About my serious side

Not to break the spell or spoil the fun, but you've probably figured out my real name isn't Dummy.

The CTD Diaries is my playground. No one tells the truth in their diaries anyway so I figured I should find another place to get real, where the head lights aren't so bright. I originally thought this would be a good place to post my creative writing, but I think this is just a good place to tell the truth.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Letting Daddy Die

2006

He is face down on the floor, his hair carefully combed, his arms tightly folded under his chest. His favorite red flannel shirt is tucked neatly into his dark denim jeans. He is wearing his thick brown belt for special occasions and brand new socks. Directly above him on the floor is a framed portrait of Christ smiling serenely, a lamb strewn across his shoulders. On his right side, where his face is tilted, is an 8X10 picture of us--all of us--taken at a scout fundraiser just before the separation six months earlier. In it his grin is far too wide. “Look happy!” he had said, then, BAM, we all said cheese and it was done.

My sister enters the room behind me. My mom is still climbing the front porch stairs. We don’t watch her come in, only hear her telling dad we brought him some homemade bread before her voice snags in her throat.
A moment of silence. A pause before the pain.

My sister leans forward, bends her knees and, as if yanked out of thin air, is caught in my mind like a fish on a hook, flopping on the couch beside the body. My mom trots around before kneeling down and placing two fingers over his right wrist. She freezes, covers her mouth and, eyes wide, twists her neck backwards. Now she is galloping from the body to the phone to the open window where the sun shoots into the room, exposing my dad in various shades of death.
The March chill bites into my skin and I begin to shake. Spring has sprung like a mousetrap.

Across the street a postman strides from house to house, nodding pleasantly at a woman pushing a stroller. The postman says something to the baby which makes the woman smile. A toddler, trailing behind, sprinkles cheerios from a baggie into the leftover crusted snow where a flock of birds gather and peck incessantly. When the cheerios are gone the toddler beings to point and scream and then a pack of firefighters burst into the room. One of them has his arm around my mom. She looks at him with large glassy eyes as he directs her to the couch. Now she’s lying down and he’s telling her that everything is going to be alright.

“Looks like he’s already gone,” says one fireman to another.
“Been gone for a while,” comes the reply, as if we hadn’t noticed.

The toddler continues to scream across the street.
“Lookie! Firetruck!” his mom points and tells him, but it’s no use.

From the couch my mom bobs up and down like a weeble.

“Ma’am, can I ask you when you last saw your husband?” the fireman says.
“Yesterday,” she tells him.

I didn’t see him yesterday. I could have, but I didn’t because there was a school dance. I can’t think of the last time I saw him. Was it the concert where my friend and I ditched him for closer seats so we could act like star-crazed teenagers? He was tripped out on the ride home and drove way too fast.
“See ya later, alligator,” he said when he dropped me off.
“Whatever, Dad,” I said, slamming the car door.

Had I seen him later? I couldn’t remember. Maybe the last time had been in the school cafeteria when I ran for class secretary and pretended not to notice him putting up campaign posters for me. Or maybe it was the night he walked me home from his apartment after I came to borrow money.

“You don’t have to walk me home,” I told him, but he insisted. He tried to ask me about boys and school, but I just rolled my eyes. He told me about a great book written by a young girl about my age named Anne Frank.

“You should read that book,” he said.
“I have,” I told him.

The toddler’s screams get louder and louder and then stop suddenly in front of the house. Two medics burst into the room with a stretcher. They turn the body over and I look away. When I look back he is hooked up. There is a whirl of buzzing and ringing followed by a few broken beeps. They pull out flat metal paddles and rub them together. I look away again. They’re going to jump start him. I exhale. That’s all he needs . . . just one more jump. Turn the ignition and his motor will ignite. I am sure of it. In 3 days it will be April 1st and I will feel the same surety as his casket is lowered into the ground. I will hold my breath, positive that he will bust out with his wide grin and shout April fools! It made sense. It was the ultimate practical joke from the ultimate practical joker. He had pulled off a real hum dinger. You got me, Dad, I would say. For a second there you were nearly dead. No, he would correct me, for a second there I was nearly alive.

When I look back the stretcher is in mid-air, suspended for a moment between here and there as my dad passes me in a blur of stinging red and violet.

“Tell me,” I would ask my sister over and over, “was the toddler still crying when they lifted him into the ambulance?”

“No,” she would say. “I don’t remember a toddler.”

“What about the body? What was it like when you found him?”

“He was face down. Wearing a red flannel shirt . . . and jeans, I think. The window must have been open all night because it was freezing and his arms were tucked up under his chest.” At this point she would begin to blink back tears. “The thing is . . .” she would say, “there was this picture of Christ on the floor above him. And there was that family photo . . .” she would trail off.
“The one we had taken for that scout fund raiser?” I would finish.

“Yes, that one . . . “

I would have been there, I almost tell her. I could have been.

“Just be happy you weren’t there,” she tells me.

But I should have been.

I still find him there sometimes, lying on the floor, his hair carefully combed and his red flannel shirt neatly tucked into his dark denim jeans. Sometimes I get there before he dies. I close the window and cover him with a blanket. He cries a little and says God forgive me as his breathing gets louder and raspier. He gasps when he realizes that he’s really done it this time. He wants to change his mind, make things right, but it’s too late. His chest is already heaving.

Other times I get there before he puts the needle in. I sit next to him on the floor and see his tears, Daddy, are you okay? I say. I reach out and put my hand on his shoulder. Do you need to talk? He opens his eyes with surprise. Don’t worry about me, Honey, he tells me, but I stay and wait.

Later he asks, Why are you here anyway? Do you need something? No, I tell him. I just came to see if you were okay.

Sometimes I ask him to recall our last memory together. This IS our last memory together, he says.

No, for real, I say.

He pauses and smiles. You? For real?

Eventually he always breaks down and tells me that he couldn’t take it anymore. That he was a failure. . . a sinner. He tells me he messed everything up. He buries his face in his hands and apologizes for being such a disappointment to me. I know you’re ashamed of me, he says. He tells me that he’s ashamed of himself. He’s sorry about all the times he shot up while we were around and how he wished I hadn’t seen him that way--how he wished my friends hadn’t seen him that way. And finally he says that he’s sick and he’s sick of being sick. You’ll all be better off without me.

I rub his shoulders and tell him I’m sorry too, and that everything will be okay, that I understand he’s having a rough go of it and I know he’s trying his best. It’s a lie, but later it will become the truth. He will sit up and hug me and say, you don’t really mean that.
Of course I mean it, I say, even though I don’t, yet.

I skip the school dance that night and make popcorn and we watch some TV together and talk about boys and school. I thank him for the campaign posters and tell him how much I loved The Diary of Anne Frank. He gives me butterfly kisses before my wedding and a high five when I graduate college.

Usually, after all of our talking and crying and hugging, he puts the needle in anyway and the medics carry him out.

After while, crocodile, he says as he passes me standing in his living room.

Wait! I call out and the medics stop. I said I was sorry! Doesn’t that count for something?

Shhh,
he puts his finger to his lips and his eyes fill with tears. It was a good try, but life’s just not that cut and dry.

Well, I’m not just going to stand here and let you die! I shout after him. '

You already have, he tells me, then POOF, he disappears.

12 comments:

Lisa (Funny Farmer) said...

Wow. Just... wow.

Please tell me this is fiction. Cuz if it's true, I'm gonna be depressed.

Emily Anne Leyland said...

Oh Debbie. I am sat here in tears. I needed to hear the "truth". It has been such a mystery and a thing that was not allowed to be talked about like all things in the Roger's family. I don't know what to say. Thank you for opening that up to me and everyone who reads this. I remember the funeral so vivdly at such a young age. I remember you. I wanted you and kept going between you and Mary throughout the service. I feel so sad. For you and all the kids, for your Mom. Your poor mom :(
I wish that I could rewind and make it all go away for everyone. I really could go on and on, but thanks. Thanks for being so candid. I wish this or whatever it was, didn't ruin our chance to know each other more. All of us cousins. :(
Keep writing. It is amazing. P.S. Who was your favorite aunt?

The Crash Test Dummy said...

Emily, thank you for your response. It means so much to me. It's a hard story, I know. My husband doesn't like it at all because he says I shouldn't have felt that way, but I don't think you can write only about the things you should feel. You have to write about that things you do feel. That's interesting you remember the funeral so well.

It is unfortunate that we were pretty much separated after the funeral, but at least we've found each other again through our blogs. That's so fun. The whole family secrets thing is so sad too. I don't know what you were told, but probably much of it was based on assumption.

Thanks again for your compassion!
Love ya!

Emily Anne Leyland said...

I just emailed you ;)

The Rogers Family said...

Brillant! you really are very talented. I am so sorry that you had to go through that pain and shame, and now some regrets. I feel your pain and his. I know from personal experience that when you feel so much pain whether its betrayal, out of control addiction, guilt, or whatever, you rationalize that your family,friends,and the world would be better off without you. Because of your weakness, you are more likely to hurt them and their futures more by being alive then by dying. You can't see a way for the pain to heal. I admired so much about him. He had so many talents and abilities. He was incredibly intelligent too. Some times with great talents come great weaknesses. I see many of his talents in all of us. And in my case maybe some of his weakness. Take care, Love you,Stephen

Sarah said...

I hope you dont mind another follower. Your post made me cry, you have experienced such loss, and yet you have maintained an incredible sense of humor. That is an amazing accomplishment.

Tiffany said...

This made me cry. It is so sad. It brings back so much emotion about my baby sister dying last year. She too took too many drugs and suffocated in her bed. She was 28 and left behind her 6 yr old. So sad. Maybe someday I will write about her. Although I am no writer,I bet it would help my heart.

Mags said...

Hi Debbie,
I remember when I read the story in the New Era that you wrote that had to do with your Dad and I remember thinking how it explained some of why you are such a compassionate and real friend. I loved what you have written about your Dad and how you felt.
I'm also hoping that sometime when you drive through Provo you will show up at my door so I can see your beautiful face! I can't believe that you are here!

Youngblood4ever said...

Crash- I've never read this story- thanks for linking to it. I don't have any words to tell you how much more I admire and love you for all that you have been through. Thanks for sharing such a personal memory. You really are amazing!

springrose said...

Thank you for sharing such a personal and terrible moment in your life! All of us have moments we want to change. Some worse than others. I have no words, just hugs and love.

Heidi Ashworth said...

I hope you are trying to get this published somewhere. It's a jewel. It's the absolute realness of it that makes is resonate and worth being read by the whole world. Love you!

Mariko said...

Oh man. This story is so crazy.

The Poof at the end seems sickly funny. Different than uncomfortable, I think.