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12:49 - Sunday, Apr. 07, 2013
a messy memorial
A chance encounter spurred me to dust this off.

I think it was more an association thing than anything else; my brain made the link, displayed the idea of the diary (along with the fond memories of being the kind of person who had the time and the oft-overflowing emotions to write at length every day) to my thoughts. My thoughts gave it the type of extremely brief consideration that thoughts give presentations by a brain that's already made up its mind, and dutifully directed my fingers.

There is no way that anyone will ever check this after seven years, and that's kind of comforting and lonely at the time time.

But it's mostly just a relief that my mom doesn't know of this particular diary's existence, because I am about to tell a macabre story about her side of the family that she would likely not want told.

Last December I was up in Los Angeles, staying in the overcrowded Echo Park house with a good chunk of my extended family. One afternoon I picked up some tamales to share, and ended up having to eat them all myself because they were too spicy for everyone else. Halfway through my glass of cooling coconut juice, while my lips were still burning, my mom fetched me from the kitchen because it was time for everyone to convene and scatter Grandpa's ashes on the lemon tree.

Before the night before this particular afternoon, no one knew where the ashes would be scattered. That night, my mom, apropos of nothing, said to a living room full of loud conversations: "We all need to talk about where we're going to put Dad." and it took full minutes for the meaning to filter through everyone's ears and shut them up.

Through the laughter, yes, laughter, the laughter of the 'we-don't-want-to-think-about-this-really-and-we-definitely-don't-want-to-appear-as-though-we-care', someone said, "On the golf course." Someone else said, "in the park."

Someone else said: "We should divide him into baggies and give a baggie to everyone," and someone else, probably me, said, "That sounds so uncomfortable."

And then my cousin, the only person in my family who ever cries or visibly shows emotion, broke character suddenly and completely and said, "We should bake him into a cake and eat it.", and for some reason that stopped everybody's joking and they all just sat there not believing that this had just been said.

In the silence that followed, he said, "Sorry."

My mom knelt down next to my grandma, who couldn't hear any of the goings-on and was obliviously watching a cooking show, and said, "WHAT DO YOU THINK WE SHOULD DO ABOUT DAD?"

"What?" Grandma said.


Only understanding about half the words, Grandma said, "Well, he liked the painting over the table." and the silence gave way into laughter as my mom gently explained to her that ashes could not be put on a painting.

Grandma did not get the joke.

The next day, we all trickled out onto the deck aimlessly and stood by the lemon tree. There turned out to be way too much of him to bake into a cake: a good fifteen or twenty pounds, a big sturdy wooden box of bone fragments and grey ash. My uncle and cousin had a lot of trouble getting the box open and needed to interrupt the ceremony to go find a screwdriver. Someone said, "Grandpa would have known how to open it better," and we laughed, because it was true: he was an engineer, and had no patience for people who couldn't open things.

When the box finally got wrenched open, my cousin stood there a little awkward-looking with the baggie from the box in one hand and a giant soup ladle in the other. Like kindergartners, we all took turns using the soup ladle to scoop out some ashes and shake them over the lemon tree.

About halfway through, my mom said, "I don't think we should put it all in one place, it's going to kill the tree," and my uncle yelled "JUST SHUT UP!"

Everyone had taken two turns and there was still so much left, and someone got fed up, marched back up to the porch with the baggie, and was about to dump it off the edge of the deck, down the hill by Echo Park Avenue, when someone else screamed, "NO! THE WIND!", narrowly saving us all from being blanketed in blowback ash courtesy of the steep cliff, the eucalyptus, and the good old Santa Ana winds.

Is this how people are supposed to do things like this? Are they supposed to use a soup ladle and a baggie? Are the ashes supposed to be so heavy and make clunking noises when they hit the branches and coat the dirt like thick, suffocating nuclear fallout? Are they supposed to yell at each other? Are they supposed to measure the direction of the wind beforehand? Were they supposed to have prepared, I don't know, speeches or something? Are they maybe not supposed to be wearing pajama pants?

I don't understand how anyone ever has a nice memorial. It's not that I WANTED there to be a nice memorial, as the very idea would have angered Grandpa... it's just that I don't understand how anyone else, who might want one, manages to have one. I mean, I'm pretty sure most people don't use a soup ladle, at the very least.

It's probably not even possible to romatically scatter a deceased lover over an afternoon cliff. It's not a light dusting of glitter catching the setting sun. No. It would splash into the ocean like stones, or candy, or rings.

I've buried cats' ashes. They come in a neat pile that fits in tiny holes dug under their favorite little trees. It's not the same.

I used to obsess, as a teenager, over all sorts of romantic places I wanted my mostly unrequited loves to leave me. I probably even wrote about it here. It probably involved the ocean, the mountains, and a lot of crying.

Grandpa never gave it one thought, I'm sure. We were all already halfway inside when Grandma, who had been silent the whole time and refused to participate in the ceremony, blurted out, "This isn't right. This isn't what he wanted. He wanted to donate his body to the living."

Someone had to explain to her that they didn't have the signed paperwork at the time and so science wouldn't take him. She accepted this. Then we watched the news on mute:

"Oh my God!"

"What happened?"

"A shark tank exploded onto people!"


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