Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Rememberance: Unprepared and Late for my Dad's Service

It was typical that I should attempt too much for the memorial service. I insisted it was all vitally important, rejected suggestions for simplification, thought I might even make it to the funeral home to get the death certificate and then Brooklyn for the mail while printing the programs, editing the slide show, writing my speech, and collecting a guest list to use to issue tickets for the reception (tickets because? well I thought hoards of strangers, possibly crazed fans of my father's writing or worse heckling enemies would show up and then we would not be able to keep them away}.

Okay, so I did not fail exactly. I got there... with about a quarter of the programs we needed, not all of the names from the meticulously collected list, no speech written, and half an hour late. But I guess it was okay. It reminded me that I have limitations.

I want to try to capture what I said about my father here. It was amazing speaking directly after my sister because our experiences were so different. We may as well have been living in different houses. Four people spoke before her and no one came out and said anything negative or surprising including Suz. All they had to say was, "Well, you know Ed..." When Prof. Adorno described him as highly opinionated I actually laughed because it sounded like an understatement. It got me thinking about whether anyone could understand what it was like to be raised by such a man.

My sister's speech was so great. I have to get a copy. Nobody seems to know why Ed was so angry. I've asked everyone in his family and they all had different answers. Racism. He thought he was white until he joined the air force and had to sit in the back on the trip to South Carolina for basic training. That was in 1954.

So back to my speech. My sister's concludes with a brilliant quote about when a man dies part of mankind dies. This after memories of all of the brilliant topics Ed taught us. I must have been spacing out during those times because all I remember were the bizarre confusing statements he made and that I took them as absolute truths because he was my father and he was smart and always right. Suz kept saying he taught us about astronomy, anthropology, politics, and not just like that but she remembers the specifics. I was shaking my head when she said he taught US, not us maybe you. That stuff flew over my head or I was too busy fantasizing about my real parents coming to pick me up and bring me back to the palace where I was supposed to live as Princess Arena. I had never heard the name Serena and the sound of the words Princess Arena were like silk the way the slipped together so smoothly. So when I get to the podium with my bare bones outline of an idea, I was relaxed and kind of amazed that my memories are of the book I said I would write some day called The Sayings of Chairman Ed. He thought it was hilarious and a great idea. The Collected Quotes of Chairman Ed.

1. Stop throwing like a girl. I tried. I did everything I could to use my whole arm, to imitate that motion he and my brother's used to get the ball to sail long distances and with great force but I just couldn't do it. First of a I am a girl so that made it a strange thing to say. Also I have since learned that besides my complete lack of ability to translate any sort of oral direction of what my body is supposed to do into actual motion, girls do not have the same bones and muscles boys have.

My insomnia is wearing off I will continue tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The memorial...

Now the sadness is crashing into me like waves. That crazy dad of mine is gone. His bag with his book and Tom's number written on a napkin. And the form checking in his belongings inverted the last two digits. His glasses in a bag and no signature on the form. Just the word "EXPIRED."

I am so sad and there were so many people there and I did not get to talk to them enough or thank them.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Writing about my father ...

Edgardo Vega-Yunque chronicler-of-new-york-leaves-the-scene

This is the piece David Gonzalez of the New York Times wrote. My father fixed me up with him on a blind date once. All I remember was that he had big hair and made me laugh. He had this one source who was an addict or something and didn't get the concept of voicemail. So he would call David Gonzalez at the paper and leave messages that sounded like he thought he was being screened. "Yo man, pick up, pick up. I gotta talk to you." That story made me laugh. I was planning to go out with him again but then I met Andrew and passion ruled for awhile. I spent my weekends riding back and forth on the F train until Sachi broke her arm and my parents sudden, dramatic separation forced my mother to move in with us. Andrew, who had to be the center of the Park Slope party scene at all times, was crushed by the news of Sachi's accident. "I guess that means we won't be going out this weekend." And that was the end of that for me. Sounds callous but I realized I didn't want to go OUT ALL the time. Sachi and I had a wet tissue fight in the examination room while we waited for her cast and we laughed a lot.

In contrast to David Gonzalez's piece the Times put out an obit that turns my stomach about my dad. I did not get to finish what I was going to tell Bruce Weber and so I will write it here: Mr. Weber said he had been talking to the Clemente Soto folks and apparently he pissed some people off or as Mr. Weber put it, "So I gather your father was kind of a cantankerous man?"

This is what I was trying to say before I hung up, in my dad's last email to me he said: "I am a social rebel and sometimes my rebellion gets the best of me. I don't believe I can change and adapt myself to a world that stifles free expression." His free expression sometimes crossed lines and that did not fly with me. I tried to maintain a relationship with him but it was very difficult and I had finally let a man into my life for good. I was making progress and things were good. Brian, my love and ironically an Irishman, is a man who is happy to tell it like it is but he is well aware of who is going to get pissed off. My husband says , The only thing I HAVE to do in life is die," but he is there when you need him.

In the email from my dad he closed with this: "Be well and always remember that I love you always and as you said to me once: "I will always love you." On the last day of my life I will recall that memory and the one when you, at the age of four, asked me: "Daddy, what is he last number?" I said infinity and your mind, it seemed to me, went to the furthest reaches of the universe, examined my response and said, most naturally: "Oh, the numbers never finish."" There were things he did that made him impossible to be around but he was amazing too and I am sorry that I was not able to convey that to Mr. Weber in the obit. Also he would have hated his obit to read "Novelist of the Puerto Rican experience." He wrote about people, the human experience.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Balloons

“Well, I can’t really say that I respect writers. My father is a writer. He’s devoted so much of his life to it without getting a lot back.
“He’s treated many parts of his life as if he were writing them. He says whatever comes into his mind and then he thinks that he can edit it out later if he has hurt anyone. I know he also believes that because he says things, they will be so. When we were kids we believed him. He would say, next year we really will be living in a townhouse on Park Avenue. Write down the date. You’ll see. In exactly one year I’ll have sold a book... and so on and the four of us kids really believed him and we’d get so excited and happy. Year after year, we would get our hopes up only to be disappointed.
“One summer when I was about ten years old, my older sister and two younger brothers and I were all at home with my father. My mother was out at work during the days. My father would struggle in the summer with what to do with us. Sometimes we would go for weeks staying up until one or two in the morning playing poker with my dad and sleeping in most of the day. Mostly we sat around the house bored. Once in awhile he’d plan a great excursion and we’d set out on a quest.
“I don’t even remember what the goal was that day but we ended up at the Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival. They give free concerts and performances and we saw whatever it was we went there to see. It was nearing the time to leave and one of us noticed that underneath one of the overhangs of a building there were trapped some twenty or thirty balloons. They were tangled together and seemed to be in two bunches with a large number of strings hanging down. Some of the strings were very long but mostly they were matted and knotted together in lumps and the lowest one was still twenty-five feet off the ground.
“We watched in helpless awe as my father attempted to snare the tethers with his huge bunch of keys. I don’t know why my father had so many keys but at the time I didn’t question it. At first it was exciting but after twenty minutes we all started to grumble. My father had us standing sufficiently out of the way so as not to be hit with the keys. It also allowed us the liberty to complain out loud about my father’s pursuit. ‘I don’t even want the balloons anymore.’ someone would say. And then, ‘Yeah, we should go home.’ and finally someone would counter, ‘But wouldn’t it be cool if he got them.’ And then we’d go around again. Forty minutes passed. We were tired of watching him and yet we could not stop. He had gathered a substantial audience.
“Just when everyone was about to give up on him, he snagged the balloons. The weight of his keys pulled them down and he grabbed one of the strings. Everyone shrieked with delight. My father is not a small man. Like an overgrown kid, he came running towards us. Out into the open courtyard he ran with a huge bunch of balloons. I couldn’t believe the pride and joy I felt after the frustrating wait. But something happened as he neared the middle of the courtyard. The balloons began to shift. It became quickly apparent that the one string that my father held was attached to nothing. And still he ran towards us. In slow motion all of the balloons escaped and my father ran towards us not looking back but pulling a string. In moments our joy turned to horror as all the balloons floated beyond the reach of anyone. The weight of the string and our facial expressions must have clued my father in. He stopped running and turned to watch the balloons float away. We walked home in near silence. Every so often my youngest brother would say, ‘He had them and then they were gone.’

Sunday, September 7, 2008

May 20, 1936 - August 26, 2008




My dad is dead.


It is very strange because like Meryl he was dead for so long before we found out. I spoke to the doctor who treated him in the ER and she gave me all the details. He was dead before anyone ever would have had a chance to be there with him or for him to give any contact info. They looked up some old contacts from when he was there two years ago and apparently numbers had been copied wrong. Fortunately when the case was turned over to the city those guys had the good sense to try directory assistance before he was buried in Potter's Field.

I am sad on and off. It is unreal. I chose not to maintain a relationship with him as an adult (although I tried briefly after my brother died, he was impossible). I think people need to be needed to live. He was not feeling very necessary. His last book was cancelled. I told him not to come to Sachi's graduation.

He fainted and woke up before the ambulance arrived. He said it happened before and maybe his sugar was low. The doctor told me he was calm and cooperative in the ER. He died once and she brought him back with a punch to the chest. When he came to, he asked what happened and she told him. "So I was dead? Wow!" The next time he coded, they could not bring him back.

They didn't do an autopsy but it was not a heart attack or his diabetes. They think he threw a clot in his brain or lungs. When he was in his forties, he had a similar experience to the one I had where he lost sensation and vision. He went in the hospital and they thought stroke. He was released and his sight came back. I think he had a cavernous angioma in his brain. They are hereditary especially in Hispanic families. He never had a CT scan or MRI. They didn't really have that technology back then.

I loved him even when though I should not have. He was a dangerous and destructive man. (IN THE YOUNG EYES OF A SMALL CHILD) Never confuse the art with the artist. He spun up a childhood for us and then edited as he went along removing the typos, egregious grammatical errors, and places where he dug his pen so deeply into the paper it tore. The result was a fantasy. It was lies but as beautiful and lyrical and seductive to a child as Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.

It 's so sad. I wasn't even that great a student. I got good grades but I did not try very hard at all. Short cuts, that was how he always described my efforts. I didn't even want to apply to Harvard and I don't remember what my essay was about. For sure, he edited it to the point where it did not resemble anything I could have produced.

And then in college, I fell apart. I could not tell which world was the real one, the bedtime story indoctrinated into me by my father, that societal norms were to be rejected because they cultivated fronts and behind the falseness was something to be feared or the one I saw in front of me where despite their Judeo-Christian beliefs and waspy prep school backgrounds, everyone sure seemed a hell of a lot happier than me. I wanted what they had but I did what my father told me to do.

"How are you?"
"How am I? Fuck you! Like you even really care."

It did not win me many friends. I conformed and I felt broken in two, then three, then more. And now there are so many pieces all over the floor I don't even know where to put them. Truth? Value? Beliefs?

Labor Day weekend I visited some friends and I gave them a copy of Blood Fugues. (I had about five copies.) David was worried I had made a mistake because the copy I gave him was signed to me. I said it was fine. (And I still mean it - this is not a hint asking for it back!) The signature made it even more valuable and he could sell it on eBay. I think I even joked that it would be worth more when he died. He was already dead. (ACTUALLY, I VISITED MY FRIENDS THE WEEKEND BEFORE AND DAVID GAVE ME THE BOOK BACK THE DAY OF THE MEMORIAL AND I FEEL GUILTY ABOUT THAT.)