Two weeks ago, we took my father’s ashes to a nearby botanical place. When he was dying, he said he wanted to be cremated and to have his ashes spread in a beautiful garden somewhere. The funeral home split them three ways–for me, my sister and his girlfriend, and I guess my husband packed our 1/3 in my suitcase in its little plastic bin. I have no idea or memory of how they got back to Los Angeles– I just know that they sat in that black, rectangular sort-of-box for a year.
I kept meaning to spread the ashes.
Last year I meant to do it on Dad’s birthday, but then Prince died, so fuck it. It had just been three months since Dad died. Four months since we even knew he was dying. I was still so sad all the time that even potholes depressed me. I couldn’t handle the loss of the genius that was my preteen pop royalty AND deal with my dead father’s wishes: nope. Everything was unfair blah blah, and what was the point blah blah blah and fuck it. Can kicked down road.
And then the summer was too hot.
My husband kept gently reminding me that we needed to do it, but it was never right. And I wasn’t sure if it should be somewhere public, where we could access it all the time, or somewhere extra beautiful where we would have to pay to revisit. That seemed unjust. And since I didn’t feel like deciding, I didn’t! I did nothing.
And then fall… wasn’t right.
And then the anniversary of his death was too inauguration-y and so his April birthday this year seemed logical.
I didn’t really feel emotional about it. I felt like– this was a step, like cleaning maybe, this was like organizing something.
I didn’t look up at the container in my office and talk to it like it was my father. I don’t know what happens when people die and that’s as far as I feel the need to think about it. I don’t want to wish him happy birthday or count how old he would of been or imagine him in a recliner in a cloud, keeping track, or ghosting around in a chilly mist. I had a box of the dust that used to be his body and I needed to do with it what he wanted.
April was coming, so I looked up my favorite garden place and they specifically said please don’t spread ashes here, so I won’t name it, because we did anyway.
Since it had to be clandestine, my plan was: Put the ashes in “coffee cups” and bring a water bottle. As soon as I “spilled the coffee,” I would “spill some water” right on them and make mud so they wouldn’t blow “around.”
I had a pretty neat plan(Clandestine!), a date set (Saturday!), and on Thursday afternoon, when my husband was watching The Big Lebowski (White Russians!), I said, sure me too, and caught the end of it. I hadn’t seen that movie since it came out in 1998 and wanted to see John Turturro’s bowling guy, but that part had already happened. I had forgotten that there’s a dead person in the movie and suddenly I was watching John Goodman and The Dude(!) in Malibu with a container of ashes.
I nodded! How funny! We were just about to do that! Isn’t life funny! How funny!
And then John Goodman began to talk about whoever the dead character was and I began to fucking cry, of course.
I forgot. I forgot that of course it is significant. And that even if I’ve had a few happy months, that grief can pop up like a golf gopher and yank you around. What was I going to say when we spilled and watered the ashes? I wasn’t able to get it together to eulogize my father at his own funeral. I couldn’t just spill the dust. I had to say something.
I thought about when his father, my grand one, had died. Standing over Arthur Villepique’s grave, the minister asked dad and his brother and sister if they had anything they wanted to say and everybody was silent. I remember thinking — how could you not have something to say? …?
And now I know that sometimes you really have nothing to say. And some other times you have everything to say and there’s just not enough time standing over a cold grave.
But not saying anything a second time was not okay with me. I would read Robert Frost’s “The Road Less Traveled,” because I think, I think, dad liked that? I don’t know. I have a terrible memory. If I wanted to do something 100% meaningful to him in a surefire way, I could’ve gotten up and belted “Oklahoma!” but I want to stay married.
Saturday morning I got ready to transfer the ashes:
My husband came in and asked about the coffee cups and we decided that maybe that wasn’t the best idea. Maybe he let me step back and just think about sneaking my father’s ashes around in a used and dirty paper cup. I brought the bag of ashes, instead, and a little pair of nail scissors so that I could open it there, on a bench, and then just pour them out.
And maybe respect the ashes a little more. Even though it was just dust, yeah.
We got to the garden, to the rose part, and there were so many kinds of roses that I couldn’t pick. I mean, couldn’t there just be a General Rose area? The names were complicated. Would I pour him out under the white Julia Child bush (pun not intended, but noted)? The pink “Lafter” varietal? (Pun provided?) Or maybe the red “Chrysler Imperials?” (What the fuck? It’s a flower?) I mean, there is really no need for rose names to be so specific and person/car related. It’s weird and not helpful for efficient cre-mains disposals.
It was hot, it was Earth Day. There were so many people around. People who were legitimately there, teaching their children about the beauties of our globe and how to be Better People. Not childless Rule Breakers, like us.
My husband thought that together we would look too conspicuous all hunched over. Or maybe he’d had enough of my wildly ricocheting emotions up close. He got away to a safe distance and I figured I would get right up to the flowers and make it look like I was going to take a picture.
I did it, so fast.
I cut the plastic like a pastry bag in the corner and then squeezed it over the roots, scared every second that I was going to have some gentle docent come up and be disappointed in me, or whatever the punishment was.
I poured the water. The ashes were bright white as hell. I thought they would just soak into the mud like flakes or something, but they just made an alarming white pile of wet dust on top of the very-brown dirt. I pulled wood chips from another area over the base of the bush, took a quick picture, and ran away. So dignified.
And then I saw a koi fish pond. SHIT! THAT was what my father loved–he had had a koi fish pond at his house and he had written short stories about it, he loved it so much. He had obsessively hung nets around to protect the koi from the heron that came and poached the fish. He called me when there were babies. He had koi fish Christmas tree ornaments (what happened to his Christmas tree ornaments, oh well ). I had to put some ashes in there, for sure.
We walked “up river” where there weren’t too many people around and I poured some into the water:
Wow. They were so white in there too. I waited a few moments for them to blend in, but in a few moments it looked like this:
Barely moving, like a frozen toxic cloud. What if there was some sort of poisonous element to it? What if the gardens had said “please don’t do it” not because they didn’t want to be bothered with ground whiteness, but because it killed flora and fauna? What if I killed the roses and all of the fish choked?
We had to move away, because it was so obvious what we had done, like standing over a pile of puke in Disneyland. The cream wasn’t going into the coffee. But there were more ashes. And it was hot. And the people, the people, were everywhere.
So we found a secluded bench and put the rest of his ashes by some surprisingly beautiful, unlabelled, POTENTIALLY WILD GROWTH at this very lovely, very manicured garden and sat down and I took out my printed out poem.
Reading a poem out loud isn’t exactly something I do regularly. And I know there are easily four million things my husband would rather do than read poetry, so I started to go for it, but couldn’t make A Sound. So my awesome husband read some and I cried a little and read some and we went back and forth
The Road Less Traveled Robert Frost
When we got home I put the little plastic bin by the recycling to go outside. Should I pull the label off with his full name on it? The very last time his name would be typed on a label? Was this something to keep? Nope. Not for me.
The next day I got revisited by the old grief stuff. Slow distractions, inability to focus. I was driving and had to pick a truck with CHEVROLET written on the back to follow slowly, staring at the letters, so I would stay in my lane. I had forgotten that dulled-out hopscotch feeling of not being able to land on a thought.
I didn’t fight it. I took three naps and went to bed at 6:30.
PS: Varietal does not mean the same thing as variety. You probably know that, I didn’t. If you are googling different kinds of roses for funny names and you write varietal instead of variety, you will get wines.
PSS: I think Sangiovese would be a better flower name than Clytemnestra, but I’m not in charge of these things.