I drove my yellow sedan to Arkansas to pick up Steve for the funeral. He’d been working away a lot. We were fighting frequently. We’d been discussing the concept of being collared, in the kink sense of the word. I’d been unhappy with the amount of aftercare and lack of negotiations we had. He’d been overwhelmed by my unending presence and high maintenance requirements. We had an easier time when he was at home, living one block away. Still, as promised, Steve went with me to my father’s hometown for my grandmother’s funeral.
The weather was expected to be freezing. I was talking on the phone to Stephanie while I shopped for gloves and a winter coat at JC Penny’s. I was going over the plan with her.
Kimberley had suggested visiting my father’s grave years prior. It was something we circled back to now and again, wondered if it would give closure or cause more issues. Because it was a fourteen hour drive and unnecessary, I always opted to go on without having seen Jim’s final place. When he died, my father had no service. Regardless of all else he may or may not have been, my father was a drunk. He had been less than reputable and had been a burden to most of his family for most of their lives. Post-mortem, as too often happens, my father was somehow sainted. He was spoken of with sadness and false praise by the same people who told me not to get in a car with him while he lived. No service was offered at my father’s death. No memorial service to be announced at a later date. He was a confusing person that I both loved and feared, and then he was gone. He was cremated and buried without so much as a newspaper clipping.
Seeing his grave could give me a sense of peace, Kimberley explained. It would give me a visual image for the times I doubted his death. It would give me a literal location when I think I see Jim. I would be able to explain that Jim wasn’t in my hallway screaming, he was dead and under that stone I saw. I wanted to do more than just see the stone. I wanted to say some things.
I’d never told my Grandma Carrie about the abuse. To this day I struggle with how much she must’ve known or seen when I was a child, or if I have brainwashed myself into painting false memories in my mind. Regardless of what she may or may not have known, I knew she loved me. My Grandma Carrie had let me make mud pies in her backyard when I was a child. She’d taught me how to catch dragonflies in the early morning, before it was too hot to play in the tall grass. I was conflicted. I was also conflicted about my feelings towards my Pa-Pa’s death, and that had happened months prior. I have been shelving and saving my feelings on people dying for later introspection.
I couldn’t conduct my “reunion” with my father’s remains in front of anyone grieving for a current, tangible, and heavy loss. The funeral was the wrong place to say my peace. I worked hard to set aside my feelings to do with my task, and focused on feeling present with my grandmother’s passing. I was comforted by family, food, and good stories. I heard some new things that I’d never known about my grandma. I met family I’d not known I had before. People knew of me, and seemed happy to see me. People praised Steve for his devotion to me and welcomed him. It was weirdly one of the best family gatherings I’d attended. I added that to my list of unexplainable emotions I’d need to think about later.
We drove back to Jim’s grave later, after the wake. Steve and I sat in the car outside the cemetery. I’d always imagined my father in a raised cemetery because I associated him with Louisiana. Looking out across the night I noticed the flat memorial slabs blended with the grass. Even now, I thought, he’ll be difficult to see clearly. I doubted if I should say anything at all. I didn’t have eye witnesses or proof of the abuse. I gritted my teeth together and inhaled deeply through my nose. I had come to far to back out now. I held my teddy bear from childhood in the crook of my elbow, some papers in my hand, and a bottle of Crown Royal. It was the last bottle of that shit that I was ever going to buy, I said inwardly. I was ready.
Steve asked if he could be there. I pointed out that he was there. He said he wanted to hear what I had to say to Jim. I’d let him know everything else he’d asked. It wasn’t like I’d written out my words and could just forward him the email. I felt pressured to scan my speech for edits I’d want to make if someone alive was listening. I told him that was fine, but he didn’t need to be close. I took a alternate view and said he could hold my bear. I felt like Brownie probably didn’t want to be near Jim again, and I could understand that. Plus, now Steve was involved, but at an arm’s length. I directed Steve to a statue a few yards away. I swallowed and tried to feel the gravel path beneath my boots as I approached my father.
I don’t remember the specific things I said. I announced that I’d been talking to him out loud for about a decade, and this was the first time it made sense to do so. I laid out some pictures I’d brought of myself traveling and with friends. I put down a graduation announcement from UNO. I told him that I’d gotten into UNO after all. I’d heard just a few months after he died and never gotten to tell him.
The sound of opening the liquor bottle cracked through the night. I took a bigger drink than I’d planned. I coughed. Once my eyes started tearing, I started crying. I didn’t know what to say to get closure. As was comfortable, I started to explain about being in therapy, and how my therapist said I’d get closure from this stupid display. “Speaking of Kimberley,” I said, digging out another paper from my pocket, “she gave me a poem for today.” I don’t remember now which poem, but I read it to my father’s grave. He was deep inside a metal urn. Only a granite rock heard me.
I wanted answers, I cried out. I deserved them. Where the fuck were my answers? What the hell had he done to me? Was I crazy? I slammed the bottle down and it cracked from the bottom, bourbon running to the edges of the stone. I crouched down, sobbing. The edges of the grass soaked up the alcohol his body used against my own. The earth gained whatever nutrients existed and probably died a little. My father had that effect, I thought.
I didn’t have that effect. If I were to be broken open, it wouldn’t be booze that bleed out of me. It’d be good things. My whole adult life was about trying to find the good things, about making my own good things and sending those into the world. I didn’t poison myself into raping my kid.
I wasn’t my father.
I stopped crying.
“This is the last time I’ll be here,” I stood up. “I have people who love me. I matter and can’t just disappear or die. I have things I still need to see.” I sniffed and wiped under my glasses, finding more tears than expected. I smudged my glasses trying to clear my cheeks. I left the bottle bits broken over the pictures and discolored announcement.
I decided to travel. I told Steve that I had a crazy idea. He always loved my crazy ideas.
Steve and I agreed on Puerto Rico. We didn’t need passports, which he lacked. We wouldn’t need cars on an island, so we could sell both our cars and use the money to fly there and to get back, if things went poorly. I was mildly conversational when I spent six weeks in Costa Rica, so I was confident of my ability to pick up Spanish. Steve told me story after story about being in Puerto Rico with his grandmother, who migrated like the birds.
Kimberley said that I was going in circles here. We’d been discussing better places for jobs. I hadn’t missed therapy sessions for years, but they were less about Kimberley giving me new skills and more about me telling her how I solved my own problems. It’d become a check-in more than a working process. Weed was something I wanted as I learned more about using it for memory work. My landlord told me that the building was going to be sold off in the next year, and relocation may become a thing. When the last of the four traditional water meter covers was stolen and replaced with the crappy, post-Katrina version outside my front door, I decided it was time to move.
I started to change my meds, and come off of whatever I could. I quit my jobs. I told my friends. Many told me I was crazy, and I agreed. I was being as rational as I could be, I pointed out.
It had been about ten years of healing. I had to believe that all that work was for something. I didn’t work my ass off to be somewhat together to stay and spin around in circles. A new location would give me a new start. I’d be forced to face new situations and people. I’d grow with the move, as I always had before. New Orleans was my home and where I restored myself. Now that I had a partner by my side, I could go out into the world and start living the life I’d been imagining.
A month later than planned, my close friends Josh and Jared spent the night as I finished packing. Steve had been living with me, and it was not going well. We kept discussing if we wanted to do this, and we kept agreeing that it was a risk, but we were handling it logically. We both had made backup plans. Josh was holding some of my things in case I had to come back and start over. Several friends made me aware of all manner of spare beds and couches I could use if I needed to bail. I was committed. I told myself mantra after mantra about having faith and trusting myself to have found a good partner and being strong and able to make it in the world. I sold my car to a dealership. I took one last picture of the Banksy outside my apartment. I wrote graffiti in the bathroom stall of the St Charles Tavern minutes before I got into the passenger seat to watch my city fade in the rearview mirror.