Two Years Ago Today, I Lost My Father
Writing About It Is My Way Of Returning To Life, Which Starts Today
In his final days, we had a lot of time alone, just the two of us. We were in a new apartment, which Barry believed we did not live in, except for the bedroom.
He kept asking me about the people who really lived there, and whether we were not angering them by living in their apartment.
“We live here, Daddy,” I said. “We’re ok. We live here.”
“The whole apartment, all the rooms?”
But Barry was right.
Looking back, that apartment, where Barry died, was, in some way I could never explain, connected to “the whole Covid thing,” which is to say: Unfamiliar, sterile, and loveless.
That’s not who we were, even at our worst—our family.
I remember a strange feeling of putting things into that apartment that were supposed to make it a home, and still feeling like the objects themselves somehow refused. Nothing felt right. Nothing felt right, inside or outside—anywhere, after Day x March 2020.
New York City.
How did they achieve this?
I had made the mistake of allowing Barry and his wife Sara to continue to watch Fox, even as it began spewing Covid terror. In retrospect I wish I’d thrown a brick through the TV screen. I also remember the sound of those obnoxious cheers and drums from the windows at 7 pm each night, to celebrate the heroes of Covid—hospital staff. I knew it was not real, as nothing was, anymore.
“I think they’re piping it in,” I would mutter, “but I can’t figure it out.”
Barry died inside a live action fusion virus/communist PSY OP, and there was nothing I could do to make things better. We couldn’t even laugh anymore.
(Except, when we meet again, we will laugh.)
Turning off the TV, I told Barry the numbers were gibberish, that PCR is not even tea-leaves, that the hospitals were empty, and so forth. But I was missing, willfully, the fact that he saw the specter. The Erlkonig.
“Darling, don’t you see it?” he asked me. “The country is falling apart.”
My shoulders dropped. Now we really were shipwrecked.
Barry was not afraid of either spectral “viruses” or death, but what came through the TV was of a different nature. He saw a spirit sewing a dying garment for America.
During those final weeks, Barry did not want me to leave his side, even to go to the kitchen. “How long will you be gone?” he’d say.
I know mature people say things like “It’s ok. You can go now,” to their dying loved ones.
That was not me.
One evening I finally was given access to my own heart, fossilized since childhood, and I realized this abandonment fear of his was also mine, and it had been there unspoken for most of my life.
It was a few days before he died, and I ran into the bedroom. He was still breathing.
I placed my head on his emaciated ribcage and sobbed.
“Daddy, you can’t leave me!”
He didn’t stir, and I stayed like that, crying, for some time, not even bothering to feel guilty.
I can hear Wise People Of The New Age telling me “But that’s all about you…”
Damn right it was! And I had to run in there are grab it before somebody tried to take it from me.
I cried for a long time, on his chest, and listened to his lungs, which were never at all reassuring.
It was one of the only moments in years when I was not saying what somebody else expected me to say, to sound acceptable.
I never said this to my father (“Daddy, you can’t leave me!”) when I was 3, when I was 6, or at any other time of sudden, traumatic separation. My mother would have heard me and it would have been seen as an outrageous betrayal. A knife in her heart, perhaps. Cause for a fight that would shake the windows. I banished all of these feelings even from my own audible heart, and created what I call a “ghost heart,” that drifted like a ship with no crew.
I cauterized my normal and natural love for my father and tried to shape it into additional love for my mother, a kind of twisted spirit gift: To feign indifference and hostility, as a sacrifice on the alter of a broken family.
We all do these things.
Children are master emotional shape-shifters, looking always for which feelings represent survival and then adopting those. It comes back to haunt you though, and gets diagnosed as things like “depression.”
Is it better to be falsely uplifting or authentically bereft? I’ve done so much spiritual by-passing in the name of the correct attitudes that some days I think maybe I’m turning into a liar of some stripe.
“We must never forget about despair.”
Phone pinged. My friend Doug texted: “A bluebird was on the electric line.”
I made this tribute film for Barry on the occasion of his online memorial service, 2021.
At times it speeds up, goes too fast. It was made for an industry tribute that was short on time. The theme music, by way of explanation, was the opening to his radio show, for years—Scott Joplin.
I meant to tell you about Barry and Albania.
Barry loved Albania, and Albanian was among his strongest languages.
“I think must have been Skunderbeg’s horse in a past life,” he said to me once and I laughed and laughed.
He loved telling stories about the Albanian Besa, the unbreakable vow. And I loved hearing stories, about the Besa, the unbreakable vow.
“Besa is a word in the Albanian language meaning pledge of honor. The concept is based upon faithfulness toward one's word in the form of loyalty or as an allegiance guarantee. Besa contains mores toward obligations to the family and a friend, the demand to have internal commitment, loyalty and solidarity when conducting oneself with others and secrecy in relation to outsiders. The besa is also the main element within the concept of the ancestor’s will or pledge (amanet) where a demand for faithfulness to a cause is expected in situations that relate to unity, national liberation and independence that transcend a person and generations.
And one question our family knows the answer to, if we know nothing else:
“Which European country is the only one that had more Jews after WW2 than before?”
Thanks to the Besa the king had made to the Jewish people, and which the Albanian people had consecrated, to shelter and protect them at all cost.
When we moved in to the new apartment, seven weeks before Barry died, I tried to raise his spirit by telling him the super was Albanian.
When the Albanian super, Jon, stood before Barry, and he was indeed as wonderful as Albanians generally are, there was a cruel irony. Barry was bed-ridden, but he reached out his hand and spoke to Jon in Albanian. Jon smiled and replied and they bantered back and forth, though Jon was behind a mask. Barry’s outstretched hand was like a question mark. How could there be an Albanian before him who would not shake his hand?
Jon was obeying the new insane rules as best he could. Barry was elderly (89) and he, Jon, could not shake his hand, for the safe of “safety.”
"I think he finally said, “Sir, I’m sorry.”
What’s the difference between a photographer and a painter?
They say a camera does not “lie.” Our minds are cameras, but our souls are painters. So I can paint one daffodil, though the camera would have also registered the soda can in the ditch.
When they came to take Barry’s body away, in the late evening of May 6, 2020, I watched them load him into the hearse, and in a window, I saw Jon. He took his cap off, and held it to his chest.
These are the kinds of details one remembers. I literally could write volumes, about the whole Barry phenomenon, but the confusing thing is where does the performer leave off and the human being begin?
He belonged to his radio listeners. And I keep waiting my turn, waiting my turn, to say something, despite the fact that I’m never the person who knows what to say about him. They are. They want me to speak from his avatar, or from the shadow of his avatar.
I’m one of many, there. Easily overlooked, somewhere at the back of the room.