the last thing to go

A few minutes ago, I carried an industrial-sized bucket full of sopping wet towels and clothing two flights of stairs up to my building's laundry room, since this morning, my Eurotrash combination washer/dryer choked on the nickel I accidentally left in the pocket of my jeans, flooding half my apartment. It was a 3/10 on the scale of Things That Suck, a notable improvement over the 6/10 I'd been engaged in a few minutes prior: sitting on the couch, crying, and missing my parents.

Today wasn't horrible by any stretch. Worse things. There are always worse things. It was just one of those days when a few key details go wrong, and you're too tired to shake it off like a normal adult does, and instead you slowly give in to inertia and self-pity, until eventually you find yourself in a mental fetal position where all you want to hear is the uniquely comforting sound of your mom or your dad saying simply, sympathetically, Oh, sweetie.

Some days you just need an Oh, sweetie. And the fact that you can't have one becomes this deliciously self-indulgent shroud of melancholia with which to wrap up and keep warm. So picture me in one of those right now. It looks like a Snuggie, but less dignified.

My friend Tricia, who has experienced grief both of a kind I can understand and that which I never will, once gave me some great advice about how to handle losing my dad. Keep him alive, she said, in the details. The sensory impressions. Butter melting on bagels. The smell of a Sharpie. What made him him.

No butter or Sharpies today. Instead, a dose of my dad's uniquely dry, pragmatic humor. Not for the faint of heart, probably, but what the fuck. I'll keep him around any way I can.

---

When my dad got sick, everything happened mercifully quickly. He lost basic functionality over a matter of days. And wow was that a fun sentence to write, as if he was a fucking toaster, but I don't know how else to put it. First he had trouble walking. Then he had difficulty even balancing himself while sitting. Then he lost speech…and other powers. After that, I assume he started slipping into a state of total disorientation. I assume, that is, because he couldn't tell us. But the way he looked around in bewilderment and fear suggested as much.

Are we having fun yet? Excellent. It gets better.

By the time A., my boyfriend at the time, jumped on a plane to come help out, my dad was still able to speak, still had mental clarity - but bodily, he was falling apart. Those were some of the worst days for me, since, lacking the physical strength to support him, the helplessness I felt was infuriating. He hated using the walker I'd gotten him, even after, desperate to make the house safer and more navigable, I had a late night Craiglist furniture fire sale, just to get some of his bookcases out of the fucking way. He was restless and scared, and kept himself distracted from what was happening by moving around constantly. He'd sit in one chair for ten minutes before insisting I help him move to another. I was always terrified one or both of us would go down as we shuffled along, inch by inch, on the cold Spanish tile. I'm sure he was, too.

The day A. arrived was especially bad for my dad. He was more or less bound to the hospital bed hospice had set up in the middle of the living room, because there hadn't been time to disassemble his own bed yet. He could no longer get up without help, and, due to his size and lack of balance, it became a massive ordeal for him just to go to the bathroom. And on this particular day, whether due to exhaustion or apathy, my dad decided to forgo the hassle and formality of pants.

Honestly, who the fuck could blame him?

Two things happened within seconds of one another: A. pulled up in a taxi, armed with his indefatigable grin and a battery-operated, barking toy dog on the box of which he'd written Chaucer - and my dad realized he needed to use the bathroom.

My dad had never met A. Never lain eyes on him or spoken to him. Knew him only by my description, and barely at that, since we hadn't been dating long. For his part, A. had just stepped off a trans-continental flight minutes before. We barely had a chance to greet one another on the driveway before I heard my dad calling for me from inside.

A. didn't blink, when he saw what was happening. In an instant, he was at my dad's side, helping me help him stand - discombobulated, weak, needing to pee. And completely naked from the waist down. Really, if you want to see what your boyfriend is made of, throw your pantless, dying father at him and see how he fares.

But this isn't A.'s story. It's my dad's. And do you know what the first words out of my father's mouth were, to his adult daughter's new beau? The very first words he uttered, standing there shakily between us, clutching both of our arms, and in the sort of exposed, heartbreakingly vulnerable state that nightmares are made of?

"Welcome to Apollo Beach."

Because what else was there to say? Manners are manners, whether your guest is living or Death or both, and my dad was fucked if cancer was going to touch his sense of humor just yet. So help him god, that would be the last thing to go.