boringvsfunny

Which side of me will win?

Dad – Part 4: Clear out

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The worst day of my life was not the day my Dad died. That was a bad one, make no mistake. It was right up there, alright. Down there, I suppose. But it doesn’t hit you right away. The first thing that hits you is a sense of relief. Then you get sort of numb, sort of dizzy. Words can’t describe it. You’re kinda disconnected, detached. I’d seen and heard words like that used to describe it before it happened to me and they don’t really do the job, but they’re the best we can do.

The worst day of my life was the second of the two days my brother and I spent clearing out my Dad’s flat. It was, I think, about three weeks after he died. The funeral was done, the ashes were scattered, it was… I was going to say the last thing that needed doing. I doubt that but, I don’t know, there was a sense of finality to it for me anyway.

Those two days were just… it was like… you don’t really realise it but there’s a pressure building in you. It starts building from the moment you know someone you love is going to die. That weekend was so hard because we had a job to do, so we had to focus, we had to hold the pressure in. But going through Dad’s stuff… every little thing added to the pressure.

There were letters and photos and cuttings from newspapers and magazines. I was building up a picture of what mattered to my Dad, but most of this stuff was in boxes in a storage cupboard that wasn’t even inside the flat. I already told you how he couldn’t deal with the things that really mattered, didn’t I? I wasn’t fucking kidding.

I was just getting these jabs of pain and emotion with every layer I picked out of these boxes – most of which we just threw away – but it wasn’t time for that yet. We had a job to do. So I pushed it down, held it in, let it build up and up.

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There were other boxes. These ones really fucked with my head. I don’t remember how many there were – at least three, I suppose. Maybe four or five. One would have been bad enough. Each one was full of these identical plain paper notepads. They were nice, high quality ones that my dad particularly liked. As if it fucking mattered that the paper was nice.

Every page of every one of these pads, dozens of them, was full. Every page was full of numbers. Numbers organised and laid out in a specific way. There was some kind of system here, some kind of formula, calculations. This was how he made his bets.

I didn’t know he was a gambling addict. I want to say he wasn’t your typical gambling addict, but I don’t know that it’d be true to say that. I first got a whiff of it when we’d first visited him in hospital. We’d gone to his flat to collect his mail for him and a lot of it was junk mail from bookmakers. I’d had a bit of a “Whu…?” moment, but there was an awful lot else going on at the time. Finding those notepads though, that told me just how much of an obsession this had become for him.

He didn’t give a shit about horse racing as a sport, I’m sure. And I don’t think the risk factor of gambling would have been much of a thrill for him either. Not exactly. No, as those notepads would tell you, the kick for my Dad was in the maths. He thought he could figure it out but, as those notepads would tell you, he couldn’t. But, as those notepads would also tell you, that didn’t stop him trying.

I remember when I was about eleven or so, I got this really difficult puzzle for Christmas. It was called the Crazy Witch puzzle, or something like that. I think it consisted of nine squares, each with the front or rear end of a witch printed on each of its four edges. The witches looked the same save for their different coloured outfits. You had to arrange the pieces so that the witches’ colours all matched. It was fucking infuriating.

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My Dad watched me trying in vain to do it, and some switch in his head flipped. As soon as I got bored and gave up, which didn’t take long, he picked up the pieces, and a pen, and a notepad, and set about figuring out a system that would solve the Crazy Witch puzzle. He spent hours scribbling away, scratching is head, muttering to himself how there had to be a system. There had to be. But there wasn’t. He couldn’t solve the puzzle.

That was exactly how he approached life. And, I think, that was exactly why he died depressed and lonely and totally dysfunctional. Life can’t be figured out with maths and logic, and he couldn’t handle that.

But yeah, I’m getting swamped with all these thoughts and images and realisations while I’m trying to clear a flat – a flat that needs quite a lot of clearing, I might add. I can’t react to it though. There’s a job to be done.

Throwing his stuff into massive skips at the recycling centre – that was harder than scattering his ashes. With his ashes it felt like we were setting him free, but with his stuff, worthless though it largely was, we were… I don’t know… it felt like we were giving up on him. I can’t make sense of that, even now. But that’s how it felt.

Job to do though. Job to do.

When I got home I was… I don’t think there’s a word for it. I was carrying a huge weight. It was all more than I could process. I went into a kind of shut down. I wasn’t feeling the pain, but I could feel that it was there. It was just looking for a way out. It’d get one.

It was about 9 pm. I was sat at the computer in the living room. Karen was behind me sat on the sofa. I don’t know what I was doing. Something mindless, I should think. Something that could hold my attention without requiring me to be engaged.

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Then Karen said, “If I invite my parents to stay are you going to get in a mood like you did last time?”

Parents.

In a mood.

I’d hoped, I’d thought that I could write that and read it back and be philosophical and objective and diplomatic about it, but I can’t. I can’t get over it. No matter how much slack I cut her, this still just seems like an extraordinarily insensitive thing to say to me. I wish I could see it some other way by now, but I just can’t. I don’t think she’s ever said sorry. Not in a way that felt like she meant it.

“Sorry,” always seemed to be followed by, “But what else do you want me to say?”

Sorry, but it’s not an apology if you immediately throw a demand like that at the person you’re apologising to. It’s a counter-attack.

I can see why she’d feel attacked though. I never meant to attack her, of course. I fought hard with myself to avoid making her feel attacked. You could say I fought well. But ultimately I still lost.

I don’t remember how I answered her question. I think I told her I was in no position to make any promises regarding my mood. I think she said something else insensitive that stuck with me for a long while. It’s gone now though. That’s probably a good thing.

I went for a walk on the beach and I cried and cried and cried. I could not believe that she would speak to me like that. I felt abandoned and betrayed and lost. It hurt so much. But this was just crying. The dam was starting to give way to the pressure, but it hadn’t burst. Not just yet.

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When I returned home, I think I silently went to the bedroom and sat on the end of the bed. That’s where I was when the dam burst.

That’s as good a description as any. I don’t know how to describe it. It was surreal, almost like an out-of-body experience. And again, like the moment my mum told me Dad was gone, there was an odd sense of relief. Not that this was in any way pleasant. This was the lowest point of my life.

I remember hearing a noise like no other I’d ever heard, much less made, in my life. Start with one of those harsh, grizzly roars that a toddler does when it’s really upset and really wants its own way. Then take that, and put it in the body of a grown man. Now, take all the intent out of it. A screaming toddler might sound unhinged, but that shit has manipulation at its root. There’s a genuine desperation to it, for sure, but it’s desperation for attention and for control, that’s all.

There was no intent or purpose behind this noise, just a total and complete loss of control. An intense rush of emotion just took me over. The noise wasn’t an expression of it though. It was just the result of a kind of exertion, but not exertion on my part. This is impossible to explain. I remember feeling like I just couldn’t scream hard enough, but that makes it sound like there was some kind of effort involved. Not at all. It was just happening, it was totally involuntary, and the agony came from it not being enough. No matter how much my lungs and throat and whole body were wracked, it wasn’t enough to release the tension or ease the pain.

It wasn’t a cry for attention, but it got attention anyway. I heard Karen coming down the hallway and when she opened the door, I remember wanting to know what she wanted. The thought was calm, neutral, enquiring, but when I tried to articulate it I screamed at her, with the added bonus of an accusatory, tear-soaked, bloodshot stare. She said nothing, closed the door, and made her way back down the hall. I continued screaming.

I would never trust her with my heart again.

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