to my car before I would be able to get on the road home.
I have to tell you that I found it extremely odd that I couldn’t find a single footprint in the mud on the way back up the hill. So odd, in fact, that I went back down the hill and up the other side to try to find one. I couldn’t find a single footprint on either side. It had rained the night before, as I found once I got into my car, the seat was sopping wet. Yet the mud on the way down the hill was inches deep. Could the rain really have washed away inch deep footprints? Well, the hill was also very steep, I have seen rain do worse. I just thought it was odd, in a strange sort of cleansing way. Whoever went down that hill the night before was left at the bottom, the man coming up the hill was brand new. But still on the universe’s shit list…
The fucking car wouldn’t start, it had a dead battery. Some jackass must have left the lights on. No big deal, it was mostly downhill on the way back, I could just pop-start it. After 10 or so tries at the pop-start I was beginning to wonder why it wouldn’t work. Turns out that some jackass left the car running when he bailed down the hill. Once it was out of gas it sucked the battery dry as well. Just fucking perfect. I was able to roll a lot of the distance, since it really was a lot of downhill, probably could have gone a bit further but I was a bit afraid of trying to cross that narrow bridge (it had only 12 inch wide tracks) at the speed I was coasting. There was only one uphill stretch between where I was and the paved road, but there was no way I could push the car up the hill alone. I resolved to push it off to the side and walk down to the nearest house (probably only six miles or so) to buy a gallon gas.
The walk wasn’t all that bad. In fact I didn’t have to walk nearly as far as I thought I would. It seems that when you are wearing a uniform from a fast food joint, walking the edge of a deserted road, and it is pretty early in the morning, the passing truckers (logger in this case) get kind of curious, particularly if you are also carrying a gas can and a length of hose. The first truck that came up behind me pretty much locked up his brakes (he would likely have backed up to me had he not been hauling a trailer full of timber). “What happened to you?” he asked.
Shouldn’t this be precisely the point that I realize I am still in my work clothes, it is like 7AM, and I am walking down a deserted road with a gas can and a length of hose? “Ran out of gas.” I said.
“What happened to your hands?”
I looked down at my knuckles, having completely forgotten about the severe ass-whooping I dealt to that rock the night before, “I, uh, tripped over the hose on the way up here.”
The guy just laughed. He did offer to drive me down to the main road though, you know, the one that is actually paved. Beyond that, he offered to drop me off at the nearest house, which was what I was hoping for anyway. He made no further mention of my knuckles, my attire, or the fact that I was walking around with a length of hose. (I bet that trucker has a version of this same story that is way different than mine).
The up side is that the place I was eventually dropped off was the home to a man who had 1)a gasoline reserve for his tractor, 2)a set of jumper cables, 3)enough good sense to just do what the man with a hose and bloody knuckles asked him to. I did give him 5 bucks for his trouble (at the time gas was only about a dollar a gallon) and thanked him.
This was, thankfully, the last time I would have to wrestle with the guilt I feel for having killed my father.
Until the next day.