this week has been a torturous obstacle course of pain for my soul.
even after i thought i had cried away all the tears i could possibly produce...there are more. as i type this, my swollen eyes ache, my nose is raw from the ministrations provided by "extra-soft" tissue, my head pounds like i have a grief hangover. that's nothing, though. my heart feels a million times worse than all of that.
i have never had a good NYE. something horrific always happens- i get mugged, have knock-down drag-out fights with my bf as the ball drops blocks away, i'm trapped on a sub-standard flight home after nightmarish delays and layovers, i have to bury my daddy...
today is december 31, 2003. december 31.
a day that shall live in infamy. i thought you broke my heart on december 23rd, when you went to the ICU, never to wake again...but i was wrong. december 23, 29, 31...i now have a triumvirate of dates which destroy the last month of the year, each of them worse than the one which it follows, for the horrific milestone each represents.
i was in davis, 28 miles away. mom called. "come to the hospital, now."
i made it to you in 20 minutes, daring the CHP to pull me over. they'd have to catch me, and that gigantic eight-valved mercedes you bought me first, motherfuckers. at 100 miles per hour, the engine was producing a dull roar which i couldn't hear, not because the car was so perfectly insulated (and born for such speeds, really), but because the noise in my nearly-insane head was deafening.
i parked in the first area that looked like a space, barely remembering to turn off and then lock the car. i ran up four flights of stairs, burst in to the ICU through that ugly, prison-like door. everything stretched in to slow motion as i stood there, immobilised. nurses, doctors, medical assistants looking at me with pity and fear; they knew who i was, they knew how my father felt about me, they knew how i would react to what i was about to see. my mother had opened that hospital, trained more than half of the eyes that gazed at me so sorrowfully. one nurse, tears in her eyes pointed to the right, wordlessly. i don't remember walking up to that room. i do remember standing in the doorway, thinking that if i reversed my steps, ran down the stairs backwards, and sped back to davis at 100mph, i could still change things, make them different. rewind, right? my mother looked up at me with an unfamiliar blankness flattening her face. i ignored her and took your other hand.
i kept vigil by your bed, avoiding food, water, sleep and cynical, perfunctory proclamations that you were "gone". they wanted to take you off of life support, and i calmly told them the same thing every single time; "if you do, then i will forever consider you his murderer." i couldn't bear the thought. it's easy to scoff at people keeping loved ones on ventilators until it's your precious daddy hovering between life and death. no one would "unplug" that cord. not while i lived. "he has no chance at survival." thank you for your opinion, now please get out. i want to be alone with my father. and frankly, he wants to be alone with me, since i'm the ONLY ONE not hatefully anticipating his death.
several times a day i would pass out from an exhaustion that i pray i never know ever again; an exhausted body is nothing compared to a spent heart. i pressed your feet constantly, the way the king's feet were tended to in "Mahabharat", the serial we joyfully watched in its entirety twice. when i did lose consciousness my hands were still clutching your feet, pressing them to my face, the smell of death ready-woven in to that hospital blanket. i used your shins as a pillow. you would kick me awake, it was the slightest stirring, but it was you, you were moving again. each time my heart would lift a tiny bit in my chest, strain against my ribs, flutter back to life...could it be?
my eyes would blaze with faith and invariably a doctor or nurse would be there to cluck at me pitifully. "anna, that doesn't mean anything. he's moving but that doesn't mean he'll wake up. it's an involuntary spasm." my eyes would race from the messenger, kill the messenger for such blasphemy...my eyes would rush back to your face. mental telepathy. fuck them, daddy. what do they know? they are mortal. they can be wrong. "kick me again" i'd murmur. "again." i still believed.
december 29th, 1998
six days passed and i was finally convinced to go home, four miles away, and shower. nurses had taken turns combing my long, wavy, tangled and neglected hair while i passed out. i wouldn't let them near me if i was awake, because they disturbed my concentration, my absolute devotion to your face, your breathing, your heart rate. i had never looked at a tv or a movie screen with the absolute attention i gave your hospital monitors.
so, i would occasionally sleep. and i'd wake up with my hair braided. i could not have cared less. i promised you that i would be gone for 20 minutes exactly; five minutes home, ten minute shower, five minutes back. i stood at the end of your bed, each of my hands wrapped around one of your feet. i bent over and touched my forehead to your toes, stealing your blessing. "don't go anywhere, daddy. i'll shut them up with this shower and i'll be right back." it was a simple, unbeatable plan; five minutes home, ten minute shower, five minutes back...
it was the only time i left your side.
five minutes home...one minute in the shower...the bathroom door opening...a blur outside the glass which entombed me in my tub-- a glass door that engineer-you installed b/c i didn't want a shower curtain...my mother's voice, thickened with pain and unshed tears...
she said nothing more. she didn't need to.
"oh god, no, why? i wasn't there. oh my god he was alone. he died alone. why did i come back here? how could i leave him like that?"
i collapsed against tile, not noticing cold or soap scum, just feeling white pain. and water. i am in water. what do you do with water when your life is over?
i put on the darkest, ugliest sari i had. you loved me in indian clothes, told me i was born to wear them. if i was born to wear them, i would die in them too, and that is what i knew i was going to do, during a life without you. the last time you "saw" me through a corpse's eyelids, i'd be mummified in silk. i wouldn't find out until years later, that when you had gone to india just months before your death, you had come back with my wedding sari..."just in case". i had never decided on whether i would wear a white dress or kanjeevaram silk or both...you decided for me. i can see the conspiratorial wink you must have given the owner of that sari boutique, when you had them wrap up my future in scented tissue.
when i made it back to the hospital, all of your tubes had been removed. the death blanket was gone; a simple, crease-free white sheet draped perfectly over your lifeless body. your mouth was open. it didn't look dignified. i hesitated, then gingerly reached over and tried to close it. you were past the point of feeling anything, let alone pain, but i was so scared i would hurt you as i moved your chin upwards. your jaw no longer worked; it wouldn't shut. that was when i knew you were truly gone. and that was when i finally understood all of those unintentionally sepia-coloured pictures of my grandparent's funerals back home in Kerala. why they always had white linen tied around their faces. it was so that they wouldn't look like you.
december 31, 1998.
we buried you on inopportune New Year's eve b/c the next available day was my birthday. i opted for my birthday, but mom said no. i would hate New Year's eve passionately for the rest of my life. five years ago, one desecrated holiday would guarantee that, decisively.
five years ago, today, right now, i couldn't sleep. i had never delivered a eulogy before and i wasn't prepared. can you ever be prepared for that? is anyone ever ready to say farewell formally to their father in front of hundreds of people? i've given dozens of performances in my life and nothing, absolutely nothing could have prepared me for that walk up to the podium, that dull microphone, that mute crowd, eyes riveted to me.
five years ago, today, in exactly nine hours a funeral liturgy commenced. an hour after that, my mother's mind snapped and she tried to throw herself in to a fresh wound in the earth, to be with my father. i actually had to throw ice water in her face to bring her back to reality. i felt like a bitch, not for drenching her, but for bringing her back...to this.
five years ago today, i touched my daddy for the last time. i saw his face a final moment before they closed the coffin, but it wasn't his face; in real life, he didn't wear make-up and his hair wasn't parted like that. these eleventh hour indignities couldn't hurt me, because i was so numb.
five years ago today, a box containing my greatest ally, mentor and source of love was put twelve feet under ground, never to see light again. my heart was buried with it. i have never been the same since.
five years ago today, the world tipped slightly and i almost stumbled off, stiletto heels slipping on grass slick from tears, mine and the angel's...a muddy hill is no place for limousine shoes. i didn't care. i wasn't going to say good-bye to you and look ugly. the oversized chanel sunglasses you secretly loved, b/c they reminded you of your beloved "jackie", they couldn't shield my already ravaged eyes from further torment. the bright san francisco sun couldn't burn hot enough to remove the braille from my arms. jesus, mohammed and krishna could've shown up and i wouldn't have noticed or cared unless they were preparing to resurrect you. my mind, my vicious, over-active mind conjured the same horrific thought over and over again; "you are consummately alone. forever."
who's going to love you now?
who'd going to take your side? protect you? guide you with the wisdom of the ancients? cover you with your quilt when you sleep? fuss over your car? scream at you when you've been bad? cry inwardly for you when you've been had? gloat when you win? rail against the system/heaven/universe when you lose?
who's going to make you milky coffee every morning, pour it in to HIS stainless steel tumbler, (the tumbler no one is even allowed to wash, lest it somehow become polluted) and then painfully limp up the stairs despite the advancing decay of parkinson's disease to stubbornly present it to you, thus letting the smell of kappipala be the world's sweetest alarm clock ever? who's going to impatiently mutter "finish it" and then grunt after you say "thank you, daddy"?
who's going to cook your dinner separately when your mother spitefully throws onions in the curry? who's going to tell you stories about your last name, your ancestors, your blood? who will buy the house in kottayam, near "best bakery", so that the errand boy can fetch your favourite pastries for continental breakfast every morning if necessary? who will walk you down the aisle? who will you look at when you make your victory speech, when you eventually run and get elected? who will brag about you to friends and especially enemies on four continents? who will infuriate you like no other yet own your heart b/c it's a cardiac copy of his own?
only you, daddy, only you.
daddy i love you, and i miss you more now than i did then.
i'm sorry i'm didn't go to law school.
i'm sorry i'm not married to a good syrian christian malayalee boy.
i'm sorry that the last time we talked on the phone, i hung up on you, b/c we fought.
i'm sorry i'm not the girl you dreamed i could be, prepared me to be, needed me to be.
most of all, i'm sorry i never got to say good-bye or thank you or i love you...
my hair is long now. i wear saris more often than ever. i'm not opposed to arranged marriages. i came home from new york and i rarely go out to party. five years after you could have delighted in it, i have become the daughter you deserved.
i go to church constantly. every time i do, a candle is lit in front of the altar. it burns for a week, on the left side of the church, the side for the dead. i burn forever, on the left side of G-d, who obviously hates me a little because he took you away from me.
from the left and right sides of church, the choir sing the memorial hymn in greek, then english;
may his memory be eternal.
everlasting be his memory.
may his memory be eternal...
...it deserves to be, for that is how long i will yearn for your love.