FoundlingReview

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Years after his death, I am still watching my father die. I have been watching him die for most of my life. My first memory: huddled in that dark, sloping room, the inexorable draw of my father’s face, twenty feet tall. An Oedipal shadow-puppet. Blood on the wall of Plato’s cave. His bleeding, always his bleeding: the blood like boiling cherry syrup, the molasses depths, the bright sugary froth atop. I bit my lip each time to taste the blood, my father’s blood. Chained up in the cave and happy to be there. Do you want to meet, in real life, the things that cast these shadows? In my childhood nightmares I leave the theatre and meet the men who do the killing. They unhinge their jaws and devour me and I watch enraptured.

 

The faces of the men who murdered my father: brows articulated, eyes bright, jaws hewed from stone. How I loved their faces, how I loved them, even as they killed my father, how I loved their instruments, as they stabbed him with knives and shot him with guns, strangled him with razor-wire, hanged him from trees and ran him down with horses and muscle-cars. How I was those men, for hours at a time, my hands stained with my father’s blood, my face flecked with the spittle of his last, desperate words. Before I ever thought to parse attraction from identification, my young self - not yet solid, not yet even a hint of condensation – floated free of my body and was absorbed by celluloid strips and in that darkened room I made myself a bastard over and over again.

 

Now my father’s body is ash in a box in the ground and I sit and drink and watch him die. In death he is more alive than he was in life, more with me when he is gone. In his deaths is his life. Two fingers of bourbon, then three, than a fist, wrapped around the bottle. It burns and tastes salty and Clint Eastwood stands over my father and pushes the barrel of a pistol into his cheek and there’s a burst of bone and blood and cerebellum worthy of Peckinpaw, worthy of Argento, really, and my father is dead and there are tears in my bourbon and I tell you this: my father and I have never been closer than we are, right now, as I imagine standing over him, shoving my balled fist into a hole in his chest. I bite my tongue and now we both have blood in our mouths, the family blood, the vintage we sold for our pittance. I find his heart and squeeze it, feel it struggle against my hand like a rodent thrashing in hot mud. I squeeze and there is a sudden spasm and then silence and I am kneeling, weeping with relief, my hand locked in a premonition of rigor mortis, my hand locked around my father’s silent, already cooling heart. I vomit up the bourbon but not the tears. Not the blood.

 

I read a review, once, of my father’s final film. They referred to him as a character actor, which was meant, I think, as high praise, intended to elevate my father’s work a notch or two above the other disposable, vaguely ethnic actors that my beloved heroes have been slaughtering for decades. How long have there been children like me, longing for a father who might die with a little dignity or – failing that – at least a little screen time? I imagine those other children of dead fathers, locked in their own private theatres, their own private screen memories, those Vietnamese children watching Stallone slaughter their fathers without a glance, those Ecuadorians watching Charles Bronson disembowel their fathers with equanimity, those brown children and red children and black children and yellow children, those children with the wrong names, those children with the wrong gods, those children watching their fathers die in no more than twenty four still frames. At least my father had a few lines, and sometimes, in my most cherished scenes, there is a moment where he looks up at me. The pathos of the villain, Lucifer at the archangel’s feet. His dark, Slavic eyes, his single, heavy brow collapse gracefully, a controlled demolition in slow motion. Look, Father: I am Ronald Reagan. I am John Wayne. I am Deerslayer. I am Robocop. I am Michael - mi ke El - that old Hebrew trick question: who is like God? He looks up into my eyes and I can tell he knows the question is no longer rhetorical.

 

The father’s dream and prayer: the son shall surpass the father, at any cost.

 

And the dream of the son?

 

I hold his hand as he looks up at me. I hold his hand and we cry together and I feel his life leave his body and enter mine. And the hero rises and faces the morning sun as it rises over God’s country. And the credits roll and my father’s name is there on the screen, inscribed in light, written in the darkness four feet tall. And I stand up and I walk-outside without fear. I walk amongst heroes and I eat with kings and my name is strong but smooth on your tongue and so pure is my blood that when my own child tastes it he will surely become God.




    


Benjamin's work has appeared in Slushpile and the Ozone Park Journal.


This piece came out my being an academic, an author, and a heavy drinker. In one sense there is some useful cross-over between the first two, since fiction and academic writing – what many of us know as Theory – both try to grapple with the same things: the structure of the world, subjectivity and inter-subjectivity. In another sense, there is a schizophrenic quality to trying to be both inside and outside the fiction you’re writing. In other words, there are times when you grab your temples and scream. Or, in my case, you go for a run around Manhattan (I used to, and still do, drink for the same reason, though less often these days; drinking is hell on spelling, grammar and your liver,  and running is easier to sneak in the middle of the day when you’re holding down a job). When I’m running and going out of my head – psychologically, it’s a lot like drinking – I find that a lot of the emotions that I bracket out of the equation, so to speak, come flooding back in. Again, like drinking, it can be a bit overwhelming. For those who object to the bloodlessness of intellectual thinking - which often treats systems like culture and nation, gender and race, as if they ‘work all by themselves’, as if they were machines that didn’t require people – this is what we can offer in return: the ghost in the machine.