Clifford.

January 30th, 2009

The ticket sat on my desk for a month.

Purchased in June, the trip was supposed to be my last California event. The one thing I felt I should do, while there, while near Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA.

He died in February of 1989. I was six-years old.

My mother, sister and I were living in Rahway, NJ, in a cramped bedroom that a co-worker of my mother’s, also a single mom, gave us for help with groceries and heat and chores. We’d been moving from home to home ever since he left. We looked for deals: one bedrooms in nice neighborhoods, two bedrooms in bad ones, studio apartments when things got tight. For a few months we lived in the basement of an uninhabited mansion in Teaneck, NJ. Life had a consistency of difference.

The story shifted, nearly every year. He died in a dozen different ways. Plane crashes, car crashes, heart attacks, pneumonia. Too young to know what really happened, I’m sure they thought. My mother and his parents slid around the truth looking for something comforting to tell his son. Nothing comforted, but even when you’re young, you can tell when comfort is just as much about the comforter as it is about you. You play along.

After his mothers’ funeral, his father buried a year earlier, his brother Ken showed me the police report. Too many pills, prescribed for a bad cold, downed with alcohol, ruled a suicide, they’d found his body laying in a hotel room in Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA. Some one hundred and nineteen miles from my apartment in San Francisco. Closer than I’d been to him in a decade, since I last saw his ashes in his parent’s home.

Pretending his death had an effect on me is as invalid as pretending it didn’t. I never knew him well enough to miss him, but knew of him well enough to miss the idea of him. I know other people had fathers. I can imagine what a life with one would be like, but it’s about as distant to me as imagining a life wherein I’m a zerba-riding mercenary on the plains of the serengeti. A passing dream with no relevance to the day to day.

Still, I bought the ticket, was drawn to buy it, was happy when I did.

But there’s also that awkward moment, when someone, amazed at my height, wonders aloud if my parents were tall too.

Well, my mom is six-foot. My grandfather was six-five.

And your dad?

Forgot about him.

Silence and the inevitable don’t really know. Move the topic. Hope they don’t pry. If they do pry, make sure to present the topic as casually as possible. If they see it doesn’t bother you, they won’t feel obliged to say, “Oh, I’m sorry” and there won’t be that weird look that wonders if you’re broken or not.

It was much worse when I was a kid. Sometimes, they’d try to hug me.

I’ve collected stories, stared at pictures as much as I imagine I’m supposed to given the events. I asked questions about him, as my contract states I should. A programmer, just like me. Started young, like me. Loved Macs. Strange how that’s perhaps the only thing I think about. One of the few memories I have of him. His original Mac at that little desk in the alcove of the only home I ever shared with him, him hunched over doing some form of magic to it, being invited to look but not to touch. Strange how all these little facts may mean I am father’s son, how it doesn’t matter, but does. Macs, code as a genetic heritage. How small a bond I have with this memory of a person.

And this back and forth in my head creeps up every now and again and I’m left with an unused ticket to a place I assumed I needed to go, but ultimately never did. And I’m left with these pictures at five in the morning and a keyboard and some cigarettes and that nagging sensation that I’m supposed to be less or more attached to him than I am.

And I pace a bit, and I write something to get it all out and it doesn’t make it better or worse.

It just makes it what is.