May 23, 2012

Dear Dead Mother,

My father — your husband — is an addict.  Many people’s stories could start that way.  He is addicted to alcohol and dark places, feeling sorry for himself and conspiracy theories, aliens and the mythology he’s constructed around Egyptian pyramids, free energy, and shadow governments.  At night, he used to go to the levee on the river in New Orleans to film unidentified flying objects, which he called ‘strangeness in the skies’ on his Youtube videos.  A few years ago, he was addicted to opiates too.  He stood in line at methadone clinics in New Orleans with a friend who eventually died of an overdose.

My father hasn’t worked since 2009.  He believes that the world will come to an end (or, in a slightly more encouraging scenario, that humans will achieve transcendental enlightenment) on December 21, 2012.  He depleted his 401K in 2011, at which point he started pawning power tools to pay his bills.  He lost his home in early 2012.

The times when I entered my father’s home, my eyes immediately gravitated towards a few things: a yellow bulb in a modest shade hanging over his circular dining room table; the candle burning in the corner; the fish tank filled with bright blue rocks, illuminated by a florescent light even during the day, and its eel-like king fish slithering around the water (tiny goldfish swam with it, though their days were numbered); the oversized empty clay pots which used to grow gigantic orchids.

I never felt especially comfortable in this house.  It was dark.  I tried to open the blinds to let in the sun once, but he closed them behind me.

My father and I have never been close, but he was in New York City for two months last fall, sleeping on my living room couch for part of the time.  He was flown here after declaring that he needed ‘rehab’.  His aunt and uncle bought his plane ticket – he had no job, no money, and was living in their basement apartment in Georgia after being rescued from New Orleans because he had stopped paying his bills months before.  It was in Georgia that all of us realized how bad things were.  He arrived there, shaking because he was in withdrawal.  Within a couple of weeks, he was lying to everyone and hiding his screwdrivers under the table when his aunt would come to check on him in the morning.  He called me a few times, sobbing because the walls were closing in on him.  His aunt’s heavy footsteps were like a hammer on his brain; the dolls stared.  He had to get away.

My husband and I welcomed him.  I knew that my dad had been a functional alcoholic for decades.  Whenever I saw him, from the time I was a child, he had a drink in his hand.  I was in the backseat when he was stopped on the Causeway as we drove back to New Orleans from a Christmas party in Mandeville.  At the time I was in high school.  Years later, he drove me around New Orleans when I was seven months pregnant with my first child while he was high on methadone.  He kept nodding off during my baby shower that afternoon.  The day before, at his dining room table, I said, “What’s the story, Dad?  Are you on heroin or something?  You keep falling asleep.”  “Naw,” he responded.  “I’m having allergies.  Something’s in my eyes.”

I’ve never felt much of an obligation to my dad.  He had never felt much of an obligation to me.  But when he asked for help I decided to give it to him.  His aunt and uncle were not equipped to deal with him.  He was unstable in their basement apartment.  I was his daughter.  I should fly him to my home and give him the chance he said he wanted.



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