Three years ago marked the anniversary that my dad had been dead longer than he’d been in my life. Anniversaries are weird and so I “celebrated” that one by decoupaging a wine bottle with his autopsy report. As one does. I’m not sure how to top that today–the 20th anniversary of his death–seeing as how I neglected to collect his toenail clippings and a vial of his tears. We’ll make do with writing, shall we?
Three years ago I sought knowledge. Today I avoid it when I can, though it sneaks up and screams “SURPRISE” in my face every time a celebrity overdoses on their drug of choice. The rhetoric flows one way or another, seeking to lionize and villainize in the same breath, blowing my ever-smoldering ember of grief into a bright flame without my consent. My opinion feels uniquely qualified, though I am loathe to offer it because it means I have to further examine how exactly I feel about my father. And as any stripper worth her body glitter will tell you, daddy issues aren’t allowed in the champagne room.
I came across an essay about addiction written by Russell Brand and it has helped me separate the addict from the person that he was. The only thing I really have left to do is figure out which I remember more; which had a greater role in influencing the person I’ve become; which do I carry more in my blood; which is my father?
The person and the addict were certainly not diametric opposites; both favored long hair, tight jeans, and leather jackets. Both were immensely talented, oddly humorous, and endearing to all. Sparky the person gave me Barbie dolls with Alice Cooper makeup, Steppenwolf lullabies, evening prayers whispered to Stevie Ray Vaughan. In acrobatic guitar solos, I hear him in those spaces between chords, fingers rasping over strings on their way to something else. He was raw talent and rawer anxiety.
Sparky the addict gave me fear. The ability to speak the lie that everything is okay. The urge to escape when things are bad and even sometimes when they are good. The anxiety native to our genes that serves as a giant “self-destruct” button and never when you want it to. Talent as natural as breathing and the inability to make anything of it. The uncertainty of my worth.
I can’t cherry pick what pieces of him I claim, but I do have to finally acknowledge the good with the bad. I got his great bone structure, but also his weird teeth. I got his sense of humor, but also his tendency to use it as a shield. I got his talent, but also his anxiety. And the inheritance I am scared to speak of that finds me slapping on a nicotine patch and dumping my secret wine bottle.
Sparky didn’t like me very much. This was generally accepted, common knowledge in the family. For years I believed it was because I was too smart and too different; he just didn’t know how to relate to me. Now I know it’s because we were too much alike.