Chocolate and Visions

Okay, this is bad. You know the chocolate assortments I bought as "office" gifts yesterday?

I'm eating them. I'm eating them and trying to decorate the tree in my tiny office.

It is turning out to be harder than I expected- the tree decorating, not the eating chocolate- that part's going along just fine.

This room where I spend hours and hours, couldn't be more than 10 x 12 feet. I had it decorated with angels, primitive and gothic, traditional and funky but at some point over the summer I packed them all up and threw them into the attic. My rational at the time was that summer had arrived and so it was time to lighten up. I replaced the angels with blue and white stuff- quilts, pictures, anything light, lacy and blue or white made the cut.

But I don't even like blue.

The bad thing about being in the shrink business is that you over-analyze everything and have a hard time pulling the wool over your own eyes. I packed up the angels because I was mad at God for not helping Dad.

Angels have always been a special thing between Dad and me. I saw an angel when I was five and Dad was the only one who believed me. He gave me a pin one time that looked exactly like the angel I'd described to him. He always listened when weird and unexplainable events happened to me and he never tried to tell me that I was nuts.

Like the time my friend, Tom, committed suicide-by-biker.

Tom was a privileged white kid and an alcoholic. When I met him he was a counselor in a drug treatment program and I was an intern. The most noticeable thing about Tom was he was short. Like 5'2" short. A miniature man, trapped in a small body. But this didn't seem to slow him down.

With his help I learned to paint and rebuild cars, work with drug addicted kids and develop a love for Pablo Neruda and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

A few years after our failed relationship, he called one night to tell me what a fine counselor I was and how he knew I was going to make it. He said he wanted me to know how much he cared about me and would always value our time together. He thanked me for being in his life.

I didn't have any idea he was trying to say goodbye.

A few weeks later, Dad called to say Tom had been airlifted to a hospital in Lancaster. He'd been beaten and left for dead by a group of bikers. Apparently he'd gone into the roughest bar in Chester County with the sole intention of drinking himself into a near stupor and picking a fight he would never win.

Dad said, "If you want to see him, you'd better hurry. He's in a coma."

I was a kid. I didn't get it. People emerged from comas and were fine, weren't they?

But something in Dad's voice made me rush, stopping only to buy red Gerber daisies because I knew bright colors stimulated patients in light comas.

I rushed up into the intensive care waiting room, full of hope and the expectation that Tom would be good as new soon. I'm sure this shone out from every pore of my young, idealistic body because when his mother saw me and the red flowers she said, "Tom's brain dead. We're only waiting on the organ transplant team to arrive before we cut off his life support."

The smile on my face never faltered. I pushed the daisies into her arms and smiled. "I know," I said softly. "These are for you."

I remember making it as far as my father's house and him meeting me at the bottom of the basement garage steps before I completely lost it, falling into his arms and crying "Why? Why did this happen?"

I was inconsolable.

Dad stayed with me until I was at last calm enough to lie down upstairs in my old room. But I couldn't sleep. Instead I continued to sob, heartbroken at the tragedy of Tom's broken life.

I was crying like this when Tom suddenly appeared next to me, sitting on the bed wearing what appeared to be soft pink long-johns.

"What are you doing here?" I asked. "You're supposed to be dead!"

Tom smiled and shook his head softly. "I can't go with you like this," he said. "You're grieving too much. Don't you see? I'm not hurting anymore. Didn't you hear what I was trying to tell you a few weeks ago? I can't live with my alcoholism. It's too much. I don't belong here. And now, I don't hurt anymore."

I stared at him, not believing for a second that it wasn't a dream and telling him so.

"You don't believe me?" he said. "In a few seconds your sister is going to come in and take one of your albums out of that milk crate. When you wake up, it'll be in her room and she won't even see me sitting beside you. Now go on, act like you're sleeping. Here she comes!"

Sure enough, Becky came tiptoeing softly into the room, slipped one of my favorite albums from its place in the milk crate and left...All while Tom jumped up and down, hollering her name.

She never saw him.

Later I told this to my father and asked, "Do you think that was a dream, or did I really see him?"

Dad rubbed his chin, considering. "I think you saw Tom," he said finally. "I think you're one of those people who isn't afraid to see things they don't understand. Now I would be too afraid. That's probably why I don't see angels or dead people."

He made my experience seem so completely rational and once it was, I could accept the comfort and solace Tom's visit brought me.

Which is why I am pissed off now.

Doesn't Dad know I need him? Why hasn't he come to see me? Why don't I feel his presence?

I decorated my entire office in angels again over the weekend. I put pictures of Dad up on the wall above the mantle. I trimmed the tree in angel lights and proceeded to decorate it just as I always have, in gold and white ornaments, with angel lights. I had almost finished when I realized I just didn't feel it. This year, gold and white and traditional weren't doing it for me.

That's when I began pulling the carefully arranged, delicate ornaments off the tree, packing them back into their crate without even looking at the rest of them. In their place I began to hang funky, colorful Santa and creature ornaments- ignoring completely the beige and white simple angel decor.

I'm sorry, but fuck angels. What have they done for me lately? Did they save my dad? No. Did they help him come visit me in dreams? No. Do I feel him all around me as I've felt others in the past? Hell no. So why hang the little pissants on the tree? Why honor them when I think they're big, fat manipulative liars?

I know. That's completely immature. It's not the angels' fault...Or is it? Couldn't they have been more present? Couldn't they recharge Dad's batteries enough to send him on a l.o.a from heaven long enough to say, "Kid, I'm fine"?

Becky says he's all over the place with her. She talks to him constantly because she says the alternative, not believing and not talking, realizing he's just flat gone, would be too much for her. "I couldn't take that!" she says.

I lean on the chest freezer in the sunroom, the only place in the house where my cell phone can receive a signal, and listen to her certainty. She is dog sick with bronchitis which she seems to have caught on both month anniversaries of Dad's death and still she is gung-ho Dad's still with us.

While I, on the other hand, hang ornaments on the tree only to take them down again and start over. Bah-humbug!

Where the hell is he when I need him?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a writer, I have always turned to books for answers. A book that helped me make it through a tragedy in my own family was THE COURAGE TO GRIEVE by Judy Tatelbaum. It is a classic, first published in 1980 and reprinted since then. You will identify with every page and at the end, she gives you hope that you will eventually come out on the other side of the dark tunnel of grief.