Year 2

Two years ago, there was a phone call – “There’s something wrong with your father – his breathing is labored, and he’s not responding to touch or sound,” and then, approximately 12 hours later, he quit breathing. I watched it happen. I was on the phone with my brother, who was incredulous, “Well, can’t you get them to stop it?!?” And my voice – only it didn’t sound like me – “He’s dying…there’s no stopping that.”

It’s fuzzier now. Two years later.

I don’t remember everything like I used to.

It’s been two years, but the anxiety still creeps in.  The sadness started a week before this day rolled around. It’s not as horrific as it was last year, but it’s still there nonetheless. I was told that your body reacts to grief. These “anniversaries” are inside you. You’ll be walking down the street, and you feel something is wrong and realize, “Oh! Today is THAT day.”

So…I knew it was coming. I tried to prepare myself better this time around.

I’ve been preoccupied with this non-discrimination ordinance in San Antonio and the utter lack of compassion I’m reading from those who oppose it. I find myself really missing my dad on this issue.

My ultra-conservative father would have found this type of dialogue so non-helpful.

Here’s the deal: my dad and I never spoke about the fact that I was gay. To him, it was an unimportant piece of who I was. I was smart, and I could make him laugh. These were the important pieces. Who I loved – although clearly important to me – didn’t matter to him. I mean, he wanted me happy, but he wasn’t concerned who was contributing to it. This was true for my whole life. He didn’t want a relationship with my partner; he wanted a relationship with me.

A discussion around someone’s private life didn’t interest my father. Hal Cox, the serial husband, knew he had no business telling people whom they could and could not love. A man who had been married and divorced four times was always so shocked by the discussion around gay marriage – “Let them be as miserable as the rest of us” was his favorite argument. Umm…thanks, Dad…?

Now, two years after his death, the tide has changed. More and more people are talking about “the gays.” More specifically, they’re discussing my sex life. That’s really what it is. The people who are so anti-gay are mostly concerned about the things that happen within the confines of my bedroom (or the kitchen or the couch – let’s face it, straighties, gays are a lot like you.)

My father would be mortified. I am his daughter. Not only did my sex life never enter into his mind, the fact that other people are concerned with it would have made him so uncomfortable.

However, this societal swell of gay talk would have forced us to have a conversation.

I never talked to my dad about being gay because it was unimportant to him.

But who I am is important. And before my father died, I was never able to be fully authentic with him.

While being gay is not something that defines me, it certainly makes up who I am. And while my sex life is not now, nor will it ever be, your business, whom I love is important. Because the person I love makes me better and happier and more open and centered. And really, that’s kind of important. And while it is entirely too sappy – my father would quickly deflect and change the subject – it is important to know about love. Perhaps, if we led with that, we would be less inclined to preach hatred.

ImageSo, on this, the two-year anniversary of his death, I am saddened that he is gone – there is, and likely always will be, a hole in my heart where he was. I know he still sees me as smart(ish), and I probably still make him laugh (and his was a good laugh), but I am also certain that he sees me happy (or gay…see what I did there?) and fully authentic.

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A (Grownup) Christmas Story

I was running. Hard, sloppy running. Arms flailing. Legs moving faster than I could keep up with. I couldn’t catch my breath. My side started hurting; my lungs were burning; my heart was racing.

This wasn’t a dream. It was real life.

My dog, Durango (Cesar Chavez Blvd.) Cox, had jumped the fence – like in a single bound – and took off down the alley behind my house.

Asshole.

Like a gorilla, she jumps.

Like a gorilla, she jumps.

I was running after her, breathlessly shouting things like “Durango! Stop! Come! Durango! This isn’t funny!” There were even moments of pleading, “Please stop. Please. I can’t run anymore.”

But she didn’t. She just kept running – pausing briefly to pee on various neighbors’ lawns, (you’re welcome, neighbors!), then bolting as soon as I would get close. We ran down two streets and around the block, circling back towards my house.

Then, finally, I outsmarted her – or she got tired…whatever – and I caught her. In the middle of the street.

And it was at that point that I puked. It was the hard running coupled with the flashes of watching her get hit by a car should she reach the busy street by my house.

I grabbed her in a bear hug and collapsed in the middle of the street. (Drama much?) It was while I lay there, hoping that if a car came they would notice me and not kill us both, that I was overcome with sadness. Apparently, sprinting can bring out the grief in you. I guess while you’re catching your breath, nostalgia creeps in. Who knew?

It was the day after Thanksgiving – the second Thanksgiving since my father died. It was also the day before his birthday – the second birthday since he died.

Stupid, asshole dog.

I was tired. I had collapsed in the street. I had vomit in my short hair. And now…I was sad.

I realized that I had been planted in the middle of the street longer than one probably should be, so I grabbed Durango by her collar and crawled to the curb, whereupon I was promptly struck in the head by an acorn.

Stupid, asshole tree.

I was now officially crying, holding my dog by the collar, looking up as acorns pelted me from above when I heard, “Holy shit, girl! You were running like a mother fucker.”

The laughter was immediate. I mean, seriously, who blurts that out to a crying stranger in the street?

I looked up. It was an older woman. And by “older,” I mean, she was in her eighties or hundreds or whatever. She had on knee socks, an oversized housedress, and a scarf that covered her head.

And now, I was cry laughing – my favorite kind of laughter.

“I caught her,” I managed to snort out.

“Hell yeah you did,” she shot back.

She was chuckling – a smoker’s chuckle. Why is it that smokers always live until they are 412 years old? I was laughing through my tears. We laughed for a moment, holding each other’s attention from across the street, then…

I yelled “Happy Thanksgiving!” as I picked up my stupid, asshole dog and walked away from the stupid, asshole tree.

“You, too!” She shouted back.

Then, I laughed all the way back to my house.

Today, as I celebrate the second Christmas since my father died I am struck by this recent memory. Laughter is my favorite antidote. Even in sadness, a woman shouting curse words from across the street can bring a smile to my face.

So, on Christmas, and in the coming year, I wish you laughter. I urge you to find the humor in the sadness. More specifically, Merry Christmas, mother fucker!

So You Wanna Discuss Politics? Do You Have To Be An Asshole?

Full Disclosure: I’m typing this while standing on a soapbox. Also, I’m an idealist…basically.

My father and I had an interesting political relationship.

I am a liberal, gay woman with a Masters degree in Political Science. In other words, I’m one of the “educated elite.” My dad, on the other hand, owned a business and was a self-proclaimed “independent,” which meant that he was as far right as one could go – fiscally and socially.

But, then…he loved me anyway.

Our political discussions began pretty early on. I clearly remember during the year of Bush/Dakakis drawing a picture of a bush on fire and a large pile of caca with “President 1988” written in bubble letters as a headline. I was 10. (And I am aware that the use of the word “caca” just now reduced me back to that age range, but “caca”/”kakis”…you get the correlation.)

When I showed it to him, he agreed with the depiction of Dukakis, but not so much my interpretation of Bush. I remember being confused because my grandma – a staunch Democrat – had made it clear that Bush was absolutely NOT the guy we wanted running the country. I just assumed everyone in my family thought the same. I was definitely wrong. In fact, I’m in the minority in my family – at least on my dad’s side. The Coxes are a family of Republicans. And by “Republican,” I mean they are con.serv.a.tive.

But, then…they love me anyway. Well, most of them.

My father and I spent the vast majority of my twenties debating politics. Then came 2008 – “the black fella” versus “the veteran.” My father actually said that this might be his first election to abstain from voting. John McCain was “far too liberal” for my “independent” father, and “the black fella” was a “socialist” and “we all know that didn’t work in the communist countries” and “completely inexperienced.” Then, the clouds parted, and the sun illuminated a woman named Sarah Palin.

She saved 2008 for my dad. I was appalled. I knew he was hardcore when Sarah Palin saved 2008 for him.

If my father could have had five minutes alone with her, he would have charmed her into becoming wife number 5, I’m sure of it. Alas, he didn’t.

During the 2008 campaign, I would call him, and in my best Sarah Palin voice, I would talk to him about stupid shit.

———————————-

Ring.

“Thank you for calling Aamco. Hal speaking. How can I help you?”

“Uh…Mr. Cox. This is Sarah Palin. Hi, there. How are ya?”

“Oh, God.”

“I was wondering, Mr. Cox…if I don’t wear lipstick, but rather chapstick, does that make me a pitbull or a hockey mom? Or does it simply make me you, sir?”

My dad was a little obsessed with chapstick.

————————————

The day after the election, when the love of his life went back to just being Governor of Alaska, I called him as her to let him know that “I was OK and was ready to go moose hunting.” Sometimes he would laugh. Other times, he would play along. There were times he would just hang up on me (that was my favorite). But it was always fun.

For the eight years prior to this election, I opined the policies and decisions of the Bush Administration – the Patriot Act, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Bush Doctrine, tax cuts, a constitutional amendment on the definition of marriage, just to name a few. My father turned me into a debater, surreptitiously picking apart each point I’d make. He wouldn’t make counterarguments; he made arguments.

You see, we talked politics – policies, decisions, stances. At no point, however, did we call each other’s guy (or girl…’cause at one point, I was all over some Hillary Clinton) a “terrorist” or “unpatriotic” or an “enemy to the state.” In fact, even when I grew more and more appalled at the fear-mongering nature of the Bush Administration…as more and more people were whisked away to be tortured under an arbitrary law that gave too much power and control to our Executive…not once, did I ever call Bush a “terrorist” or a “torturer.” I read the Patriot Act. I picked it apart. I explained the problems with subjectivity in any kind of federal document. But I didn’t call Bush a “power hungry mother fucker who would scare his way into a re-election because he was too injudicious to actually win it on his own prowess or smarts.” I could have. But I didn’t.

My father and I discussed the economy, human rights, the devolution of social services, foreign policy. Rarely did we change our positions, but we heard each other. Why? Because we had a mutual respect for each other, and we had a mutual respect for the office.

Don’t get me wrong…there were times when I would have to remind him that there is a difference between being “right” (as in right “of center”) and “right” (as in “opposite of wrong”). He hated when I would say that. “Just because you’re right, Dad, doesn’t mean you’re right.”

By DonkeyHotey

If my dad were alive today, I would be talking to him about this year’s election.

We would discuss the war on women – and it is just that, don’t be fooled. Any time a woman’s reproductive rights are called into question; any time a politician qualifies rape with terms like “honest” or “legitimate” or “a gift from God”; any time we are told that this “war on women is just a distraction,” (as though more than half our country is a distraction); any time women are scoffed at for bringing up equal pay; know that the war on women is real.

We would debate human rights versus national security. I would stand firm that they are not mutually exclusive; he would argue that keeping American secure was more important. I would talk about the feeling of security versus the actual defined rights we are afforded as humans.

I fundamentally disagree with Mitt Romney on the vast majority of his stances – gay rights, women’s rights, healthcare, social services, foreign policy, the economy. I mean, I think I disagree with him – he kind of changes his stance a lot. (Boom.)

That being said, I don’t hate Mitt Romney. I don’t think he’s a terrorist because his beliefs are antiquated and simple-minded. I think he’s a chronic politician who is so excited to be in the running for the highest office that he’s willing to say just about anything to get into that office, but I don’t think he’s un-American. I just disagree with him. Fundamentally. Our values are different.

Here’s the deal: on Wednesday, November 7, you’ll have to get up and go to work with some of the 50% + 1 that vote for the guy for whom you didn’t vote.

Did you call them stupid during this process? Un-American?

There’s a great line in the play I’m currently in… (What? You’re in a play? Yep. At The Playhouse – it’s called November. David Mamet wrote it. Buy tickets.)

“If you look at the polls. It seems: we are a “nation divided.” But: we aren’t a “nation divided”…we’re a democracy – we hold different opinions. But: we laugh at the same jokes, we clap each other on the back, when we reach that month’s quota, and…I’m not at all sure that we don’t love each other.”

Sure. It’s ideal as all hell. In the end, we should all stop and sing We Are the World. But the sentiment I take from that line is this:

You’re gonna have to get up on Wednesday morning after the election. And all that shit you’ve been talking – that angry vitriol that you’ve directed at the opposing candidate and your friends and colleagues on the other side of the aisle – will still be there.

Hold different values? Sure. I mean, it’s harder to remain friends if we have fundamental differing opinions on the ultimate value of all human beings, but we can give it a shot. Have disagreements on policy? Absolutely. This is easier because policy is about solutions – you may believe your solutions to a problem are more acceptable than mine and vice versa. This is America, after all. You’re allowed to disagree and discuss and problem solve and change your mind…or not. The angry name-calling, though? Unacceptable.

On Wednesday morning, I would love to be able to call my dad and say, “So, what do you think?” We would talk it through. One of us would be disappointed; the other would make a stupid joke…unless it was me, then it would be a brilliant joke. (Duh.)

I don’t get to do that this year.

What I do know is this: I wouldn’t feel ashamed calling him on Wednesday. We discussed. We disagreed. We debated. We never acted like assholes.

September 3

Today, marks the birth of my best friend’s sons. They are 19.

I met these boys when they were two, and while I could recount countless, horribly embarrassing stories about them – ‘cause I knew them when they hated wearing clothes – I will, instead, focus on their amazingness.

One year ago today, I woke up hungover. Severely hungover. I was in my best friend’s guest room.

It was the morning after my dad’s memorial service. It was a simple service at his golf club. I was asked by his friends to lead a story-telling session. Then, it was like pulling teeth to get people to speak. I told several stories, some of them I’ve written about here. Finally, some people spoke – more to make me feel better than to share. I remember feeling like I was alone and out on a limb – my stories making sense only to me as the wine started to really kick in. Then, just as I would get a little nervous, a fresh glass of wine would appear in my hand – my family and friends making sure I was never without. Liquid courage.

I was driven home that night by my best friends. They took my contacts out, put me in bed, then just stayed with me while I cried. A lot. Something I hadn’t really done yet.

The next morning I woke up. My entire being ached. It was the remnants of alcohol, but also the feeling of permanence – he was gone.

I got up, slowly, and went to the bathroom to shower. But I couldn’t do it.

What if I got in the shower and didn’t feel better at all? In fact, what if I got in the shower only to get out to find that my dad was still gone?

I sat on the edge of the tub, fully clad in my pajamas. That’s when one of the twins, an 18-year-old man-child, walked by the bathroom.

“Morning, Mollycox,” he grumbled as he shuffled past, trying to walk the sleep off.

Then, just as suddenly, he reappeared in the doorway. He looked at me, took in how I’m sure I appeared, and came over to me. He perched himself on the side of the tub next to me, put his arm around me, and said simply, “I love you.” Then, got up and left.

I went back to bed and was awoken by his brother a couple of hours later. He was going to work – on his birthday no less – and wanted to say goodbye. He kissed me, said “I love you,” then left.

On their 18th birthday, they gave me the gift of understanding – “We know you’re hurting. We’re so sorry. We love you.” It gave me the strength I needed to rise that day and shower.

So, on this, their 19th birthday, I will not tell the stories of how they would speak in a bizarre language only they could understand; or how one time, the fit they threw at a store was so over-the-top that security wanted to know if they could help; or how even after being at school all day, they would come home and strip naked before they would hang out with us; or how jumping naked on the trampoline brought them incredible joy; or the time that their dog, Froggy, got a lit cigarette caught in his hair, and we kept screaming “Stop, drop, and roll, Froggy” while their mom chased him around with a hose.

Oh…wait…I guess I just did. I guess they’ll provide the understanding, again, when they realize that I am the one who also provides embarrassment.

Moments

Mr. Lopez mows my lawn. In fact, he’s been mowing the lawn at my house for 35 years, when the couple who originally owned my house still called it “home.” I moved in a little over a year ago. Mr. Lopez showed up about six months after that and informed me, in broken English, that he could take care of my lawn. He’s been doing it ever since.

Every three weeks Mr. Lopez shows up, and if I need him sooner than that, I call his cell phone. His wife, who speaks English, answers. She always asks, “Is this the lady with the dogs?” I affirm; she takes the message for him; he shows up.

Over the summer, Mr. Lopez didn’t show for nearly eight weeks. I really wasn’t too concerned. We were in the midst of a drought, so grass was not growing, and my house was under construction, so half my yard was covered with wall remnants and paint cans.

Finally, one morning he showed. I watched him approach my front door; he looked different. There was something about the way he was walking. His body was on my walkway; his mind was not. He seemed heavy.

I greeted him outside as I normally do. “Hi, Mr. Lopez!”

“Good Morning. Sorry. Haven’t come.”

I guess I should explain. I understand Spanish much better than I can speak it, which doesn’t say a lot. Mr. Lopez, on the other hand, speaks English better than he understands it. This was what our six months together had taught us – broken, half-phrases worked.

“Is all OK?” I asked.

“My wife. She is dead.”

No complicated turn of phrase. Simply. “My wife. She is dead. “

Then, he crossed himself as tears welled up in his eyes, and he looked up at the sky.

“I’m so sorry.” And then, the tears started.

“It is better. Now she is better.” Again, he looked to the sky.

His tears flowed now. I was crying freely, as well. We held hands.

I said, “My father died about a year ago.”

“Oh. Su papa.”

I nodded.

Standing in my front yard, grief transcended language. The connection over sadness always seems to make sense.

My neighbor, the hippie one that lives with his mom next door, came out then. I saw him see us. He waved. Add this to the list of other shit he’s witnessed from me:

  • Knocking myself unconscious on my garage door;
  • Climbing his fence at 2:00am in grandpa pajamas to retrieve my dog who had jumped his fence;
  • Crying in the corner of my backyard after I slipped and fell while taking out the trash; and now,
  • Holding hands and crying with Mr. Lopez in my front yard.

“We’re having a moment!” I shouted out to him. He just shrugged, got into his car, and drove away.

The moment passed. Mr. Lopez began his work; I came inside.

There’s a quiet understanding between us now. Grief has a way of making people friends.

One Year Later

I have tried, on multiple occasions, to sit down and write about my dad’s death – writing has always been a means for me to work through something – but, for some reason, I always get stuck on his last 24 hours. It doesn’t flow like other memories tend to do. So, instead, I’ll start with this…

Sometimes you take a shower, and the world becomes a better place. You get in feeling shitty; you get out clean and refreshed. But sometimes – on the rare occasion – you get in feeling shitty, and you get out still feeling shitty, only now you’re wet.

The day my dad died was when I discovered this second kind of shower.

I got into the shower miserably sad, and I got out miserably sad. Only now I was wet and I had to fucking dry off and put on fucking clothes and do my fucking after-shower routine, and really, I just wanted to be sad without all the other stuff.

It was Tuesday, August 23, 2011. My dad had just died. I returned home alone. I was very aware of the silence. I showered.

Then, wet and sad, I found myself sitting on the edge of my bed, which at that point was just a mattress on the floor in my house that was still under renovations. I can’t recall how long I sat there. but I was replaying my dad’s last 24 hours.

————————-

I showed up at the assisted living residence that he had been living in since July 1 – you can read more about that here – just before lunchtime. After two strokes, my father had been reduced to the mental capacity of a five-year-old. The moments of lucidity were few and far between, but when they happened, they were magical.

That day, I found him in the barbershop they had on site. He was getting a haircut. He made eye contact with me through the mirror and smiled.

Since his first stroke, on June 2, 2011, there was something about the way he smiled every time he saw me – as though he had been waiting his whole life to see my face. Every single time he saw me. And I saw him two or three times a day, every day.

To be fair, my father had one of those smiles – it was warm and mischievous and charming all at the same time. When he smiled, his entire face would light up. So, to have that smile directed at me two or three times a day, every day, was both breathtaking and overwhelming. It was in those moments that I knew he loved me. We had never really said that much in my house.

But I digress.

The final touches were put on his haircut, and he stood up. His six-foot frame towered over the “barber,” a tiny woman who informed him, as he searched his empty pockets for money, that she “would bill him.” He smiled at her, then nodded at me, and told her I was there to pick him up because he “couldn’t find his car.”

His attention turned to me as we walked out of the barbershop.

“Hello, Baby.” Every time.

Smile, then “Hello, Baby.” Then…wait for it…”You wanna see the tree in my room?”

————

Right after we moved him into the residence, I took him to Home Depot. He informed me that he wanted a tree for his room. I found a small bamboo tree in a small pot. We put it in his room, and every day, every time I would see him, he would ask if I knew that there was a tree in his room or if I wanted to see the tree in his room. I asked around. He never mentioned the tree unless I was there. Somehow he connected that tree to me.

It’s in my house now. I am madly trying to keep it from dying. I’m not doing so great at that, but I’m holding out hope.

————

So…”You wanna see the tree in my room?”

“Sure, Dad.”

We walked, arms linked, down the hallway to his room. Ruby, one of the aids, was standing in the kitchen. He stopped me, then leaned against the wall. Crossing his arms, he beamed that smile of his and said to her, “How’s it going ?” It was perfect, quintessential Hal Cox – charming, slightly inappropriate, and full of confidence.

And that’s where it stops. I can’t remember anymore of that day until the phone call at around 9:00pm.

“Molly, we can’t get your father to wake up. He is unresponsive. Should we call an ambulance?”

I think I was at dinner. I was heading over to see him after, but I got this phone call from the nurse on duty, so I hurried over.

He was in his bed, his breathing erratic. He was completely unresponsive.

“Is the ambulance on the way?” I asked. They assured me it was.

I won’t bore you with all the details, but my father had his third and final stroke that night. It was in the direct center of his brain. The doctor said there was nothing that could be done. I remember standing outside the emergency room with my brother – the good brother – as we discussed the DNR and made the conscious decision to let my father die. But he didn’t. Not right away. He held on.

He was moved to a private room.  I sat in a chair next to his bed after the rest of my family had gone home just desperately wanting him to open his eyes and smile that smile and say, “Hello, Baby.” I can hear his voice saying it now – drawn out, slow, then an upward lilt at the end.

He died mid-morning. Just like that. The life literally just left his body, and his light went out. No more smile.

—————

So, it’s August 23, 2011, and my dad has just died. I returned home alone. I showered. I’m sitting on my mattress on the floor, and I’m thinking of the last 24 hours, and I am overcome with grief and sadness and life and emotion and, and, and….the silence is deafening.

I drank that night with the express intent of numbing all feelings, and I continued to drink every day, all day for the next 5 months.

But I digress.

On this, the one-year anniversary of my father’s death, I am, once again, overcome with grief and sadness and life and emotion…but the silence is OK. I’m not interested in numbing anything.

I intend to sit in it. Feel it. Then, I may even tackle a shower. And should I get out just feeling wet, I’ll try to remember how good it feels to simply feel.

Dinner with Dad

Rabbit

“It’s rabbit.  Eat it.”

My sister had gotten sick.  She puked in the corner of my parent’s bedroom.  My mom took her somewhere.  They were still gone the next day.  Or maybe only my mom was gone.  I don’t know.  It’s fuzzy.

What’s not fuzzy is that my dad was spooning out a red, gooey mass of something onto my plate.

It sat in a clump, steaming.  I looked from the pile on my plate to my dad and back again.  Surely he wasn’t going to make me eat this.

“What is it?”

“It’s rabbit.”  He glanced at my brother who just kept looking at his own plate, shoveling forkfuls into his mouth.  In between bites, as goo lined his lips he would smirk at me.

“Since when do we eat rabbit?” I asked.

“Since I serve it,” he cleverly retorted.  My dad always had a reply for everything.

———–

“Why can’t I go outside?”

“Because I said so.”

“But I wanna!”

“Well, want in one hand and spit in the other and see which one fills up first.”

See?  Clever.

———–

“I won’t eat it.  You can’t make me.”

He could, and he had before — or, at least, had attempted to with a plate of liver and onions.  Our standoff had lasted nearly two full days with my mom finally stepping in.  I got a bowl of cereal, and I don’t think my dad ever forgave me.  Was he proving his “Dad-ness” now with Mom gone?

“Fine,” he said.  “Don’t eat it.  But you don’t get anything else.”

That night, I ate the bread he had served with the rabbit, as I watched my brother shovel more and more into his mouth.  Even now, I try to remember if I was hungry that night.  I don’t think I was.  I was sad for the rabbit.

The next night my mom was home.  No tattling on Dad.  Just eat whatever is put in front of you so it’s not brought up.  But when I got to the table, red-faced from playing outside, there it was again: a platter of rabbit.

I stared from my mom to my dad, who at this point looked surprisingly calm.  He was going to have to explain to Mom that I had gone without dinner last night and would go without dinner again tonight, a replay of the Liver and Onion Days.  I figured I might as well get it over with: “I’m not eating that.”

“Why not?” my mom asked.

“I don’t eat rabbit.”

There was a long silence—that much I remember for certain—as my mom stared at my dad, then at my brother who was chuckling uncontrollably.  I didn’t get the joke.

“That’s not rabbit,” my mother directed at my dad through clenched teeth, “It’s. Lasagna.”