December 22, 2021 by The Citron Review
by Suzanne LaFetra Collier
In praise of wisteria, withering lavender buds clogging drains, littering lawns. In praise of cool sunshine and fat bumble bees, sharp-beaked hummingbirds zinging around the yard. In praise of crushed grass and creaking redwoods and a sky that is wide enough to hold it all.
On Wednesday at high noon I will bury my father. He died on the 29th of January and now it is late spring. After the surge, there were too many bodies. I was told to be patient, that like nearly everything, it was out of our hands.
In my nightmares, his corpse is in my living room, piled high with melting ice. I desperately fetch more, fruitlessly dumping bucket upon bucket onto his rotting body, like the sorcerer’s apprentice.
I was told over Zoom by an attorney in blood red lipstick that I was the executor. It would take eighteen months, I was told. I was told about the money. The trust for the step-sister who rants about aliens, posts Facebook pictures of herself holding a rifle. The trust for the step brother I have not seen in forty years, not since he raped me.
In praise of shade and grass. In praise of fresh pears. In praise of the pistachio groves that line the 5 Freeway. My car shoots through the Central Valley like an arrow, blasting K-pop and Norteño ballads and Christian rock. I stop for gas and smoked almonds, and roll up the windows through Kettleman City, where the stockyards are crammed with bleating cattle in the mud awaiting slaughter.
After he died I drove the same highway to Los Angeles, still in shock. On Friday he had been at work. In meetings all day. He had spilled a Diet Coke, I was told. On Saturday he went to the emergency room. On Thursday he was a corpse. I pushed open the large beige door to his house. Deep breath.
I chose a charcoal gray suit for his body to be buried in. His fraternity pin and company cufflinks. An inscribed gold Rolex. A new tie.
The detritus left behind: The Dummies Guide to Online Dating. A fishing vest. A BMW needing $10,000 in repairs. Southwest Airlines drink vouchers. A photo of him on a rock smoking a Kent. An unopened box with the $800 air purifier I sent him last fall during the fires. Porn.
I rifled through his files. Notes to himself on yellow legal pads. “Never give a concession without getting a concession.” Cards I had sent, expressing gratitude, expressing bewilderment—why wouldn’t he speak to me? A valentine—”Forty-three things I love about you” from my stepmother before she died an addict.
In praise of tears and the way crying feels like the end of the world until it doesn’t, and the wave recedes and you feel like you can breathe again, make dinner again, fold laundry again.
After seventy-seven days at the mortuary, his body lies in a cherrywood casket. Astroturf covering a mound of dirt. Spray of orange tiger lilies, pink tea roses, glossy green lemon leaves. Down in the hole, the tree roots poke out, naked, startled, amputated. It feels as though my molars will crack. A fistful of dirt rains down onto the bright flowers.
In praise of almond groves and oranges, the rows of strawberries and romaine lining the road heading north. The glinting silver aqueduct filled with shimmering water. In praise of food and fruit.
Back home I sort photographs, staple Schwab statements, shred and scan, call and cancel. Citibank. The Wall Street Journal. Verizon. The Athenaeum Society membership. Lawyers and Private Bankers and tax accountants and notaries. I drape cut paper hearts across a photograph of my father as a young man, silhouetted.
In praise of people, of beating hearts and bone. In praise of nurses who hold the phone to an ear so we can say goodbye. In praise of scientists who splice genes. In praise of healthcare workers, sliding tiny needles into the thick meat of our shoulders, making it almost safe to breathe once more.
I plant daffodil bulbs from my father’s garden. In a few short days, bright green shoots poke through the dirt. It all happens so fast.
In praise of new chartreuse cushions on my lawn chairs, bright and clean and thick, and late afternoon sunshine. In praise of grilled vegetables. In praise of rest. In praise of bantering grown children and the spikey artichoke leaves we dip into velvety butter. In praise of wasps and trumpet vines. In praise of freesia. In praise of life.
Suzanne LaFetra Collier’s writing has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, The Sun Magazine, Brevity, Lunch Ticket, Juxtaprose, and fifteen anthologies. She co-directed the award-winning documentary film, FREE: The Power of Performance which aired on PBS. She is a recipient of the Engaged Artist Award at Goddard College, where she is an MFA candidate. She lives in Berkeley, California and is at work on a novel set in a Tijuana prison. https://suzannelafetra.com