Dad Memory: Name

My father called me “Treeshee” (don’t know how to spell that). He’s the only person on the planet who ever called me that. My relatives, at that time, pronounced my name, “Patricia,” like “Patreesha,” so I guess that’s where Treeshee came from.

I haven’t been able to write to you lately, because something else has been happening, some kind of internal swoosh of energy, like clouds of stars out there in the universe, needing to do its thing in silence. That sounds so self-involved and high falutin, but I’m guessing that we all go through galactic changes every once in while, so.

For some reason, I think I’ve told you, I decided somewhere along the way that my dad was a very bad guy. But I’ve come to realize that, though I know he had his faults, I think I cooked that bad-guy thing up as a way to distance myself from the trauma of losing him. I’m just beginning to remember exactly how much I loved my dad—like Maudie and I say to each other: “THIIIIISSSSS MUCH”—and I’m beginning to remember how devastated I was when he died. We never said goodbye, or got a chance to tell each other how much we loved each other. He was just gone one afternoon, when I got home from school. I was a kid, so I loved him, honestly, like Juliet loved Romeo. There. I said it. I was madly in love with my father at the time that he died.

So. I got a little damaged, being ten, and having no idea how to process such a devastating loss. I’m not exactly sad now, now that I have begun to look into this. What I do feel, though, and have always felt, is a sense of floating through that swoosh of universe so alone it’s like being re-traumatized moment by moment. It’s worst at night, when I’m alone in my house, the darkness pressing in. Maybe that’s the samsara we all long to be liberated from. I pray for the courage to sit in the fire of this present moment, at ease.

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Dad Memory #13: Glockenspiel

I didn’t want to play the glockenspiel. I mean, rhonestly: who does? But my father had bought my mother a grand piano, and the person filling the house with sounds from it was yours truly—Little Deitch.

I, though, wanted to play the flute. And I wanted to be in the school band. Who knew that the music for the piano and the music for the glockenspiel were the same? And who cared? I was a child! Certainly I could play both the piano and the flute?

Anyway, the thing was that my father was sick. So, as I’ve intimated here at Distant Dock before, there were things happening behind the scenes that I knew nothing about—that I didn’t understand at all. I assume that the fact that my father was sick—that he was dying—had something to do with why 1) I was taking piano lessons in the first place, and 2) I was being asked to play the glockenspiel in the school band.

This is what I remember: My mother and father were sitting on a bench by the piano, and I was standing in front of them. I was nine, and I was crying. I was saying that I didn’t want to play the glockenspiel. They were not angry, but they were adamant. My father had always been the kind of man who stood with good posture and bucket loads of what the Tibetans call “lungta”—genuine, friendly confidence and presence. But on this day I remember him a little bent over, and kind of holding himself up with his hands on the bench. (It’s funny how I dress him in my mind; in my mind I dress him in my favorite shirts and shoes from his closet: two tone golf shoes and a red-and-white vertical-stripped shirt, well pressed, with buttons shaped like tiny feet.)

I didn’t register it at the time, but when I look back, that’s what I see. I see my mother being gentle with me, as if to say, “Do this for your father.” But I didn’t get the message then. It took me until recently to get it: it travelled over time and space—forty-six years—and it waited in my unconscious until I started the Dad Memories, to try to remember where my love comes from. I loved my dad. I didn’t know he was going to die. Had I known, I would have happily, eagerly played the glockenspiel in the school band. At least I hope I would have.

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Dad Memory #12: Dancing

I’m afraid I’m running out of memories. But it does seem like every time I remember one, another pops up. Sometimes I think I don’t have them because they’re so part of the fabric of my mind that they don’t register as memories—they’re just Deitch space. But then I realize: No, that’s my father.

My parents had 78s. Did I write this already? The record player was downstairs, by my room, in a den that looked out over the Long Island Sound. The floor was actual slate: grey and uneven, shiny with some kind of floor cleaner. That floor is so part of Deitch space. There was a tiny built-in kitchen in that room, elegant, for parties and grown-up card games. There was a little fridge and a sink and bottles of booze. I remember so fondly bowls and bowls of bridge mix—orbs of chocolate—coming out of that.

Anyway, I remember my mom and dad playing 78s and dancing in that room. Not when people were around: just us. And I remember him holding my hands as I stepped onto his shoes, my tiny feet in socks, and him carefully lifting his feet and starting to dance. Could there be anything better? The sunshine, the slate floor, my parents just having been each others’ arms, dancing and laughing. The feel of my feet on the solid ground of my father’s shoes, my hands firmly in his.

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Dad Memory #11: Goodbye, Father

It was not like this, except for the root beer.
We were on an airplane that had just landed somewhere, my mother, father, and I. I had been sitting next to a priest—between him, I think, and my mother. I was probably five or six.

Wait—I forgot to tell you that my mother was raised Catholic, in Milwaukee, and my father, Jewish, in Brooklyn. Oh, no—I did tell you that, a while ago, in the even sadder days. Anyway, as I stepped into the aisle of the airplane—stepped up to my father, who was standing there waiting for me—my mother said to me, “Say ‘Goodbye, Father.'” Meaning, say goodbye to the priest. So I did. I said, “Goodbye, Father,” and my own father laughed. That is, he laughed derisively—sort of scoffed, or sniggered.

This is an odd memory, and there was a time that I thought about it so much that the memory of the memory is more vivid than the incident itself. I felt humiliated in a number of ways, though I was just a little girl. I felt like I had been caught by my father being stupid: using words that had meanings I couldn’t know, but should have known.

It was about him, right? Maybe it was about him and my mother and their differences. Probably, for him, it was about being Jewish, somehow. How could I not know the true meaning of this? How could I not know, in some deeper way, my own father? (Ladies and gents with real live daddys: know them, if you can. Just to have known him for a little while longer; just to have been a little older.) There was contempt there; that’s what I remember. It made a tiny part of me, like the wind against the sand.

Tonight I’m going to sit with it for a few minutes, and look at it. Goodbye, Father. Goodbye, father. Goodbye.

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Dad Memory #10: It’s Not Real

Our modern house on Sinclair Drive had three bedrooms upstairs, and two bedrooms, including a maid’s room, two stories below. For reasons I won’t go into here, I was moved from one of the upstairs bedrooms when I was around three, down to the bedroom by the basement stairs. I was afraid of the dark back then, and actually used to hallucinate scary things, if I woke up in the middle of the night. This is so far back that I was still peeing in my bed on a occasion, which I’m sure was taxing for my parents, who, when I came upstairs with the soggy news, would have to get out of bed and travel the distance downstairs, making stops for fresh sheets, fresh pajamas, etc. Anyway, I remember my dad doing it: making my bed in the middle of the night—snapping the sheet like a bullfighter, and letting it float down so that it landed just right.

Do we all have a thing for clean sheets?

Anyway, then he’d get into bed with me and stay until I fell asleep. This one night I remember waking up to a massive hallucination: There were witches in the room. One or two were stirring a cauldron over a fire, one was flying on a broomstick, looking down. My dad was behind me, spooning me, and I was propped up on my hands, backing into him, terrified. That’s when the snake started climbing up the side of the bed towards me.

No joke. I was screaming. My father had my hand. He was saying something like, “It’s not real,” or “It’s not there.” I remember it vividly. I’m the only person alive who could tell this story.

It’s not like I’m confessing this, or even admitting it, though that’s how it feels. I think I’m fairly sane, actually, though I’m not exactly…I don’t know…vanilla. Plus I was a baby, for god’s sakes. But I don’t hear much about this kind of thing from other people. The hallucinations—what they call “night terrors.” It’s like there was a pinprick in the bardo I was born from, and a few creatures from a hell realm squeezed through it and lived near me, taking various forms when it got dark.

When I got older, in my twenties, it was always groups of hipsters I woke up to, as if they’d climbed in the window of my apartment and were standing across the room, having a conversation, with their bad posture, their big sweaters, and their sneakers. I’m not kidding. I’m afraid to say that it stopped in my thirties, because that will invite the next incarnation to squeeze through, and I’m alone in my house tonight, in the dark.

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Dad Memory #8: Ghost

I can’t remember if I told you this already. I believe that this happened in real life, and that later, after my father was dead, I dreamt it, only the dream was a nightmare—not just a terrible thing happening for real. He’d been hospitalized. I know this because I remember a story about how he had the hiccups in the hospital, which wouldn’t go away. The hiccups were getting so bad—staying so long—the story went, that the doctors and nurses were starting to worry. (Or something like that.) Anyway, the punchline is that when he came home from the hospital, the hiccups stopped. I liked this story when I was a kid, because it meant that my father was that happy to be home.

The point of my post, though, is this: that one time, when I knew that my father was coming back from the hospital, I ran up the stairs, threw the front door open, and ran outside to meet him—and he had utterly changed. He’d gone from a healthy man to an old person, sunken, stooped, and grey. I was not prepared for this; it was a terrible surprise.

This is the thing that I can’t get across—that I’m just learning about in writing you these memories of my father: I had not hardened myself yet. I had not steeled myself against pain that he might or might not inflict, or the surprise or cruelty that was possible for one person to inflict on another. I was still innocent and open to him. I don’t know what part this particular incident played in the creation of Deitch. Was it one cannonball in the side of her ship? Was it a flavor of the glue that stuck her together? Was it so bad that it made her speak of herself in the third person?

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I’d like my dad to be alive. If he were alive, he’d be 103, I think. I imagine him in Florida, 103, skin like rock, but brown from the sun. I imagine him shriveled, but full of joie de vivre, dressed in pink golf pants with creases, and two-tone golf shoes. I imagine him one of those Republicans who voted for Obama, even though Obama was black, and a democrat—not only because McCain was a retarded monkey and Palin a yahoo, but because his granddaughter needed a better planet. That’s how much he’d love her: against his better judgement, he’d give her a better planet.

If my grandmother had a dick, she’d be my grandfather. Like that.

Who knows where I’d be had my father not got cancer when I was seven and died two years later. Would I be in some kitchen on the upper east side where he’d stand in shorts, even though it was winter, like Bronnie’s dad did (his foot in a plastic boot, after surgery), holding his massive hands out at his sides and saying to me, “Everything’s going to be fine. Just let it go,” when he knew I was upset? Would he take care of it for me, like Bronnie’s dad? Like kissing a boo-boo, and pretending it would now all go away, just because he was there?

Trungpa Rinpoche said that women are crazy and men are stupid, and I think that captures something. It’s not that men are stupid, really; it’s more like they’ve been raised to be protectors (and porters), and that requires a certain padding. Dads will be your padding, if you need them to be, I imagine. If they’re still there when you need them. This is my fantasy. Some women count on their husbands this way, and that sounds good to me too. I’m a little tired. I’d like to take off all the padding and hang out with my dad in Florida for awhile.

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Dead Dads

My old boyfriend, Geoff, they told him his father was dead, but he wasn’t. When Geoff was little, his mother told different people different things, like Geoff’s father was killed in the war, or he died of cancer. But one night when Geoff was seventeen, his stepfather, drunk, told him that his father was alive—that he’d left Geoff’s mother when Geoff was a baby, his sister, three.

I met Geoff right around that time, and I remember him telling me that story as we waited for the car, furnished by the waterside-apartment complex we lived in with our mothers, to take us to school. I didn’t think, at the time, “I wonder if my father is alive.” I knew he wasn’t. Instead I thought about Geoff—what beautiful blue eyes he had, and how sweet he was.

He had another story that he told me in this period, which was in the weeks before we started going out. He had been working as a box boy at one of the local grocery stores, and he’d been befriended by the store manager, who was an old guy—like a dad’s age. One night Geoff was walking with him across the parking lot to wherever it was he normally deposited the store’s daily earnings, when two or three boys jumped out with guns. They took the money, and shot the store manager. They killed him.

Geoff, being about those boys’ age, was a suspect, at the same time that he was traumatized by the event, and the death of this dad-guy. If you knew Geoff, you’d know the truth of all that: that he wouldn’t have been involved in any crime, let alone this one; that he suffered, and didn’t know how to suffer, suffering being hard, for one thing, but also something that was magically wiped away in his family, by lies and alcohol etc., etc., etc.

This is the beginning of a long story.

Dad Memory #5: Upside Down

Funny. Once I stop the Dad Memories, my mind closes up, and it’s like I have no memories of him at all: I just have this empty head, with the aforementioned headache. So let’s see…

When I think of my father, a lot of my memories have to do with the feeling of my body next to his. This seems like a dangerous subject, but why should it be? So much of my love for Maud, when she was little, was expressed through touch. So.

I remember a day when my father sat on his bed, and I sat in his lap facing him. We were playing a game where he put his arms around me and then dropped me backwards, so my head nearly touched the floor. Then he’d whip me up, so I was facing him again. We did this over and over, laughing. It wasn’t the game necessarily, that was the great thing about this—it was how engaged we both were in the game together. It was the immense pleasure of the touch and the swing and the blood rushing to my head and then rushing back down again. It was the laughter between us.

There’s so much we take for granted. This tiny moment was just a game. But, then again, it wasn’t: I lost my father not long after that, and I’m lucky that I remember this moment, because it’s one of the early experiences of pure love that I’m able to rebuild my raft on, in the middle of this vast ocean of loss.

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Come and Get Me

Think: mother. Think: father. Think brother; think sister. Something will come up, or things. But what I’m discovering is that memories seem to reside in layers: write the first layer down, and the next layer arises. Right now there’s nothing in my head but a headache and some feelings that I wish I could carve out and throw away. But I think of my daughter, Maud, and a picture of her—her recent self, smiling—arises.

The fact is, though, that I could write volumes of memories about Maud: I could start with a day, close to thirty years ago, when her dad and I, just three months into our relationship, sat on a wall in Bend, Oregon, on a summer day, and watched somebody else’s little girl run across a lawn. She had crazy curly hair, and she was a spaz. Andrew said to me, something like, “Our daughter could be like that. We could call her ‘Daffy.'” That was the beginning of Maud, who, when she was born, was anything but daffy. She was too smart, right from the start, to be daffy. She was too sensitive, too clear, and too penetrating.

“Mama,” she said to me one day, playing on the floor of her bedroom when she was about five. I was sitting on her bed. “Is ‘idiot’ a bad word?”

Well, I said, or something like it. It’s not exactly a bad word, but it’s not anything you want to call anyone.

She thought about that. She went back to playing.

A couple of minutes later she said, “Mama?”

I said, “Yah.”

And she said, “Is ‘fucking asshole’ a bad word.”

It was kind of like Scout, when he’d stuff a pair of dirty socks in his mouth and walk by me slowly, looking at me out of the whites of his eyes. It was a joke, those dirty socks in his mouth, and a funny challenge. It said, Come and get me.

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Dad Memory #4: Magician

I have no idea whether I was there, or my mother told me about this, or if I completely made it up: My dad came down to dinner in our dining room in a top hat and tails. Even if it didn’t happen, I believe he was like that: showily romantic. One time, at a banquet at Green Hills, the gold club he owned in Greenwich, he put a chair in the middle of the dance floor while members were eating, put my mother in the chair, and sang her a romantic song. Because I remember a couple at the club who were ancient (the man was always pulling quarters from behind our ears, and smiling into our faces as if his face were a full moon), I imagine that everyone witnessing this event was elderly. This can’t be true, though: it was not a club for seniors.

Here’s something I’d like to float by you: there is something brewing in me about the texture of the world—the feel of the wind, the rustle of leaves, the quality of light from moment to moment. Different people relate to this texture in different ways. Some people, like woodsmen, snuggle in like barnacles; others, like fat ladies with frizzled hair, have no idea it’s there. Some people, like fashionistas, think they’re outdoing it; others—great artists, dancers, musicians, writers—express it in ways that get you closer to it.

I think there is magic in the texture of the world, and I believe my father may have been a magician. Or maybe that’s how I saw him when I was a little girl: the beach on which lived, the beauty of our glass-backed house? He made them. He made the gulls who flew high and dropped clams; he made the eels that washed ashore. He made the sparkly rocks and the snow.

Why did he go away without saying goodbye?

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Dad Memory #3: The Sky

My dad's car was kind of like this, but black.
He had a black Lincoln Continental. I think it was from 1956, and I think it was a limited edition (though I might be wrong on both counts). It had leather seats—dark maroon.

Though he’d been a lawyer when he was younger (he was 48 when I was born), my father owned a bunch of properties—a beach club in the Bronx called Shorehaven, part of the Miracle Mile in Manhasset, and a golf club up in Greenwich called Green Hills—and he worked at both Shorehaven and Green Hills. The way I saw him, he was kind of the Ambassador of those places—he was always tan, and he would wear spiffy, pressed clothes, and he was social: he walked around talking to people, smiling, shaking hands, like that. Maybe I see him that way because those are the times I saw him at his work; I didn’t see him much in his office. (I wonder why?)

Anyway, one time at least, I drove up to Green Hills with my dad, just me and him alone. I remember sitting in the front seat beside him. Though my mom was the kind of parent who talked to her kids, my dad, from my memory, was the kind of parent who didn’t talk much. So I remember driving that long drive from Long Island to Connecticut in silence. I was very small—below window level—so I spent the time looking up at two things, my dad, peacefully driving, and the blue sky, filled with puffy white clouds and the tops of tree branches, passing by.

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