Where were you the first time someone you loved died? I was on the sofa. Sleeping. Have you ever thought about what happens to the human body when it quits? Is there a sound? Kaput! Or is there just nothingness to the point of “dead”? I didn’t hear anything. No Kaput! No nothingness. I was just on the sofa, and then he died.
We used to sing songs together, he and I. Silly songs like “On Top of Spaghetti” and “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal.” We’d sing and laugh and laugh and laugh… “But I’m gonna be a diamond some day…”
He got married to the first girl he ever had sex with. One look at her – one touch, and all of his resolutions changed. He had wanted to be a Methodist minister, but that night he was just like everybody else. He fell in love.
Her father was a minister. Oh, the irony of it all. He preached the Gospel to death row inmates before they went Kaput! He would “save them,” and then he would say it was time to kill them… in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit.
I call him The Executioner.
She had been raised to believe that everything was wrong. Rock n’ Roll: wrong. Poetry: wrong. Mascara and short-pants and hair barrettes and chewing gum: wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.
And then she found sex. And then he found her.
I am the product of that clumsy, sticky, misguided lust. I’m proud of this for some reason. I guess I’ve just come to realize that I very well could have been replaced by a seductive piece of Juicy Fruit or “Jeremiah was a Bullfrog.”
And I thank the good Lord every day that she never read Robert Lowell.
The Executioner – her father – did not allow caffeine or watching football on Sunday afternoons, but he loved to watch people die.
“When one of these killers or rapists or Satan worshipers dies in the chair,” he’d explain, “their bodies convulse so hard it breaks their backs. They usually bite off their tongues and their teeth turn to powder. The flesh burns and blisters and oozes with pink boiling liquid. I once saw a pedophile’s head explode.”
Kaput! In the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Thank God for sex. Who knows where she might have ended up?
So, what’s the difference between dead and deceased, anyway? Or my favorite: passed on? Why must we sugarcoat the obvious? I once told a complete stranger that my father had just gone Kaput! You should have seen the look on his face. It was as though my head was on fire and I had just informed him that I was sleeping with his wife.
I wasn’t sleeping with his wife.
Father died on a Monday. I was on the sofa. He was in the chair. The congestion and wheezing prohibited him from lying on his back. So, he slept… sitting up. I slept on the couch. I had no wheezing and no congestion keeping me from the comfort of my bedroom. But I wanted to endure. I needed to.
I was sick once. I was 15. The doctors and nurses flashed plastic smiles as they entered the room: “And how are we today, young man?” They always asked that. Every time I saw them it was, “And how are we feeling today? How are we doing? Are we feeling better? Did we sleep well last night?”
We? Well, I don’t know about you, doc, but my ass hurts. The last diarrhea I had felt like hot razor blades. The Jell-O they sent me tastes like wet cardboard. I’m getting bedsores. I can’t sleep because I’m scared I might not wake up. I have developed drop-foot. And the good-looking, blond nurse just had to stick a tube up my dingaling. WE are doing just dandy…
But he sat with me. For three months he sat, held my hand, laughed with me, cried with me, told me stories… We would sing: “On top of spaghetti… all covered with cheese… I lost my poor meatball… when somebody sneezed…”
Day and night, he sat with me.