Last Rites and Hotrods

The Hotrod Priest was just here. He's the one who looks like he should be a vice president of a very conservative bank but also drives a Mustang GT with Hemi headers.

I say, "Hey, how'd you know we needed you today?" Because Dad is truly not doing well and I am a little glad to see him because I know Dad would be glad to see him. And I'm trying to stick to the Any-Friend-of-Dad's-is-Good-Enough-for-Me freeway.

I say, "I thought you weren't coming til Thursday?"

He smiles one of his half-smiles, showing a lack of conviction and replies, "It is Thursday."

Smart. Ass!

I try to wake Dad but I can't. So Hotrod decides to say a prayer instead. He takes hold of Dad's wrist. I bow my head and the priest begins to pray. The air-conditioner and the fan are making too much noise. I can't hear the words, but the tone is enough.

Why is it always the old familiar that triggers the lump in my throat?

Dad doesn't wake up for this. I mean, he is really zonked. Not comatose, I think, but gorked to the gills.

Hotrod says "I'll come back Friday or Saturday and do the Last Rites."

I say, "I wouldn't wait until Saturday."

He looks at Dad.

We keep the room freezing cold to help Dad breathe. The lights are off and what little light there is seems to tint the entire room a gray-blue. A cyanotic blue.

"Maybe I'll do some of the rites now," the priest says. He pats his pockets and seems to be searching for something.

"I didn't bring my holy oil. Would you happen to have any oil?"

Okay. I am truly alone in this operation. No backup. No one to get that life is getting a little bizarre around here.

I am alone with a guy who doesn't seem to have a sense of humor and another guy who is unconscious. There is screaming inside my head, or maybe it's coming from deep inside my heart, behind the big lump in my throat.

I silently scream, "Jesus, God! Help me! Don't make me lose it now! I can't cry. I can't do this! Not now!"

And She is there. Ask and ye shall receive.

The gift of the eternal smartass. The wit that shields me from every unpleasant emotion.

This Hotrod guy asks me if I have any holy oil on me and he thinks he should get a straight answer?

"No, unless you count the Italian salad dressing," I say, absolutely deadpan.

I'm beginning to think Hotrod's had Botox. Not one twitch of a smile answers me.

"Okay, well, we'll just use some Holy Water then. Could you get me some in a glass or something."

Excuse me?

If I don't have Holy Oil, what are the chances I'm gonna have Holy Water?

"Yeah, right, Father, can you hold the tail a second. I'll just be checkin' my purse, I will."

And no, I do not say this out loud.

Instead I go to the cabinet, open it and look for the heavy rocks glasses Dad likes to drink from. What I find is a stack of small, white foam cups, larger royal blue plastic cups, a Pepto Bismal medicine cup and a mug with a picture of a four-masted schooner on it. The mug's out. It's stuffed with Sweet and Low. Where are the damned tumblers? Foam and plastic just don't seem like the appropriate containers for Holy Water used for the Last Rites for my father.

And then I look down. They are on the drainboard, right where I left them this morning. My relief is palpable...Until I see the half-empty, designer water bottle sitting next to the sink. I have a new dilemma, tap or bottled?

This entire process couldn't have taken over thirty seconds but to me it felt like a slow eternity.

I return with the glass half full of tap water...because I will not give in to bourgeoisie consumerism at a time like this...and find Father Hotrod looking around the room like he's lost something.

The entire scenario is beginning to feel like an episode of "Let's Make a Deal!" Hotrod is a very controlled Monty Hall and I'm the panicked lady he's picked to approach in the studio audience. "I'll give you one thousand dollars for every crystal cherub you have in your purse!"

"Where's your father's prayer book?" the priest asks.

Okay, now maybe it's just me...but don't you think a priest visiting the sick and dying should at least come equipped with a Book of Common Prayer? I mean, come on...The plumber comes with a wrench. Am I asking too much here?

We find the prayer book on the bookcase, beneath a travel-sized plastic pouch of tissues and a bunch of junk mail. Father Hotrod gives me a look like, "You couldn't keep the clutter off the Holy Book now, Lassie?" Which I ignore.

He opens the book, standing at the foot of Dad's bed. I stand beside him, clutching the "Holy" Water, the lump in my throat once again choking me with unshed tears.

The priest prays over the glass of water, saying something like "Bless this water to thy use..." and a few other phrases that all minister's daughters ought to know and then turns to me. "I'll read this with you," he says.

With me? I'm going to read something? Out loud? You've got to be kidding me!

Is it not enough we're standing at the foot of Dad's bed with him unconscious and therefore unable to bail me out by being the appropriate grown-up? Is it not enough that this moment is only a taste of what it is going to be like to be without my best friend and mentor? That this is how every day will feel for the rest of my life? And you want me to read?

I can't possibly, but of course I do. It is what Dad would want and that is what saves me.

It is not at all like "Law and Order," where a priest rushes to the scene, kneels down and makes a hasty sign of the cross on some poor victim's forehead. No. This is a service. It is four pages long.

The priest dips his fingers into the water, murmurs more prayers, then steps forward to make the sign of the cross on Dad's forehead.

It reminds me of how Dad baptized my babies. I can seehim using his thumb to make a wet cross on each of their tiny foreheads. Like my babies, Dad seems to react a little when the priest touches his forehead. His eyebrows arc and then relax as he sleeps on.

I am okay. I can handle a moment that reminds me of birth. But when the priest makes crosses on my father's palms I feel as if a weight has landed on my shoulders. The Crucifixion. Nails. Blood. Death. I should think of his death as a rebirth but I don't. In this moment I can only think of suffering.

The priest backs up, resumes his litany of blessings and prayers, until at last the service is over. I think about my friend, Wendy, a Quaker. She says they don't pray for things or people, they hold them in the light. Holding Dad in the light seems like such a perfect option.

Father Hotrod is still standing there at the foot of the bed. He looks at me, pushes the prayer book into my hands and says, "Here are some prayers you should read to him throughout the day. I'm sure they are prayers you said with him as children."

I am absolutely certain this man has unconscious and unresolved anger issues.
Mine are totally conscious.

Furthermore, I am pissed that we had to pray out loud to God to forgive Dad's sins before he could get a pass into Heaven. Dad hasn't done anything wrong. Ever...and certainly not in the past year! It was work just to breathe. When would he have time to sin? And don't say "by thought, word and deed," cause I'm not buying it.

I have to get this forty-pound robin out of this room before I truly lose my shit.

"He was very good to Christ Church," Father Hotrod murmurs. Even I know the translation of remark.

He is saying, "Your dad was a hell of a friend to me and I am going to miss him. He really understood me, even if I do come off like a rigid ass. He saw that I was shy and frightened. He had compassion."

I say, "He's been that way all of his life."

I am still hacked off about that confession thing.

Only now I feel my father's teachings leaching through my resistant hide. In this moment, and for every moment after this, I like old Hotrod. He can't help that he's stiff and uncomfortable. He's an introvert driving a crucifixion-colored, souped-up Mustang GT, and all he needs is a bit of kindness.

I have got to get rid of him. Now!

So, I say the only thing I can think of and afterward, I know it offends his propriety.

"My dad is the best example of unconditional love on the planet," I say.

Trump that! I think, knowing he will see me as a sacrilegious and faithless. I am worshipping a false idol.

Whatever. It is enough to get Father Hotrod out the door.

I close it behind him, sink down into the chair and feel like I have been defending my helpless father from invaders. I feel besieged myself...By all the tears that refuse to stay put behind the giant lump in my throat.

I dash to the bathroom and, ever the multi-tasker, pee and cry at the same time. But even over this cascade I can hear my father call out.

I jump up, pull my low-riding jeans high enough to cover the essentials and dash, my rhinestone belt flapping in the breeze beside me. "I'm...here!" I cry, the sound breaking off in mid-phrase. He is sleeping again. He was dreaming.

I walk back to my place in the green recliner beside his bed, sink down into its overstuffed cushions.

Oh, God, I feel so alone.


Minutes later Dad wakes up. He's feeling worlds better, he says. I tell him the priest came and gave him last rights. "But don't worry," I say. "I wrote a blog about it!" Dad rolls his eyes. I tell him the version I gave you, only I left out the parts where I felt bad and alone. He is smiling. "So, how many hits today?" he asks.

Dad thinks I should be a columnist. I don't tell him I doubt this will make any more money than what I make as a novelist or a therapist in a nursing home. Besides, I like writing in my pajamas. It was his idea that led me to www.greensboro101.com. He thought I should find others who were doing what I do.

He also thinks I should write from my heart and not always write the funny stuff.

"I'm not saying be depressing. There's just a hint of sadness behind so much of your humor. It's poignant. Just write like you talk."

So I did a search for bloggers in Greensboro and I "found my people." The hits went up a little. And then the sweet creator of www.hoggsblog.com wrote a nice bit about me. Mr. Hoggard has made Dad very, very happy...Even if he did say Dad was already dead!

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