Life raped my mother. I mean it planted a kiss, fucked her silently and ran, though she battled death like a Trojan. Her laugh, wit and bones float in the sky like exhaust; misty black in life but now invisible. During her time on earth I was a coke slut, but today what I’d do for a minute with mom and her red-brown hair.
As a daughter, I envision her and breathe- it’s the only way to connect. I learned this from Walt Whitman: “If you want me again, look for me under your boot soles,” he writes. Or the stars or the sky- he says death removes us from life, but not the cosmos. Then he winks: Don’t worry, you’re immortal as long as you live in another’s mind. So fuck Whitman, though he’s both hairy and dead. Because my mom died 20 years ago; she’s hard to remember. New York’s a rotting shrine- the only stone that celebrates her is Bloomingdale’s. Even the hospital she died in stopped moving; it’s closed. The beds are now in a place where the male nurse’s hands roam during the sponge bath. I’ve been there. I highly recommend it.
Dad’s visiting. It’s cool, we’re close now. At eight am he’s dressed to the tee in a tasteful button-up shirt, green pants and drama. “God damn it, I lost my check book,” he says. “I put it in my shirt pocket, it must’ve fallen out.” At 76, he skateboards through life like a teen: I worry each trick’s his last. Two years ago, he shattered both his legs while riding a motorcycle; a drunk hit him head-on. My dad flew off the bike and flipped over- to this day, his thigh looks like it was hit by a bomb. He now runs 4 times a week, retiles the roof and operates a chainsaw. He does indeed put all items into a thin, little shirt pocket: hundred dollar bills, passports, metro cards, tickets. You can’t tell him to put these things in a safer place; he gets irritated and talks to you like you’re- no offense, liberals- a fagot who sucks at dodgeball. (This is my dysfunctional phrasing not my dad’s. He favors same-sex marriage.) So, I never suggest where to put papers or say anything that whiffs of self-preservation. I let him run his fingers through his hair and drive the truck like he’s racing the Indy 500.
When I was a teen, I hated dad. I thought he was an emotionally distant prick who did his best to turn me into a lesbian- we never talked. Now I wish he’d shut the fuck up. Daily, he gives New York a tribute; two weeks in, my ears are drained of blood. “God that Mayor Bloomberg fucked this city up. I mean, Jesus, he ruined Manhattan- it’s not meant for this many people.” My dad grew up in the Bronx. Back then cynics took the subway not a crowd of German families, Japanese whores, Mexicans nodding out, ladies who talk like valley girls, Parisians and Midwesterners holding maps. No one took the L train, ever; now it’s filled with trendy kids going to Auschwitz. We rode the IRT next to Norman Mailer or Lauren Hutton; then we smoked pot between the cars. Cafes were packed with intellectuals who’d refuse to even piss in Starbucks and on the sidewalk, you weren’t blocked by a girl pausing to write a text. Dad’s annoyed by all the tourists like the rest of us natives; Whitman’s New York, a temple of art, fierce workers, industrial growth, sex and Hindu theology- a democratic, socialist utopia- is dead. However, thanks to Bernie Sanders, it’s alive on the internet.
If you want to piss off Dad, mention Hillary Clinton. “There’s no way in hell I’m gonna vote for that woman,” he’ll say. (He calls her “that woman,” the same thing he calls mom’s divorce lawyer.) Each morning he jogs two miles in the park and eats breakfast, so the second I open my eyes, I go to the kitchen. “Good morning!” he says with rosy cheeks. “You’re right, there isn’t a breeze in my room like there is in yours and I opened all the windows.” Throughout the week I witness him alive yet stepping to decay; but still his voice bellows like a king’s (despite growing up in the Bronx, my dad talks like Sean Connery). Even if he tells the same story as last week or rambles on about money or is a complete dick, that voice- like a favorite album- stirs in me deep love. He says his cup’s “skanky” from apple-kale juice and rinses it. Then he suggests tea. Then it happens- he clears his throat and brings up Bernie Sanders. His hands fly through the air so I know he’s going to talk about revolution while I sit in bare feet. “Bernie’s the only one. He didn’t get enough votes, though. But he got half of them.” I nod in agreement. “He stood up for women’s rights more than Hillary ever did. All Hillary did was be one.” I laugh, a mark of sardonicism.
“Listen,” I say, “no one voted for Hillary because they think she’s trustworthy. It was for other reasons.”
“And what reason was that? What reason could that possibly be?” My father’s eyes sharpen, flooded with war- he’s ready to fight.
“Don’t get me wrong, Sanders’s a rebel- he’s the real thing. He’s not a sellout, which is rare in this world.” My father nods passionately- our exchange feels warmer. “But I didn’t like how he handled certain situations.”
“Really? Like what?” Dad asks, offended.
“He criticized everyone in the party. He said Emmanuel Rahm’s not a progressive, which is fine, but then he criticized everyone. He didn’t gather support. If you can’t get along with Democrats, how’re you going to get along with Republicans? They’re bastards! They don’t budge.”
“It’s not over for him- Bernie needs to stay and be the conscience of the party.”
I also didn’t feel Sanders could win.
“But he beat Trump in all the polls! Every single one!”
“That’s not the general election, it’s not the same thing. Bernie speaks exactly like Trotsky, verbatim, like he’s reading from his texts. Sanders might want capitalism to work for everyone, but he’s using Trotsky’s ideology to woo them- I don’t buy it. If Bernie said, ‘Go get your gun. Let’s start a revolution,’ I’d take him more seriously, but he didn’t.”
“No, no Laura, that never works. We need someone who knows what they’re doing and cares about the little guy- that’s what we need. The Democrats are bought and sold, just like the Republicans! They voted, they voted, to have no cap on the price of prescription drugs, so they can charge whatever they want. Democrats voted for that. But no one cares- that’s the problem. People need to wake up- Bernie woke people up. God help the next generation, because if they don’t get a clue, they’re fucked.” Then he smiles softly, “Ah! It’s outta my hands. I get Social Security for the rest of my life.”
Sunlight comes from the window like a ray of left-wing ideology: a respect for the little guy, a distrust of globalization and a Whitmanesque dream for America. The dirt of grass roots gave my father breath and I know when he’s in the ground as a result of death, he’ll rumble there with passion.
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