My therapist told me that it would be extremely beneficial to the grieving process that I remember my father like a Jackson Pollack painting.
“Just accept that the individual splatters make up one beautifully haunting and strangely artistic singularity,” Dr. Louis said to me in our last session together. I nodded and repeated it back, as it was customary for me to do so.
Fun fact about Jackson Pollack, besides giving birth to the dripping paint technique and being one of the head figures of the abstract expressionist movement, his final moments in this world were spent being hurled from his car in an intoxicated state into the branches of an unsuspecting birch tree. I often imagine these drippings were his final masterpiece and not The Deep, like so many critics like to say. When I think of that pivotal moment in both his life and mine I see his bodily fluids and my father’s spraying nature’s canvas with all of their regrets, jokes, and their sad inability to handle their liqueur. A little mist and spritz for each year somebody wasn’t paying attention.
The next thing that comes to my mind about this soggy therapeutic moment is the fact that prior to it I was actually recalling a humorous anecdote about my father.
“I remember the last time my father made me genuinely laugh,” I said, staring out the window.
“Really? When was that? Please tell me about it,” Dr. Louis said, not once ever looking up from her notes. She always reminded me of my students with their heads down and permanently saturated with ink and questions.
“It was the last time I went to New Jersey for the summer.” I recalled to her how my father wanted to take his speed boat, aptly named No Compromise, across Manahawkin Bay from Long Beach Island to visit our old neighbors. The only snafu was that there was a thunderstorm due to arrive any minute from Atlantic City. It carried with it the smell of marshlands and motor oil. I remember thinking of it as a representation of all the negative mojo that town had accumulated over the years. Including the day Judy, my mother’s best friend, caught my father entertaining a snake eyed woman at a Harrah’s blackjack table. I was still in the single digit range at the time.
“I don’t think this is a good idea,” I called to him from the dock.
“Of course it is,” he laughed, from behind the neon steering console
“Seriously, dad! I think it’s going to be rough.”
“Nah, we’ll out run it,” he laughed, pointing to the engines. My father used to say he was the Teflon Don because nothing could stick to him or slow him down. Up until then, that had been the truth. He could dance around any issue better than most tap happy politicians. He side-stepped my mother’s attempt to divorce him, and then he tried to shimmy off the guilt whenever I brought it up.
“I’ll be in the cabin,” I said, jumping on board.
“Watch it! Those shoes leave marks,” he said, quickly buffing out my black print. I didn’t respond and just went below and watched as little, milky rain drops started to speckle the hatch above me. I accidently fell asleep on the couch listening to the waves and him singing along to his prized KC and the Sunshine Band’s Greatest Hits album.
A little while later a wave struck the hull so hard that it knocked me off the couch and sent me airborne into the side wall. My head slammed into a cabinet causing me to bite my tongue mid-scream. My dad then opened up the door to see what had happened. He was wearing his signature tangerine sunglasses and a canary colored rain coat that made him look like a devious six year old going out for some unsanctioned puddle splashing time. The rain was now coming down in quarter sized drops and the wind had whipped up the waves into a cappuccino looking froth.
“Rebecca, hand me a bottle of water, would yah?”
“Sure, no problem,” I hissed. I wasn’t even mad that he didn’t notice I was hurt, or that he didn’t think to wake me up before leaving or at least before things got choppy. I was mad because I knew he already had a bottle of water up there with him. I saw it before heading down into the cabin. I handed him another bottle, he opened it, and in the middle of a squall line, he poured it all over himself.
“Ahhh, soooo refreshing,” he laughed. He handed the now empty bottle back, and I couldn’t help but laugh too. Not at his joke, but more at the fact that my father would go through so much trouble for the attention.
“And what happened after that?” Dr. Louis asked, looking up from her pad.
“We didn’t make it. He finally realized how dangerous it was when he almost slammed into a marker out in the channel.”
“Throughout your life you must have seen your father as more of a troubled older sibling than an actual parent. That must have been very confusing for you growing up,” she said.
“I guess,” I said, staring out the window. It had rained earlier that day and the little remaining droplets continued to stand up to all of gravity’s heavy smack talk. I zoned out thinking about the theory of simultaneous lifetimes. Those who subscribe to it believe that time is not linear and that the past, present, and future all occupy the same space. At that moment, I believed it and could feel the moist and sticky webbing of time vibrating between then and now. Between Jackson Pollack, myself, my father, and the sad, little boy version who watched his father leave and then slammed his fists over and over again into a door window, until they bled little ketchup colored spirals and splatters all over the glass. I think it was raining that day too. It has been raining ever since. It will continue to rain. We are all trapped inside a still wet version of God’s Number 5 1948.
Rebecca Cobb graduated from Florida Atlantic University with her MFA in fiction. She is currently teaching at Miami Dade College North. She has a supportive mother, a caring husband, and two crazy dogs.