8.02.2006

Tearless in Tampa

As usual, 'willing' oneself to 'sleep' is somewhat mutually exclusive, so I gave up and got up. It's not even really that late as I start this, but it's been a long grueling day and another ahead tomorrow, but my mind just won't shut up so I'll spill it here and then go stretch and hope for sleep.

In spite of my fear and loathing of all things avionic, I am still going to get on that flight tomorrow and fly to TN for a weekend of family and ancient Egyptian artifacts at the Frist Museum. I got up thinking I might go ahead and pack but a few moments in front of the open suitcase and a pile of clothes was just more organizational wherewithal than I have at the moment. Besides, C's asleep and I don't want to rustle around the house when at least one of us is able to get to sleep.

I miss Pappy this evening. Mama gave me a photo of him from perhaps the mid '60's when he was art director at Opryland. It's black and white; he's sitting in his studio, a small statue of Napoleon on the bookshelf behind him. He's looking off into the middle distance, every inch the art director- opinionated, creative, observant.

It's just shy of a year since he left and tonight there's a waxing moon spilling into the bedroom reminding me that it was two days waning when he passed last year. I was watching "National Treasure" on pay per view the night he died and my cousin S called me from the death watch and gave me updates. I felt entirely disconnected from it at the time, and then even more surreal when I went out to breakfast with C's family the next morning because they wanted to take me out for my birthday. Not that I felt like celebrating being born that day, but sometimes you don't have much say in these things and you suck it up like a well-raised daughter.

To my complete non-surprise, I started menstruating almost the moment I arrived in Nashville and then bled like I was going to die myself for days on end. Every female in my family did the same for the next five days. Biology is freaky. So I drank a lot of Jack Daniels to compensate.

The night I arrived, my brother drank himself from obnoxious bravado into silent sobbing on the front porch, while my cousin S held his shoulders. The house was too full of mourning family, so we younger generation and the smokers sought refuge on the front porch and yard. I could not cry that night, did not really cry that much the whole time. Tensions snapped back and forth between mothers and daughters, cousins, brothers and sisters, inlaws, and I could feel tangibly the threads snapping between us all and knew that Pappy would be distressed to know this.

I got lost in my rental car everywhere I went in Nashville that week. My mother needed me most of all and I was not there for her - 'her father's daughter', she let my brother know when I had let her down somewhere in that nasty grieving week, and my brother let me know. Ouch. Sometimes even a quarter of a century afterwards, divorce wounds rip their ugly little scars open to remind me of the vulnerable needy kid I once was wanting to get away from the venom of motherly spite known to be borne out of disappointment and grief but still just wanting to be away from it and her - and into the calm but ineffectual compassion of fatherly silence.

My husband was a rock. He didn't get lost, even though he had only been to Nashville a handful of times. He got us to the church on time, got us to the wake on time, got us to the graveside on time - or just after, where they were all waiting for us in the hot morning sun, single red roses for each of us to leave with him in the grave. A small heavy metal urn was his coffin, his tall able frame reduced to a box of ashes to be buried in the August sunshine.

Perhaps Pappy is watching from that side, pulling those snapped threads back together; we've woven ourselves into new configurations over the last year. Or perhaps he really is gone, obliterated except for our memories of him. I don't care to speculate- coming from a long line of doubting Thomases, I prefer to rely on what I can put my hands on and through. Pappy would understand, I'm fairly certain.

I have not shed many tears even since then. I don't know why this is - I miss him terribly and feel the empty spot where just knowing he was alive is now gone but tears, though hot and big, are not frequent, lengthy or noisy. There is a part of me that hopes and wishes he is looking out for me as a guardian angel but the larger part of me suspects that when he left he took it all with him and would expect that we are to look after ourselves in his absence.

Right now, I'm just going to aim for that same mindset I see in his photo - opinionated, creative, observant.