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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Dad

Thursday December 6, 1995 - The mad business grows. My brother Steve, a sales machine, keeps bringing in the search work, we are doubling our size every six months. First taste of success today, I managed to sublet part of the new space at 565 5th Avenue. Construction has started there, I attend on Tuesday mornings coffee meetings with the builders and architect. A variety of sweet rolls sit on top of a banged and dented Knack Box. On one side of the vast open space a contractor's draughtsman in overalls sketches layouts and designs for the HVAC (High Volume Air Conditioning) on an large slanted worktable. Steve B and I survey the red and blue lines chalked onto the floor and ceiling facing each other in textured perfection, the broad open views down 5th Avenue to the Empire State Building, West towards 6th Avenue, East to the Pan Am and buildings around Grand Central. The views are silent and still and magnificent, the architecture at this height concealing all traces of the life form that created this. Like a magnificent coral reef the huge city is built by the tiniest animals, whose lives are integrally entwined with its architecture. We are builders. Like coral, we exist by building societies much larger than our individual selves. Perhaps this is the reason that the lives of tigers so fascinate us; they are by contrast, creatures that do not build, who live alone, whose contact with its own kind is minimal.

Young Derek A, our broker, has made another bid to become part of Highland. After a disastrous meeting with Jim P, (Jim dismissed him as a ‘lightweight’), Derek calls with a valuable piece of information. The entire trading department at Republic National Bank has walked out to join Credit Suisse. I inform Joe H and Georges H of this, Joe hops on it. Next thing I know Derek is at Highland, sitting in Jane E's desk, gathering the facts. He has pointed out a potentially very big fish. As I told him later, someone has to get that fish to bite, and then land it.

Chris M calls. We catch up. He’s still working at the AIDS center on Rivington Street, says a lot of people are dying now. A hundred and fifty since August. They come to the center, then they get sicker, then they die.

Have just discovered “Wired” magazine, amazed that I had not contacted its good journalism before this time. Insights into business, information age development. It very much is a networked magazine, a kind of information center.

I have noticed, merely by virtue of my being in charge of data and computing at Highland, that people report to me with interesting tidbits of information. As if all the wires that feed back to the servers in my little office, also fed to the great world outside, so socially I am at a data hub. I am tickled by the looks of surprise Stevo and his partners give me when I pass along one of these little goodies for them to make money with. They wonder “how did he get this ?”

Late afternoon meetings at dePolo Dunbar with Steve Brooks and Joe Lee. We’re on furniture selection now, but today we rushed through a change on the sublet space making it much better. The people from D'accord are renting it and are paying for the changes.

December 11, 1995 - Monday, weary after New York day at the office, the more difficult because of what happened on Saturday.




Friday December 9, 1995 - Mom calls Highland. She is cool, asks where Stevo is, I tell her he’s in a meeting, “How are you," I ask, how is Dad. “He’s terrible Markie”, then overcome, she sobs out “You better come home quickly your Dad is hanging on. He wanted Jock Lorrison to put him to sleep yesterday, but I told him to hang on till his kids got home.” She tells me on Thursday he felt energetic and loaded the car with junk from the garage. At night he ran a fever, had trouble breathing. Yesterday he could not get out of bed. “We’re loosing him Markie. You better hurry.”

Stevo and I rush to the limousine. Outside the Park Avenue building it is cold. Inside the car, I try to work on the computer. It is of no use, a pointless distraction. Stevo begins to talk about his plans for growing the business. Big money talk. That's his defense. I respond with mine, of kind, cold expressions. There are all types of mergers and acquisitions. What are we doing? I wonder.

Why can’t I write this?

Cottage Street is empty when I reach home, Ami and the children arrive a few minutes later. I quickly surrender my suit, Ami arranges for Maureen to look after the kids. I get the car from the garage, and after a few brief errands, (a Fedex of the Highland Payroll to Fidelity Investments, getting gas, etc.) we are on our way towards Woodbury.

This is the dying road. Twice before, for my grandfather, and grandmother, we have navigated these turns because one of our family was dying. I remember speeding in the car towards my grandfather's house the day he died. I lost control and spun up onto a bank. It was like one of those runaway truck ramps, a heaven-sent bit of landscaping that saved me. Today I wasn't driving.

At the house we dashed out of the car and across the lawn. The back door is open, but no one is downstairs. I climb the back stairs to a house that seems empty. How many times one does certain things, yet we usually have only one memory of it.

Jeff and Barbie, and Mom and Dad were all in Dad’s room. His breathing is heavy and regular and loud, and sounds like the regular wheezing of a machine. There is a machine too administering oxygen with a purring and gasping of its own through a tube tied about his bald head, and stuck into his nose.

“Marko! Stevo!” he gasps. “You look great. You look successful!”

“Where did you get that coat?”

“Be kind to the ones that love you, Marko. By the way Marko, I want you to take that ripoff of Picasso that I did and paint over it.”

I promise him I’ll do that, but that I’ll leave something of his underneath.

“Yes but you must sign it with your name Marko!”

“No Dad, its a collaborative effort”.

“And would you finish painting in that picture of Kon’s. I promised him I’d do it but just don’t think I going to get around to it. Would you mind?”

Over the next few hours he musters enough strength to have words with each of his children.

His breathing becomes tired and strained. He is drenched in sweat. His body is running full tilt to hold itself. He begs for morphine. We give it to him in small doses. Jock Lorrison, his doctor and neighbor arrives with more morphine and advice on how to administer a dose that will make death less painful. Andrew and I work out the milligrams per liter.

By evening he has no strength for talking. He has pulled into himself, into the cold desperate clammy self of the mind trying to hold its own against the onslaught of failing body, a loyal body of cells, now an army in disarray. The knight withdraws to his castle, the drawbridge is up, cut off from the world about, he abandons his horses, his armor, his arms, awaiting the outcome of the siege.

“Are you thinking Dad”, I ask him.

He nods.

“Good thoughts?”

He nods again.

I want to ask him if he is afraid, but I can tell that he is in spite of everything and so I don’t make him say it.

His hand is alternately warm and cold.

We cook a meal, and eat it, with wine, in bizarre celebration, downstairs with the fire burning. How hard it is hard to separate these moments from the other ones like it. Andrew occasionally laughs his explosive laugh. Barbie busies herself in the kitchen with the dishes and the wine and the deserts. It is a flawless production. All Mom’s family meals were like that, and they became more so over time.

I find myself wondering if it is appropriate to celebrate like this, to drink wine, or eat ham, and rich deserts. The living must go on. So I eat, like the others, and it tastes good.

We take turns, in shifts, by his side. Not much talking now, occasionally Mom asks if he needs anything. Then amazingly he wants to shit. Chuckles and sighs of relief. The old guy has energy still. Jeff and Mom help him out of his bed, “Everyone else out of the room, he’s embarrassed.”

But the old body can’t eliminate its poisons. He strains and heaves, and falls in exhaustion to the sheets. Mom asks Andy and I to direct her in giving a generous dose of morphine.

But we never had to administer the two syringes full that Doc Lorrison said would spare him the ultimate misery. Two cc’s and he is off into peaceful sleep breathing in a relaxed manner.

It is getting late, we divide up rooms and go to our beds. Ami and I climb into Andrew’s boyhood bed, and fall quickly asleep. It feels like Christmas night, such nights when all of a family gather into a small house and await a miracle. Steve and Jody bed down in Mom and Dad’s room, Jeff and Jennifer sleep in Barb’s old Bed, Punta and Dave make their digs on the living room floor. Mom decides to sleep with Dad. She climbs in the far side of his bed facing his back. He will not roll over much tonight.

Soon all the lights are out, and the only sounds are those of the house creaking and the world outside. Cars pass and their headlights sweep the white plaster. Everywhere there is an illusion of Christmas, of Santa Clause about to appear somewhere, or to hang a heavy stocking on the hammered metal latch of my door.

Such a night one wanted a God to appear, and to manifest himself in a ray of light, to shine out of the dark branches and snow and cold gloom of the frozen wintered earth, and enter the house of beings and give himself. I needed to remind myself, this night is different. Dad will probably die tonight I told myself.

By morning he was not dead at all.

“How is he”, I asked.

“He’s fine. He’s resting.” Mom whispered.

Jennifer had been downstairs making a pot coffee and had brought cup of it up to Mom. She propped herself in the bed, as she might of at any time. “Isn’t he beautiful”. She reminded me of her descriptions of a sleeping infant, those newborns whose face is ageless, and in the image of its creator, and bears no trace of human ways or cares. Mom was always calling attention to the complexions of the newborn infants. It was cliche yes, but true. Dad’s face was a pale and beautiful white.

Somehow the thought occurred that he might be recovering, that the fever was gone, and the hemorrhages in his lungs closed over. If he was resting he might rise up again and regain his health.

I observed his breathing, which was shallow, and took his pulse which was very weak but regular. His skin though was too cool. I realized there wasn’t long. No heat in the body, pale the skin, the forces of life retreat to a core. His face is pale but calm, but his skin does seem smoother more childlike. He is still there, gently, but barely.

I sat with him and held his hand and asked him a few questions. He was completely unconscious and unresponsive. Mom said something like “He’s resting now, ever so peacefully.” She got up and covered him over, and excused herself, and walked down the hall to the bathroom.

Dad took a short staggered breath then let out barely audible sigh. At first I thought nothing, but no breaths followed.

Ami was behind me. “Call Mom” I shouted. “He’s gone”.

Everyone gathered. Mom uttered a wail, a real cry of anguish. It was the one time I have heard my mother make an emotional sound that did not seem for effect. It was up from the young and early part of her, it felt to be from the heart of a teenage bride deprived of a young husband, the wail of a child for a downed father, of an old woman for her son. It was the kind of wail a Gypsy woman makes when her man has died, not the kind of sound I expected my mother to make.

Her arms went out to Dad, flailing, pleading, clawing, trying to draw him back. It was an instinctive movement, one that is only seen in bereavement. The elbows go apart and raise up, the wrists go out and fingers went straight like strings swept by a fierce wind. She seemed to be wanting to claw him back, as if she were losing grip of him off the deck of ship. There was a terrible row of noises, a clenching and wailing in everyone’s throat. Dad’s breath had indeed stopped.

We stood over Dad. I had the idea his being had gone above us and was looking down, so I turned and looked up at the ceiling. I did not see him, but I did see his perspective of things, a round of heads bent over a yellowed lifeless body, and one head turned up to the sky, fiercely making eye contact with a spirit on the way to being dispersed. I had the impression that Dad commented on this observation, and saw it almost as if it were a painting by Balthus. Some of us cried. Eventually there was nothing to do but leave the room. We drank coffee, ate some breakfast.

Occasionally I would run back upstairs.

We undressed him, washed him off, and put him in a clean nightshirt and turned him over so he lay on his back. His face had begun to turn yellowish, his skin was puffed, in death he was nearly unrecognizable.

I went to the studio and got some of his paper and pencils and went back and did two sketches of him. They were deathlike in appearance, that is they resembled their subject, but their subject did resemble my father at all. I inscribed them both and later gave one to my mother.

I drove Ami home to New Haven, and returned, on snowy roads. Near the intersection in Woodbury I braked and the car would not stop. It slid on the slick snow and made a slow lazy three hundred and sixty degree spin, narrowly missing another vehicle.

I returned to Woodbury shortly before two. At two-o'clock promptly two men and a woman from Munson Funeral home showed up in a black four-wheel drive vehicle. The woman had some paperwork for Mom to sign, and she wanted a check down payment as well. The two men, one young the other swarthy and appeared to be in his late forties, brought upstairs a red vinyl body bag supported by two poles. Stevo and Jeff helped them transfer Dad’s body to the bag. It required a lot of strength. At one point the nightshirt and the towel covering Dad’s genitals came off. Jeffrey hurriedly covered them over. It all would be ashes soon enough. That swollen thing of his, so large in death, always modest when we saw it while he was swimming. The thing that sowed each of us. Jeff bent over Dad and kissed him, a little like the prince who awakes sleeping Beauty. “Goodbye Dado” he said. It was silly but touching, and I respected Jeff for it. It was cliche, all of it was cliche, because cliches are all any of us has to deal with experiences like this that we are familiar with, but not first hand.

It took all of Steve and Jeff and the two of them from the funeral home to carry Dad downstairs. I watched from a distance, as if guiding by looking on. It was incredible -the struggle he seemed to give merely by being of sheer weight - they nearly lost him and fell down the front stairs. Once clear of the twists and turns around the front hall and dining room, they shouldered him through the kitchen and out the back door.

Barbie stood on the back steps as his vinyl wrapped body went down the walk. The exertions of Steve and Jeff had overcome their grief temporarily. Barbie uttered a muffled cry, like something repressed and caged, angry, “Goodbye Dado you miserable fuck-up,”. She sobbed, then wheeled and turned into the house. I heard her run up to her room.

The black four wheel drive vehicle slipped away. I heard the doors slam. Then I gazed out over the cornfields and saw it come into view again as it headed down Weekeepeemee Road. It braked at one point and the lights shone red. The sky was cloudy. The river was dark.

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