April is the cruelest month, breeding…TS Eliot, The Wasteland
His April is my every September. A shit soaked stretch of heavy hours and thin lines. Cruel, intensely so, and no less impressive than the years I remember to brace for it. It consumes entirely. Every stupid fucking September.
I was 27 and 34 days away from delivering the first grandchild when wind grabbed the sheet of plywood my father should not have been holding and bounced him down 2 stories then 18' straight to concrete, one elbow and pelvis simultaneously shattered. Dad a groaning, rumpled heap of pain.
Only 12 hours earlier at what I didnt know would become our last dinner he had shared his concerns about being up there, so high, alone. The roof was actually a Victorian house of stacked cards with several roofs, steep pitches and confused peeks. Somewhere was a leak and, as he had feared, it originated at the highest possible point and he wanted, needed, another set of hands. He didn’t feel safe and this discomfort frustrated him. He was scared, naturally, but his policy was to do ALL home improvement and repair shit himself. “I’m not going to pay someone to do work I can do myself.” I was weeks away from hemorrhoids and a 10# baby but I offered to help if someone stronger than mom could hold the ladder. Anybody else would hire a roofer but doing it himself left more for us to use on something better. Dad went without so his family didn’t have to.
Growing up, there was never not a project. When not at sea, Dad lived in his boiler suit — this stiff synthetic khaki, zip front, standard issue, Exxon Shipping thing with a patch over his left breast and greasy hand smears down the length of the torso. Even washed it still looked shitty. Without Dad in it, the suit could stand up as if he still were.
On any evening or weekend there’d be saw dust throughout his hair and eyebrows, a nubby pencil jammed behind his ear, a Salem cigarette behind the other. The table saw might be screaming or an engine hoist twitching, maybe a hammer methodically pounding in between the claps of 2 x 4's and somewhere there’d be a leaning ladder, an oil stained orange extension cord, or twenty, snaking its way to the garage. Depending on the complexity of the task at hand, Mr. Conroe and/or Mr. Smith might appear to assist. Three fathers to 4 Lenape Indian princesses, all willing to share a peace pipe of blame when they fucked up Mom’s great idea. Watching these 30-something year old dads with their NYC jobs and perpetually pregnant wives perched prettily in New Jersey smoking Kents, licking green stamps and filling idle time with DIY delusions was quality entertainment. Back then, I didn’t appreciate that these were the only moments I’d see my mom defer. Like ever. To anyone. Ever.
What I did easily get though was that when the tribal chieftains converged, shit would go down. That shit could be or come from a human, but for sure, shit, in some form, would come. With more ambition than skill or talent, a nagging wife never far and, more than likely, a hangover, entertainment was a certainty and injury very likely.
I can scaffold the first 18 years of life by The Projects. The last would be that awful roof. Too angled and pitched, knocked off his feet, dad would be but a pinball.
He was 57. Retirement options were finally entering the family dialogues and Dad often joked about his golden years in New Caney east Texas where, on a sliver of useless, but paid for land, he would die with all his earthly possessions stored in the VW bus he had yet to buy. “That’s all I want. Just a little place to hold the little I need.”
What he needed was to live, longer, by much, but he didn’t.
Eleven days of that September and every September since, I am ravaged and shredded, totally irrational, undeniably unhinged, intolerably sad and unapologetically mean. I am utterly unraveled. Permanently buried in every 9th month of every year I’ve left to live are 9/11, his fall, my birthday, her imminent arrival, several surgeries, his last fall, his cremation, that Bay in San Francisco, and an Exxon tug boat dragging away the best example I could ever offer my daughters for what a man should be.
Every September is more cruel than any April I will know, weeping.