Here are the things he did not like: tattoos, Hillary Clinton, foreign-made cars, kidney beans, clutter, hot weather, beer, long pajamas, porkchops, eye drops, the F word, football.
My mother is filing a malpractice suit against the emergency room doctor that treated my father before his death. He died of sepsis, an infection of the blood. He got a stomachache on Friday, was short of breath and diagnosed with pneumonia on Saturday, was admitted to the hospital on Sunday and died in the very early hours of Monday morning. He did not have pneumonia; he had a perforated bowel. His bloodstream was overwhelmed by bacteria until eventually his organ systems went into shock and shut down. This is what we know.
My father lived in the neighborhood I grew up in for forty-four years, beginning when he was sixteen and ending with his death. We can speculate he liked rowhouses, or the routine of driving the same roads every night and every morning.
I gave my account, a video deposition, to the defending and opposing lawyers in the malpractice case, who were sitting around a conference table in Baltimore. I sat at a conference table in El Paso with a court reporter, who intermittently handed me tissues.
When my father died, I was completing an internship in Quito, Ecuador. I was already at the airport and I called my parents’ house. My aunt told me that my father had died, and I bought a bag full of candy and had a chair massage. Then I waited to fly to Miami.
My sister said later she bet my father’s bowel was damaged from fifty-five years of swallowing gum. We laughed and laughed. Everything is hearsay.
He had a particular way of quantifying things when speaking about the past. If he was talking about lazy days with his grandmother as a child, he would look off into the distance and say: that was fifty years ago.
I have, for the last two years, known only the very basic details of the factors that combined to cause my father’s death. As far as I am concerned, I know all I need to know: he’s dead.
My mother and sister, both present in the time immediately preceding my dad’s death, will stand up at the trial and give their accounts of what the doctors may have done wrong. I’m just a damages witness. At the trial, I will only have to say how I was affected by the loss of my father, the suddenness of his death, how his absence feels.
I will do this so they can determine how much money the life of my father, a man, a man who lived and died like any man, a man who loved Gone With The Wind and books about the Gilded Age, was worth.
Please state, in detail, any mental, physical or emotional hardships you have suffered as a result of the negligence of this defendant.
I read about the ancient Irish funeral tradition of keening, from the Gaelic: caoineadh, caoinim, “I lament.” My mother had more telephone calls on the first St. Patrick’s Day after my dad’s death than on his birthday.
I talk about my father frequently. I say, “He said,” I say, “He was,” I say, “He thought.” But in reality, I don’t know what he thought. I can’t remember, not exactly, not word-for-word, anything he did say. The only way I can talk about him is equivalent to speculation, to hearsay. I compile, I assemble, I repeat a list-like reckoning of the things that made him a man and made his life a life: once he gave flowers to Nicole Kidman. In 1968, he was stationed at Fort Richardson in Alaska. He majored in history, failed math. When I got my driver’s license, he hid behind a tree to watch the test, then cried.
At the viewing, my father’s coworker began to cry when telling me how much my father loved me. I didn’t cry.
I wrote a poem about my attempt to fill out the interrogatory given to me by my mother’s lawyer. The poem said nothing.
Grief has made me an anthropologist and a biographer. I talk about my father in lists; I examine the subject by attributes, by accumulation. I obsessively repeat important dates to myself in my head, locating my father within the events of the last century, and within the events of his own life.
He was sixteen when Kennedy was shot, he was twenty-two when a man walked on the moon. He took disco lessons. He went to college on the G.I. bill. He was married at thirty-seven, he had his first child (me) at thirty-eight.
My dad had anxiety attacks, and since his death, I have them too. I once called my mother ninety times until she answered the phone; I was panicked and my stomach was in knots.
Please describe the relationship you had with your father.
How often did you see him in the year preceding his death?
Please describe the relationship between your parents, Thomas Murphy and E______ Murphy.