My dad died in October 1999. It was the beginning of my senior year in high school. Before that, I was happy enough aside from the average teen angst. I was overly-dramatic about everything and I fought a lot with my dad, mostly about boys, the phone and my curfew. I was smart, I had a boyfriend, I was in the drama club and I had a job. Pretty average I guess.
But then my dad died and I just felt like The Girl Whose Dad Died.
It was awful, really. My grades fell by the wayside for the most part and I only passed because I was naturally smart and didn't need to study for anything. If I was an average student, or someone who really needed to work hard just to get a B or a C, I would have absolutely failed my senior year because I just didn't give a fuck. I didn't turn to drugs, or drinking (more than your average underage high school senior, anyways), I just zoned out. I didn't care how I looked, and I wore pajama pants to school almost every day. I was outwardly hostile towards freshman. I did fail one class... Advanced Math, which was like pre-calc or trig or something, I'm not really sure. I am fairly certain that even if I wasn't the girl with a dead dad that I would have failed that shit regardless. The fuck is a logarithm? Fuck that noise. The best part of that class was sitting with Tara and snarking on everyone. The teacher was nice but so odd.. he reminded me of the hippie teacher from Beavis & Butthead. At one point towards the end of the year, I just stopped going to that class, because really, what was the point? I'd been there for 7 months and still had no clue what was going on. That was the only class I ever failed in my life.
The week before my dad died, he told my mom what he wanted to happen to him after he died. This wasn't because he was actively in the process of dying, in the hospital, with his loved ones by his side. He was fine. He was at a funeral for my mom's uncle, and decided that ending up in a casket in the ground forever, or being surrounded by grieving family was not how he wanted to end his trip. Instead, he wanted to be cremated, with no service, and the have his ashes scattered at the Delaware Water Gap in the Delaware River. After his family was finished depositing his earthly remains with the fishes, they were to proceed to Hot Dog Johnny's and have hot dogs in his honor. He loved hot dogs and he really liked that place.
Here's what really happened. A week after he said that, he was rushed to the ER in the middle of the night because he couldn't breathe. He died that night. My brother was the one who he woke up, and he called 911. I was asleep, or at least I pretended I was because I was so scared. My mom should have gotten up, should have been in the ambulance with him, but she wasn't. She followed soon after, and then she came home and my dad's clothes and sneakers were in a bag. That's the image I will never forget - his Nikes in a clear plastic bag from the hospital. We had a wake for my dad a few days later and he was creamated and since then his ashes have been with my brother.
On Saturday, July 9, 2011, my brother and I finally put my dad to rest as he wanted. We scattered his ashes in the Delaware River. It's hard to know that you picked the right spot to dump your dad in a river, but when we were walking along the muddy river bank, we found a dollar and I figured that was a good enough sign, right? My brother handed me the urn and asked me to say a few words but I got choked up and said "I don't know what to say" and handed the urn back to my brother. He said a few words, and then handed the bucket 'o dad back to me. I didn't know what to say, and still didn't, so I just said "Dear God, please watch over my dad, he's going to the ocean now." I opened the top of the urn and looked in. It's so weird to think that the man who hugged me, yelled at me, went to work, swam in a pool, coached football, went fishing, smoked pot and did so many things on earth was in a jar. I poked at his ashes with my fingers. There were some larger bits on top and I wondered what parts of him they were. Maybe his bones or his teeth or his feet or his hands? I wanted to giggle but held it in. Then i just poured some out into the river a little at a time. I didn't want to bogart the dad-flakes so I said to my brother "here, you want to do some too?" And there my dad went... he made a cloudy streak in the river. People were about to swim and kayak in my dad. Fishes were biting my toes as I sprinkled the man who raised me into the river.
The only picture taken that day. Mr. Froggie.
We watched my dad float downstream and his cloudy streak mingle and mix with the rest of the water and then walked up to the path where my boyfriend waited for us. We all got in the car and drove to the next required stop, Hot Dog Johnny's. I got a birch beer, two hot dogs and some french fries. We sat there eating, it was 90 degrees out, and I couldn't help but thing "what's the big deal about these stupid hot dogs? Rutt's Hut is way better." I don't even like birch beer, but they're famous for that... and buttermilk apparently. Who drinks buttermilk? Disgusting. After eating, my brother went to get a refill on his birch beer and Mike and I walked down to the river just to walk. My brother joined us a few minutes later and said "look what I found!" and handed me a little frog. I held him for a second, reminiscing about all the times my brother and I would have frog-catching contests when we went camping up in the country with my dad, and then let the little hopper out into the water.
The rest of that day was ok. We went to Alstede Farms and got some ice cream and produce and then headed home. Mike kept asking how I was doing, how I felt and I didn't know. It took a while to process. Did I feel at peace? No. When it finally crept up on me how I felt, it was clear. It felt like losing my dad all over again. I felt very upset that he was just floating down the river and into the ocean. I traced his route along Google Earth and wondered how long it would take him to get to the ocean. It made me sad that he was just floating there... everywhere... nowhere... that I really would never see him again, even his little particles in a jar. But it's what he wanted. I should be happy that he finally got what he wanted, right? I'm not... I'm still upset that I had to dump my dad in a river and that he's not alive. That never really fades away. It was all too surreal, and at the same time that action made it even more real that he's gone, gone, gone. I felt some regret that I didn't keep some of him, but what would that have done? So I'd have some dad-dust in a jar in my house and what would I do? Cuddle it? Snort it? Yell at it because he resembles the stuff I dump out of the vacuum canister? Knowing me, I'd decorate it for holidays or put jaunty little mustaches on the daddy-decanter. This is why my brother had the ashes all along and not me. I'd probably put santa-pants on it the day after Thanksgiving.
So that's that. I wish I had a more witty, funny or thoughtful way to end this post but I still don't. File this under "well, that happened." And move on I guess.