Wednesday, June 18, 2008

This Mortal Coil

YeaSayer--"Final Path" (mp3)
Warren Zevon--"Don't Let Us Get Sick" (mp3)

A few weeks ago, I drove over to my dad's apartment this week to see if he was dead.

It's been that kind of year.

I don't know how old your parent or parents are, but when they get to some certain, undefinable age and they go a couple of days without answering their phones or sending email or establishing contact, you start to think the worst. Nevermind that my dad can't find his phone half the time and doesn't really know how to use it beyond answering it. His adjustment to the modern world once he got a cell phone was to cancel his land line to save money (he doesn't need to save).

So, I went during lunch hour. I'm not trying to sound cavalier; that was after a morning of repeated telephone calls. What goes on in your head as you drive over to your father's apartment thinking he is dead is pretty interesting. There are philosophical considerations--he's my remaining parent; when he's gone, there goes the final layer of protection, however tenuous, between me and mortality. There are logistics--my dad has given me reams of paper about what to do upon his death, and I always accept them graciously, and just as graciously file them away, because I don't really want to read through all of that until I have to. Then there's the real stuff--the heartwrenching fear and terror that I'm going to walk into an apartment and find my father dead. My mentor, my best man, my incredible, decades-long friend, my namesake.

And then, of course, just as I am turning onto the I-24 exit ramp past Moore Road, he answers the phone. "Can't a guy even take a shower?" he asks.


It sounds silly now and I feel kind of stupid that my heart was racing as I was driving out there, but those are real moments. I was pretty hard on my dad once he answered, too.

You also might be amused to know that I had a similar experience a month earlier when the Upper School Head and I walked over to a teacher's apartment, convinced that he, too, was dead. This one probably had more weight to it. This guy had just returned to school after a mental health leave of some kind, and there were all kinds of rumors about what had happened to him in the interim--had he been fired? had his fiancee called off the wedding? So when he came back and resumed teaching but really didn't talk much to anyone, it was reasonable to speculate about his fragile mental state.

So, Thursday morning, first class of the day he "no shows." Students come into the Upper School office asking where he is. A call to his office yields no results. A call to his apartment on campus yields no results. Calls around to various locations like the dining hall, the copy room, etc. indicate that no one has seen him. So, off we go. The Upper School Head is a pretty tightly wound guy, so he's breathing heavy and hyperventilating and saying "Man" a lot and all of that kind of thing, while I'm visualizing the scene ahead.

When we get to the dorm, it's pretty dark. Boys are in class, for the most part, and the hallway lights are off. We knock. No answer. We pound. No answer. We say his name loudly. No answer. The boys who haven't gone to class are peering out of their rooms at the other end of the hall. Our fears are increasing exponentially by the second. Then we call the head of the physical plant to bring us a key so we can go in. While waiting for him, we walk back outside the dorm, both of us on cell phones calling everyone we can think of to see if anyone has seen him.

When the golf cart pulls up and we get the key, the physical plant guy clearly wants no part of this beyond handing over the key. Open door. Yell name. Walk through. Nice, clean apartment. Didn't know he drank wine. More yelling of name as we go room to room. Enter bedroom. No one there. Collective sigh of relief, or at least, confusion, since his car is in its parking space.

As it turns out, he's with his class in the library, and the students who came asking about him hadn't been paying attention.


It's far too easy to "shuffle off this mortal coil," and this year, it has seemed easier than ever. So watch your consumption of tomatoes. Play Wii. Switch your Type-A personality to Type-B. Don't talk on your phone in the car. Listen to good music.

"Don't Let Us Get Sick" is from Zevon's Life'll Kill Ya cd; "Final Path" is from the YeaSayer Wait For The Summer ep. Both are available at Itunes. If you notice a tendency to post Warren Zevon songs, you are correct. I find him to be an astute commentator on most issues, always with a wry sense of humor.

1 comment:

Billy said...

Your description of that car drive is eerily reminiscent. I had three of those drives. The first two were to get Dad, who was bleeding out of his mouth and refusing Mom's help, into the car and to the hospital. But on both drives I was forced to acknowledge, in my mind and heart, that I could be removing my father from his home forever, that these might be my last moments with him.

The third time, around a year after the first time, was to say goodbye. The Hospice nurse had said he was in his final moments, so I was driving over at 6 a.m. to say my last words.

Your description doesn't come across at all silly to me.

Strangely, this Father's Day wasn't a haunting or melancholy experience for me. Everyone seemed to expect such, the first without my Dad, but I dunno. I guess I'm past that part of it and on to new parts of it that I haven't quite figured out yet.