(...continued from Vol. 1)
This is how it starts. With not recognizing the number and answering the phone with a sort of confused “Hello?” And then them saying “Hello, is this Mackenzie Adams?” And feeling more confused because this is the second time someone you don’t know has called you by name this morning. But you say “Yes, this is she.” And then the stranger voice says “Hello Ms. Adams. My name is Beth, and I work at the front desk of the Holiday Inn Express in downtown Seattle.” And you say, “Oh.” Because you know about the Holiday Inn Express in downtown Seattle. And you realize that this is a phone call about your father. And you want to hang up the phone.
In my whole life I’ve never gotten a phone call about my father that I didn’t want to hang up on. Occasionally there have been calls from my father that I didn’t want to hang up on. But even those are scarce. Addicts, in my experience, seem to have this funny way about them where they’re simultaneously the best and worst people you’ve ever met. To hear someone describe the addict personality- how they’re great listeners, usually very compassionate, emotionally complex and charming- most of my friends would say, “That’s everything I’m looking for in a boyfriend! Why are there no men like that in the world?” And I would tell them that there are, and to check the underpasses around one or two in the morning. Not because I am insensitive or malicious, but because I grew up with that kind of man living in my house, and this is where he and his friends tend to frequent.
My dad would say he’s not an addict, precisely because he is one. He’s the kind of person who is friends and enemies with everyone. The man who everyone likes immediately because he’s so charismatic and funny, and then who everyone eventually gives up on because he’s so stubborn and cruel. If things had gone differently for him, if he had made different choices in his life, he might now be a rich and successful investment banker. As it turned out, he is a chronically unemployed, occasionally homeless, ex-con, with a binge-drinking problem and a pronounced limp.
Which is to say, he’s not the kind of man people are ever calling to say good things about.
The whole time Beth is introducing herself, I’m watching Maybe-Ben proceed to NOT get dressed, but instead get back into my bed. He is trying hard to be cute.
And he says, “Kenz, who’s on the phone? Come back to bed.”
And I say, “It’s Beth.” Like I know Beth.
And I say “Beth” again. With emphasis this time. Like it’s so obvious.
Then Maybe-Ben smirks and puts his arms behind his head. He’s being loungey and casual. I don’t think it looks good on him and I want to tell him that. But I get distracted by the phone.
Beth’s voice is worried and quick and I realize she’s been talking this whole time. “... unconscious this morning. Of course, my first thought was to call 911-- but then I remembered how Gerry-- or Gerald-- your father-- he’s never trusted doctors or the police, and, well, I was raised to respect my elders. So then, I-- It’s just that it all happened too quickly... Ms. Adams are you still there?”
“Yes. I’m still here.”
“Well, I checked him for a pulse and for breath signs-- I’m CPR certified by the American Red Cross--and it was clear that even if someone came to take him up to Harborview... there wasn’t really anything more they could do for him there. Because, I determined that he’d stopped breath-- he was unresponsive.”
“Oh. Oh, I see.”
“So, then I thought-- well, your number was in his Recently Called, and I just knew you’d want to know as soon as possible. Oh god, you spoke to him so recently.”
“No. Not really.” And then I think I understand her, “Wait, he died?”
“I know this must be horrible news to receive over the phone like this. That your father-- Oh, it’s so awful, Ms. Adams. He’s always talking about you. You must have been so close.” Beth is starting to get choked up. I can hear her throat getting small and squeaky.
“Are you all right?”
She’s full on crying now. I wonder if I should be crying. What a terrible sort of daughter to have... One that doesn’t even cry when you’re dead. Beth keeps talking.
“I’m sorry. It’s just so sad. I didn’t expect this today. How could anyone expect this? He seemed so well.”
“That’s very kind of you to say.” And it was. My father hasn’t been well in years. And he hasn’t looked it in even longer. I tell people who’ve never met him that he looks the way helium balloons do about three weeks after the birthday party: full of those indelible wrinkles and rife with that sickly rubbery texture. Many of his teeth have fled his mouth during bar fights. And his complexion has a yellow undertone that happens when you drink forties for breakfast for twenty plus years.
“Well. We’re in Room 313 when you get here.”
“Three one three. I’ve alerted Al who took over for me at the desk. Just give him your ID when you get here and he’ll let you up.”
“No. I’m sorry... You’re with my father now? No one ever called anyone?”
Beth wails. So I tell her it’s okay and that I understand. I do not.
“Yes. Well. I’m with his... body.” She whispers the word body in a cringey voice. And then adds, “But, oh sweetheart. I’d like to think your father is in a better place. Wouldn’t you?”
I’m never sure how to get off the phone with strangers. So often I find myself saying thank you. People who call me trying to sell all kinds of things I don’t need, or people calling me asking for money, and still somehow when we’re getting off the phone I find myself thanking them.
After I hang up with Beth there are twenty minutes when I don’t remember doing anything. I like to think in this time, I cried and had a lot of nice memories of Gerald.
But either way, soon it’s 20 minutes later and I am in Maybe-Ben’s car, headed downtown.
Maybe-Ben has this horrible look on his face like he’s trying very hard to be upset along with me and also comforting.
“Do they have a parking lot or is it all street parking?” His voice is all soft-spoken, like if he raises it above a certain decibel, I’ll shatter into a million pieces. It’s irritating.
“I don’t know. I usually take the bus.”
“We can park in the Macy’s garage if they don’t have a lot.”
“You don’t have to park.” And also why are you asking me about parking when my dad is dead? But sure. Park at Macy’s if you want to.
“I don’t think you should have to go through this alone.”
“I’ll call my roommate.”
“Mel is still at her family’s cabin.” Who the fuck is this guy? I am never ever drinking ever again.
“Right. The cabin. Well, it’s fine. I’ll be fine.”
“Really. He’s been about-to-die forever. And it’s been almost a year since I saw him last anyway. Not like we were best friends. Bummer that he’s dead. But-- the world can’t stop turning every time someone dies. So. Besides. He’s not your dad. Please don’t park.”
They have a garage. We park. Maybe-Ben holds my hand as we wait for the elevator even though I assure him I’m okay. I wish I knew his name so I could more effectively tell him to stop it.
There’s a tourist family waiting with us for the elevator. A mom, dad and a little girl. The little girl is wearing an “I-Space-Needle-Seattle” shirt and bouncing up and down.
“Can I push the button for the elevator?” She asks her dad, who smiles at Maybe-Ben and explains that she had a cupcake for breakfast today because it’s her birthday.
“Born on New Year’s Day? What a special birthday.” Maybe-Ben smiles at the little girl and she smiles back, missing a couple teeth in a very adorable way.
So of course she pushes every button in the elevator.
“Lily!” Her mother scolds. As though yelling her name will keep us from having to stop at every floor.
“It’s all right,” I assure them. “We’re not in any hurry.” Maybe-Ben squeezes my hand and I shrug. It’s not as though my dad was going anywhere. And it was only a few floors of parking before we got to Al in the lobby.
Al, as it turns out, is about fifteen. He is an acne-ridden bellhop who looks terrified out of his mind about being left in charge.
“Uh, welcome to the Holiday Inn Express Seattle. I’m Al. Albert. It’s Al. Short for Albert.” He swallows audibly. “Are you checking in?”
Maybe-Ben puts his hand on my back and looks at me like a mournful puppy.
“Not checking in. No.” I say to Al, and it seems to relieve him. “We’re just the people here for the body in room three thirteen.”
Maybe-Ben is less than pleased with me for being so callous. He takes his hand off my back. Al is on the phone now, calling up to Beth. He places a hand over the receiver while it rings.
“You’re Gerald’s daughter?”
“He’s very nice. I mean. He was.”
“All right then, Al. Thank you.” This is a circus.
The lobby elevators are out of commission, so we have to take the stairs. About two flights up, Maybe-Ben is checking his phone, and huffing a little bit. They’re not short flights, and I feel bad he’s still here.
“You really don’t have to stay. It’s going to be a long day” I assure him. He rolls his eyes. “I’m just saying. If you have things to do today--”
“Kenz. Stop. I wanted to spend the day with you anyway.”
He did? If this were any other occasion I would have spent a lot of time trying to decipher the possible subtext of that declaration. As it is, I just shrug and keep climbing.
Room 313 is the last one at the end of the hall. The door is propped open with a coat hanger. It reminds me of college and for a second I forget what we’re doing here.
The door hits my father’s foot as we try to push it open, and I hear Beth let out a little yelp.
“No housekeeping! There’s a body in here!” She cries. I close my eyes tight and try to wake myself up from this. No luck.
“Beth? It’s Mackenzie.... Adams. I’m the... You called me? The body is my dad?” I don’t know how to do this. “I can’t get the door open.”
“Oh! I’m sorry. Yes, hi. I’ve heard so much about you.” Maybe-Ben looks around the hallway, apologizing in a grimace to all the other possible hotel guests. “I suppose I’ll need to move him if we’re going to get the door open.”
“Well I don’t know-- yes? I guess, if it’s not too--”
“Just hold on!” I can hear strain in her voice when she wrestles his body out of the way of the door. “All right. Try again.”
Maybe-Ben pushes the door open.
My father is sprawled on his back on the floor. Beth is pinned underneath him up to her waist, his head in her lap. There are Kleenex scattered all over the floor. As well as tobacco from my father’s haphazard cigarette rolling. Beth’s cheeks are streaked with mascara and her nose is running. She’s not dressed for work, I notice. She’s wearing a party dress, weird for this time of day. There are a couple empty bottles of Gordon’s on the window sill. Perhaps most distracting is the fact that my father is completely naked.
“Oh my god,” Maybe-Ben utters as he shuts the door behind us.
“I’m so glad you’re here.” Beth leans over my father’s face to shake hands with us. “Hello, I’m Beth.”
“Neil. I’m, uh, Mackenzie’s friend. Just here for, you know, moral support.”
Neil? Oh. Neil. He’s Cute Neil from Mel’s gym.
“He’s naked,” I say. I’m stating the obvious, but it seems as relevant a thing to say as anything else. I am in shock, if that’s what you call what happens when your father is suddenly dead and naked in the arms of a terrified Beth on the floor of the Holiday Inn Express right in front of you and Cute Neil.
Desperate to be anywhere but where I am, my mind wanders back to this identity exercise I did in second grade. They didn’t call it an identity exercise at the time, I think they called it “Mini-Me’s.” But it was an identity exercise.
You lie down on a piece of butcher paper and the kid you share a desk with traces you in magic marker. And you trace the kid. And then everyone gets a pair of safety scissors and cuts out their me-size blob. It occurs to me now that Mini-Me’s is a dumb name for something that is actually life size.
For a while the teachers just let you color. Several of the girls in the room insist on starting over so that they can cut out their blob shape to look like it’s wearing a skirt instead of pants. This is allowed.
After about 15 minutes of this, the teacher says that when you’re done coloring you should flip over your Mini-Me and on the back write 10 “I am” sentences about yourself.
An “I Am” sentence, she explains, is a sentence that begins with the words I Am and tells us something that is true about you. For example: I am Ms. Lucy.
She encourages everyone to be creative.
“Write them nice and big” she says, “we’re going to hang them up in the hallways for the open house so that all your families can see them.”
My sentences were as follows:
1. I am Mackenzie.
2. I am 7 years old.
3. I am hungry for lunch.
4. I am tall.
5. I am in second grade.
6. I am wearing pink today.
7. I am done making my Mini-Me.
8. I am bored.
9. I am tired of writing sentences.
10. I am a daughter.
The last one was Ms. Lucy’s idea. She even made sure I spelled “daughter” right.
She said later that my list was very unique because I was the only kid in the whole class who had managed to not really say anything about themselves at all. I remember hearing her say it in a whisper voice to my parents on open house night with a lot of creases in her forehead. And my mother just shrugged her shoulders, and said “Well. We’re trying with her.”
10. I am a daughter.
Not long after my parents got divorced I started meeting people who forever after identified me as “Gerald’s daughter.” Those were the kinds of friends my father had. People who’d heard he had a daughter but would never remember what her name was. The kind of friends that prided themselves on the fact that they could still remember his name.
It didn’t help that he often introduced me as “Ms. Macadocious,” a pet name I fought him on for years. It’s not the sort of name people want to remember.
I can’t remember when it was that it started but I think it was sometime, maybe around 12 or 13, when I began to refer to myself as “Gerald’s daughter” too. Even in introducing myself to people who’d never met my father.
The weirdest was meeting my mother’s new boyfriends who were always caught off guard when I extended my hand and said, “Hello, I’m Gerald’s daughter, Mackenzie.” Mom got so annoyed about it that she stopped bringing men home to meet me. I didn’t meet her second husband until after he’d proposed. And by that time he was insisting on “hugs not handshakes” and calling me Mackie. And she married him anyway.
In this moment, staring at my father, lying naked and dead on the floor of the Holiday Inn Express downtown, all I can think is: I am Mackenzie. I am tall. I am tired. I am bored. I am a daughter. I am Gerald’s daughter.
Cute Neil excuses himself into the bathroom. He tries to cover the sound of him vomiting by running the faucet, but Beth makes a concerned face at me that tells me he isn’t fooling anyone.
“I’m not sure what it is I’m here to do, Beth, to be perfectly honest.” Beth starts to cry. And everyone is uncomfortable. She makes a loud howling noise between sobs, like a six-year-old kid might do. I have distinct memories of making those noises in the wading pool once when I skinned my knee. “I didn’t mean to upset you,” I try to assure her.
“No! Oh please, Ms. Adams, don’t apologize! I should be-- oh GOD!” She breaks out into sobs again. Then between shudders and bursts of hysteria she manages, “I... should be... the one... apologizing... to youuu!” This, of course, does not help us.
I decide that really what has to happen next is I have to call 911. And explain the circumstances. And then wait here until someone comes to pick up Gerald’s body. “Do you mind if I use the landline to call 911?” Beth shrugs, and continues crying all over my father’s dead face, still resting in her lap. I step over the two of them to the phone.
911 takes forever to pick up. I consider that maybe they recognize the hotel room phone number and are choosing to ignore whatever bullshit Gerald Adams has gotten himself into today. Like me, they’d probably assumed the son of a bitch would never die. I think it would be funny to yell “Surprise!” when they answer. Then I think I am sick and probably very unstable.
Cute Neil comes back into the room eventually. He coughs, and I worry he’s gonna blow chunks again, but he actually manages to be very composed. Impressive. If Cosmo ranked stories of “awkward morning afters” this one would be the top of their list for the rest of time.
“911. What’s your emergency?” I’m caught off guard by the nasal voice of the 911 operator.
“Yes, hello, this is Gerald’s daughter--” I hear myself begin. Typical. I do my best to explain to the woman what has happened: Holiday Inn Express. What appears to be a major heart attack. Naked man. Sensitive hotel staff. Please hurry, etcetera.
When I hang up the phone, I notice that Cute Neil is sitting next to me on the bed, aggressively rubbing my back. “It’s all right,” I say. “They’re going to come for the body as soon as they can.”
From the floor I hear Beth erupt into another fit of sobs. I look at Cute Neil, hoping he is going to prove more useful, but he shrugs at me, shaking his head like, “what can you do?” So I get up and move around the bed. I kneel down next to Beth, and put my arm around her. “Beth?” I hear myself practically cooing at this woman, and wonder who I am even. I have to say it so many times it stops sounding like a name. Beth, Beth, Beth, Beth, Beth. She curls her face into my chest and I attempt to shush her like a baby.
“It’s just so goddamn sudden,” she blubbers. “Gerald was always hanging around in the lobby keeping the hotel staff company, cracking jokes! And now what is he? Just a... a naked pile on the floor that some paramedics are going to scoop up and take back to.. To their LAB!” She weeps steadily into my shoulder.
“I understand this is a hard time, Beth. But you have to think about Gerald... like he was. Not like he... is.” She keeps crying. I can feel the shoulder of my shirt getting soaked. I hope it’s mostly tears and not snot. But I know I’ll wash it twice anyways.
“He was so gentle! The most gentlemanly person I’d ever met!” This prompts me to look back at his face and make sure we’re talking about the same man. The gentlemanly Gerald that Beth knew is not a man I’d seen in at least the last 15 years. He was funny sometimes, sure, but you could hardly describe him as gentlemanly.
We go on like this. Beth slobbering and whimpering all over me with Cute Neil sitting uncomfortably on the bed, staring out the window. The light from the Holiday Inn Express sign is reflecting a little on the glass, and gives everything this ominous green glow. I want to say something about how this feels appropriate because of Seattle being the Emerald City, and then I think that nothing about anything is appropriate.
Beth’s hands are shaky, and it’s evident that she doesn’t know what to do with them. Occasionally she gropes at my father’s face, her fingers barely touching his nose, and cheeks as they do this broken dance through the air. Her hands these perfect rakes that claw out in front of her with each sob. She is the picture of grief. I can’t tell if I’m worried that the paramedics will think she is Gerald’s daughter, or if that would be fine with me.
It’s another 30 minutes before anyone arrives. Al knocks at the door. He apologizes to Beth for leaving the front desk unoccupied so that he could bring the medics up to the room. “It seemed like they might get lost what with the room being all at the end of the hall and everything,” he explains. Beth is so hysterical that his explanation hardly seems necessary. Once the medics are situated in the room, Al sort of mutters “I’m sorry” again and then scuttles back down to the front desk.
“This the body?” The first paramedic asks me, and it’s such a stupid question that I don’t know how to respond. Wouldn’t it be odd that there was an unconscious naked man sprawled on the floor of this room and that wasn’t the body?
“Yes, that’s him,” Cute Neil pipes in from the bed. I had mostly forgotten he was there, as he hadn’t spoken since we first came in the door. He looks queasy still, but he smiles reassuringly.
The paramedics remind me of the two hecklers from The Muppet Show. They’re these cartoonish old men with ridiculous, unkempt eyebrows. They shuffle around the room, surveying the scene. I wonder if this is typical protocol when there’s a dead body in a Holiday Inn Express. The first paramedic helps Beth up off the floor and mutters some kind words to her that I can’t quite make out.
“He’s naked,” the second paramedic notes.
“Yes. I’m sorry about that.”
“Called the family?” The first paramedic is now checking Gerald for a pulse, and breathing. I wonder if he’s Red Cross CPR certified too.
“That’s my dad. I’m the family.”
“Oh. For fuck’s sake. I mean, God. Sorry, miss.”
“No, that’s all right.”
“Shitty morning,” the second paramedic mutters. I look around the room, but it seems I’m the only one who heard. He looks at me and I try to smile.
The first paramedic stands over my father and shakes his head solemnly. “You said natural causes?”
“We think it was a heart attack--”
“Huh. Young,” grunts the first one.
“He means he’s young. This guy. Your dad. For a heart attack. Seems like a young one.”
“He’s 53. Is that young?”
“Eh. Younger than you’d like, probably,” barks the second.
“Oh. I see.”
Beth is still lurking in the corner of the room, frazzled. She has opened a small bottle of white wine from the mini fridge. “He was young at heart!” She manages, and then suddenly to me, “I won’t charge you for the wine.” She screws off the top and downs most of the tiny bottle. Cute Neil ushers her into the hallway when she starts to cry again, and for the first time I’m glad he’s here.
“Well, Len. Seems like we ought to load ‘im up, take ‘im over and have someone declare ‘im. Make it official. Get the autopsy paperwork started, always takes a fucking century.”
“Yup. You bring a bag?”
“Wanted to have a look at what we’re dealing with first. It’s down in the car.”
“Well. Go get it. And bring the stretcher up too. Looks like a load.”
The second one disappears out the door, leaving the first muppet standing over my naked father with me. At first no one speaks, and then, like he’s breaking the ice at a dinner party he goes, “You watching the game this weekend? Seahawks are favored to win big.”