23. Dust

Dust

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience which leads to righteousness?

Romans 6:16

When you came aboard it was so good to see

My heart filled with new melodies,

Salty songs I once sung at the top of my lungs

Were much sweeter with your harmonies

We sang tunes filled with laughter and living,

And some filled with anger and tears

And with tunes that were soft and forgiving,

We managed to sail through the years1

I looked back into Dust’s eyes, wrapped my arms around him and wept on his shoulder, my body now ushering in the mourning process I knew not how to express. Once the initial wave of uncontrolled emotion subsided, I let go of him, wiped my tears and brought the phone back to my ear.

“What happens next?” I asked between sniffles.

“You’re coming home,” Austin said, “Everyone is coming to Washington for a memorial service next week.”

We exchanged a few more words before hanging up. I returned the phone to Dust and walked towards the SOG’s hut as tears continued dripping from my face. Initially irritated by the sight of a weeping PFC entering his office, the sergeant on duty quickly expressed more concern once I told him my dad died. He assured me that once the Red Cross message came through confirming his passing, I would be able to take leave and return home.

The following day I ordered my plane ticket and that same evening mom picked me up from SeaTac airport. As she drove me home, I stared at the lights of cars and buildings humming by. A song from one of my favorite bands at the time popped in my head. 

When my time comes

Forget the wrong that I’ve done

Help me leave behind some reasons to be missed

And don’t resent me

when you’re feeling empty

Keep me in your memory

Leave out all the rest

Leave out all the rest2

Tuesday rolled around as we rolled up to Dave’s Den in Ames Lake, the scene accompanied by a dreary emptiness accentuated by the overcast sky and damp air. The bright yellow summer blooms of St. John’s Wort abandoned the scene months ago, leaving the hill monochromatic with drab green amidst the dull gray afternoon. A quick glance in the window of dad’s ‘95 Nissan Pathfinder revealed a fresh six-pack of Bud Lite. 

I wondered what we’d find upon entering his house pregnant with childhood memories. I couldn’t remember the last time I visited this place as all the times I hung out with dad over my senior year were spent out at Pine Lake or chatting over meals. Peering through the front door I spotted several mounds of garments up to three feet high obstructing a clean path. Once I stepped in the doorway, the taste of thick mildew dabbed my tongue as the cold, dingy air filled my nostrils. Items and clothes were strewn everywhere.

Turning my head to my left I glanced at the kitchen. It was a mess as usual. Food-crusted pots collected in scattered piles on the stove. More pots and pans stacked in a tower under the faucet, tipping out of their shallow, dripping grave. Thankfully no branches of mold from the sink caught our coats, though I felt a tingling sensation up my spine as if caressed by the chilling premonition of Death’s bony fingers lingering from his recent soul-snatching.

I managed six steps past the mounds of clothes and turned right. At the end of the hall I looked into my former bedroom as the door propped fully open from mounds of junk. Stepping down the short hall into the room, at eye level I locked onto the metal poles of my red and blue bunk. Tracing slightly upward, I noticed the lifeless bodies of Bobby Bear, Bunny Boy and Vicenza lying limp on the mattress, their once vibrant bodies now forever to remain fluffy corpses absent my father’s departed spirit. Stepping into the door over the clutter, I looked to my right. Guitars once livened with songs were toppled like a disorganized pyre in the half-open sliding closet. 

Glancing down and to my right I saw Dad’s accordion resting in a box. A memory flashed before my eyes of when he randomly sang me a funny song in German while playing it. The fact that he taught himself Spanish, German, Russian, Italian and French still amazed me. I thoroughly enjoyed watching his linguistic genius surprise folks indigenous to such countries when an average-looking white American burst forth in their language with an impeccable accent. 

Stumbling back out of the rubble, I heard rustling in dad’s room where Austin and Lee were. Eyeing the floor to avoid tripping, as I turned to my right into the doorway, another familiar item in a box caught my eye, dad’s old monkey suit. He worked at Don Post Studios when the original Planet of the Apes made it to the big screen. The masks for the apes were produced there. Dad created a duplicate gorilla mask from the mold used for Roddy McDowell’s costume. He used this with an extra jumpsuit laying around in the studio to impress people at parties and turn heads in the streets. 

He told me a story of when he wore this mask while driving slowly along the boulevard with his windows down, no doubt seeking attention. Suddenly, a driver nearly sideswiped him. After slowing down the motorist’s apologetic eyes met dad’s. Rather than seeing a man behind the wheel, an expressionless ape greeted him saying, “Hello.”

Tracing up and to my right towards the corner I noticed a woman I’d never met laying across dad’s bed. Carved out of foam, this pointy-breasted doll must have been his hand-made mistress during his last days. Grief draped over me like a weighted blanket, realizing how utterly lonely he must have been as he resorted to snuggling with and perhaps pretending to make love to this crudely crafted inanimate object. 

Scanning the shelves laden in dust to my right, Lee and Austin found three handguns, a 9mm Walther PPK, .380 Taurus ACP and a .22 Ruger. Additionally they discovered 1,800 dollars cash. These guns and the small wad of bills were the only easily identifiable items of value besides his mountains of tools I knew he kept in his two sheds. Not many words were spoken, but once the guns were found, Lee shared an idea. 

“Hey boys, let’s go shooting again.” We hadn’t shot with Lee since we slew bottles in the mountains. 

“Yeah. I like the sound of that,” Austin replied. I didn’t respond, but I thought it would be a good way to get our minds off the situation. Perhaps our blasts would serve not only as a healthy distraction, but would also pay tribute to dad by sending echoes through the winter air as if honoring him with a 21-gun salute. We left with the cash and weapons. 

We held the memorial service at Pine Lake Covenant church on January 25th, 2008. The pastor of the church opened the session, followed by Craig Vick sharing his eulogy. One of his comments stood out.

“Dave loved to hunt for antiques. He found authentic art and valuables in things once cast away by others. His talent for finding true treasure beneath the surface in both people and objects always shined through.”

After Craig’s sermon, they played original music dad recorded as a reel of photographs from his life projected on the wall. The first song, The Diary of a Volkswagen, is an allegorical expression of the Christian story of redemption from the perspective of a beat up Bug. Dad called this his auto-biography. Next they played his tender melody Sail Away, an offering to a lonely, stranded stranger to join him on his adventure at sea. The pictures accompanied by dad’s singing voice soaked every eye in the sanctuary.3

My tears brought comfort as they proved me wrong. Years ago I genuinely wondered if I’d cry when dad died. Perhaps the numbness of my connection to most people coupled with the physical and emotional distance from twelve-day gaps between visits, and a growing dissatisfaction with spending time with him, caused me to sincerely question if his passing would cause relief rather than grief. I guess I felt a bit of both.

Though I didn’t miss his alcohol, awkwardness and bouts of anger, the songs and pictures reminded me of the true man beneath the surface, the one who died one sip at a time over many years. His suppression snuffed him out as the dying husk of a wounded man polluted his liver by the age of 52. We didn’t cry for the lost shell, we mourned the loss of the man who should have been. Dad’s humor, vibrancy and talent most closely resembled that of Robin Williams. He likely had similar demons too. 

As we drove to the funeral home for the visitation, more memories clouded my mind. When Austin left for California, his vacancy provided more room for dad and I to connect. My favorite band at the time transitioned from Linkin Park to Evanescence, the quintessential emo band of the day. Figuring he’d like the clever combination of honest lyrics wrapped in heavy metal, orchestral tunes and the angelic voice of Amy Lee, I decided to share the album with him. 

We sat in his Pathfinder spring of 2007 and went through the whole Fallen album in the Safeway parking lot. Once the second song, their biggest hit Bring Me to Life, rang in dad’s ears, he was hooked. He cried many tears as the album progressed. I simply wanted to share some songs I thought he’d like. I didn’t expect this would be the introduction to his new favorite band and that a middle-aged-man would develop a crush on the lead singer. 

I wasn’t sure if this helped or harmed him. The heart-rending hurt Amy Lee sings about likely caused dad’s stitched wounds to dehisce. I noticed him wallowing in the morass of pain repeatedly, still unable to get past the hurt of the divorce some ten years later. He continually revisited old wounds that should have scarred over by now, making it difficult not only to be able, but also want to heal. 

Paradoxically, sitting in sorrow has an element of deceptive pleasure and I think Evanescence became an easy trap door for him to reenter his lonesome, sticky pit. As if entrapped in a vat of molasses, though the ooze is cumbersome, it’s possible to frequently ingest the sweet, malty flavor, savor the glue, and decide never to leave. Though reinterring trauma is a pathway for healing and restoration, too often the candy-coated muck can entice one to remain. Perhaps for him, the potential of happiness in the present was drowned in his painful, yet pleasant mire of his past. 

He seemed to feel no hope anywhere he turned now that the sting of his many errors struck hypersensitive nerves. Financial stress gripped him too as he’d racked up tens of thousands of dollars in medical debt, living so long without insurance. While driving me back to mom’s place he spoke up.

“Ryan, I just want this all to be over.”

“What do you mean?”

“Life… I don’t know how much more I can take.” 

“Really?” He nodded, still looking at the road. “You don’t mean that, do you? Don’t you want to see me get married? Do you want to meet my future wife and children?”

“Yes Ryan, but I just can’t last much longer.” I looked over at him again as he stayed focused on the road. A teardrop met his quivering lip. “I want all this pain to be over.”

“You’re not thinking of… you know.”

“No, I couldn’t end my own life, but I can’t live like this anymore. I just want relief. I want it all to end.”  I didn’t know what else to say. His despair hung heavy over me. I knew he wouldn’t ever commit suicide, but he must have been drowning in misery to confess this to me. In his mind, death was a welcome guest that could heal him of all his hurts. 

He lied though. Dad did kill himself. Suicide by a thousand cuts, ten thousand beers, one hundred thousand swigs. Every day he willfully inched closer and closer to the cliff, through to the final step. Nani told me she attended his doctor checkup while visiting maybe a year before he died and the physician strictly warned, “If you keep drinking, you will die.” He chose death.

We arrived at Flintoft’s Funeral Home and Crematory. My reflection in the large mirror greeted me upon entering the funeral home. A dour young man in his Alpha’s uniform looked back at me. Below the mirror, a picture of dad in his younger, more vibrant years spotlighted his happy days. Movement in my periphery tilted my head up and to my right. A screen set above the larger opening continuously flipped through the picture slideshow of his relatively short life. 

I stepped forward into the larger space. My family gathered in sniffling clusters. To my left, members collected around an open casket. I paused in the middle of the room waiting for an opening, then stepped forward slowly, not sure what to expect. 

Dad looked good. The mortician’s setup and makeup displayed a man who looked better in death than life. Dressed in a similar black outfit as the one he frequently wore, his face, though not smiling again, expressed a peace I hadn’t witnessed in years. He was finally free. All who loved him shook with grief while he lay at ease in his eternal sleep, finally departed from his once bright mind turned black. Now, he rested at our expense. 

Selfish prick. 

With unlocked cuffs dad shackled his wrists to his fiendish slavemaster. He obeyed him from beginning to end, finally earning the wages of his sins. I hope it was worth it. 

How could you… How could you do this to us? I stepped back, my wavering legs unable to withstand the impending flash flood quaking through my body. Once seated on the nearby chairs lining the wall towards dad’s feet, I hunched forward. Soft wails pulsed out of my quaking chest. Knowing full well words are vain consolations for the pitiful mourner, uncle Steve found his way to my right side and set his hand between my shoulder blades.

I sobered up. I turned towards Steve, his reddened wells damp as mine, and gave him a lip-sealed nod of thanks. He looks a lot like dad, despite being two and a half years younger. I suppose if dad ever fully shaved and cut his ponytail, they could have passed for twins.

When everything wrapped up, I learned there would be no burial. To make things easier and cheaper, Nani and Pops decided to cremate him. At the end of my leave, they showed me a sealed 8’’ x 10’’ wooden box apparently filled with dad’s ashes and an engraved brass sheet identifying whose particles inhabited the item. Somehow, through a strange, morbid irony of fate, both my best friend and my dad were now Dust.

  1. Sail Away, by Dave de Coup-Crank
  2. Leave Out All The Rest, by Linkin Park
  3. Dad performed and recorded an album live with his good friend and backup vocalist, Ken Moe. Their full performance can be heard here

2 thoughts on “23. Dust”

  1. Linda deCoupCrank

    Ryan- I have read every entry of your blog and am so moved by your story. You are an extremely gifted writer and I have been amazed by your talent. . Everything you have written is both heartbreaking and beautiful. And it is written in such an insightful and humble manner. I feel enriched by getting to know you better through your writing. Thank you for sharing your life with us. Aunt Linda

    1. Thanks so much Linda, it is so great to hear from you! I have many more to post. I’ve written a ton but just opened a blog so I can do about 1 or maybe even more per day for a little while.

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