Friday, January 27, 2012

Got caught up watching M*A*S*H* marathon: How awesome is M*A*S*H*?  When I was in high school, and being home tutored for most of my classes, M*A*S*H* was on about three different channels at different points during the day, and I made my way through what I assume was all eleven years worth of shows. (M*A*S*H* was only one of a few shows I could watch with Nana and not have to listen to her complain about how horrible the world was during every scene: A show about war, she had no complaints about the downfall of our society; Friends, on the other hand made her think the apocolypse was right around the corner. :shrug:)

Every so often though, I am flipping my way through, and TV Land will have one on that I either didn't catch back then, or have completely forgotten about.  But the one that sucked me in tonight was the one where the reporter comes and does a documentary on the whole crew, and how a M*A*S*H* unit runs, and is basically a highlight reel of the seasons up till that point.  And even though I know it is coming, when they show the clip of Radar reading the message that Colonel Blake has died?  I can't help but tear up.  Considering I didn't watch the show until 13 years after it had gone off the air, I had no idea what was coming, and so it was still unexpected for me, still shocking.  And I thought about what it must have been like, watching the show religiously, back when it first aired, and to have that happen.  It's not real, obviously, but that kick, that gasp, that's real.

When my father died, I had just turned twenty, and we hadn't really spoken - aside from terse politeness and arguments during which he berated me as unsympathetic and I struggled not to cry - for quite a few years.  He was a less-than-functional alcoholic, and I was his oldest daughter, the one who had to take care of all the things he forgot - like having a birthday party for my nine year old sister, or picking up the pieces when he had disappointed my brother yet again, or helping my grandmother figure out how to deal with Child's Services when his ex-girlfriend called and reported him just for spite - and I had, by that point had my fill of it.  He was irresponsible, and I, Ms. Uber Responsible, was just done playing along like everything was fine.  When the back porch door to my grandmother's house would creak open, I would automatically tense, look at the clock, and hope against hope that it was anybody but him.

It was the ultimate reversal: as a little girl, whose daddy was in the navy her entire life, I had spent years wishing that he would come home again.  But during that period, after he'd been kicked out of the Navy and moved back home to live with my grandparents, I spent an awful lot of time wishing he would stay away.

But today, watching M*A*S*H* and remembering that tiny gasp I had when Henry Blake's plane crashed over the Sea of Japan, I was also tackling a chore I'd been putting off for a while - going through the Mass Cards, regular cards, and funeral book that I somehow gained custody of after my father died - and I remembered the much bigger kick, the full body freeze that I felt when my mom told me he had died.

And I remember thinking that it couldn't be true, that I was somehow misunderstanding her, and looking at my brother's face, and the horror and fear that was so clear in his face, and thinking: "I should be feeling like him."  But I was frozen, at first - I'm not sure I can explain how stuck I really seemed to be - it was like people around me were talking and acting in a way I thought was appropriate to the situation, and I was a step back, physically doing the things I knew I should be doing  - heading straight over to my sister and grandmother, holding them while they cried; comforting people at the wake; not breaking down when his mentally disabled brother couldn't understand why he wouldn't get up out of the casket - but I wasn't in my body while I was doing those things.  I did them because that's what you do: wakes and funerals and phone calls and thank you notes - I took the steps one after the other, and did the best I could.

But here I am, twelve years later, having carried all of this stuff - the flower cards and 'guest book' (they should really call it something other than that), the crucifix he held and the ginormous bible they gave us along with his ashes - to the new house, packed away in a box in the basement, forgotten.  Except we're trying to clean the basement, and there was this white paper bag, full of things I didn't want to face, and didn't know what to do with.

Here are all the lists I had to make post-wake, in order to organize the thank you notes, which I had taken charge of (Please, god, give me something to be in charge of!): who knew these people, which great-uncle's church group had sent this card, did anybody have an address for Mr & Mrs So & So?  (My father's death came in the middle of clump of family deaths - one each summer for three years - so I had learned a lot about funeral etiquette at my grandfather's funeral the year before: how you're supposed to put your address on the envelope of the Mass Card, so that grieving people don't have to track you down to say thank you. But my friends, my brother's friends, my sister's friends - they were all young... some as young as nine, and (luckily) inexperienced in the ways of funerals, and so there was some extra legwork to be done.)  

Here are the 45 or so perpetual Spiritual Bouquets, for a guy who was over the Catholic Church and what he called all its hypocrisy.  Here are the smaller cards from the flower bouquets - one from my brother sister and I, one from his mom, one from his brothers and sisters.  And the memory of a card which is missing - that of his volatile ex-girlfriend.

{ I can't seem to find a post in which I talk about how crazy fucked up my father's wake was, but it's long so I'm not going to get it all in here tonight (Maybe tomorrow's post, if I can get it to make sense to anybody who wasn't there).  Suffice it to say, she was not welcomed at the wake, and her flowers were disposed of.  }

But there's all these things and I don't know what you're supposed to do with them: Do I have to hold on to them forever, because it seems disrespectful to just toss them in the recycling?  Should I ask my brother and sister if they want them, even though neither of them are practicing religious anymore either?  I don't know who left me with all of these stupid grown up things to have to think about.

In the end, I weeded through them, keeping some of the ones I figured would be most important (although I still might get rid of those as well: I know who was there for me then, I don't need these cards to prove it), and putting the rest, with a thankful heart, in the bin.  (Even though it felt a little sacrilegious, even to this extremely Ex-Catholic.)  I'll give my brother and sister a heads up that I have some, if they want them, and I'll get rid of the rest, no sense dragging it along if it just feels like baggage.

And I'm surprised by how much baggage there still seems to be.

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