My dad died today. Of course he didn’t die today; he died on this date three years ago. Deaths are easier to remember than birthdays. Or they were before Facebook gave everybody a prompt.
Daddy gave up dialysis to spend more time in the pub because he didn’t want to spend what turned out to be the last year of his life with “a bunch of boring old guys in an ambulance”.
He had a list in his wallet of all the people who have died doing a detox and sang a Scottish version of Amy Winehouse’s Rehab. “The cheese tried to make me go to rehab but I said naw naw naw.”
When the doctor told him he had two weeks to live he rolled his eyes and said, “Two weeks! In this place! Can’t you give me a jag?”
As deathbed words go, he’s up there with Gertrude Stein’s, “What is the question?” and Bogart’s, “I should never have switched from Scotch to martinis.”
A Frank Sinatra fan, Daddy did it his way; which didn’t always suit me when he was serenading my Sunday school teacher while trying to make her drink a Car Crash (vodka, champagne and a dash of tequila). But children of alcoholics don’t get hangovers so I thank him every time I drink frozen vodka.
I grew up with the myth that my ancestors had come to Scotland with Mary Queen of Scots when the child bride came home after the death of the dauphin, escaping her mother-in-law Catherine de Medici but ending up with her head chopped off anyway. That’s one way to solve Bad Hair Days in the pre-Stemm era.
My dad sang Thank Heaven for Little Girls in his Maurice Chevalier voice and my grandmother, the Evil One from Edinburgh, gave me a Chanel riding jacket to wear instead of my school blazer.
Imagine my perverse delight when I discovered that the Morins are from the bogs of Derry. The name was changed on the boat to Glasgow, converting Irish Moran into French Morin. Was my great-grandfather a social climber? Eager to offload the stench of potatoes, growing in the dark like the devil and his wee friends? Maybe he couldn’t spell?
My dad didn’t know he was Irish. His parents had divorced before it was fashionable and his own father walked into the sea before he was old enough to reclaim him.
There were nine Morins in the Glasgow telephone directory; my estranged great-aunts and uncles. Sometimes when I was bored I’d make nuisance calls. Amelia Morin, who owned a hat shop, blew a whistle in my ear. Uncle Joseph, an alcoholic policeman, threatened me with a stick.
I’m as much of a control freak as the next person, reinventing reality as fiction; controlling time with CAIS 2. But I’ve always loved change. I’m happier Irish than French. I’m not the type to sign a petition about the closure of a place I don’t go to anymore either.
When folk find out I live in Soho they ask, “Is that allowed?” Or say, “It’s not the same.”
Of course it’s not the same. Cities change. People change. Staying the same would not only be boring but impossible.
Exactly two weeks after the doctor’s prediction, my dad died in hospital. He couldn’t get into morphine, “Folk pay good money for this stuff but it just makes you go to sleep.”
My aunt died alone at home with a stash of VH products I’d sent to make her feel better unopened in a cupboard. Maybe she was keeping the magnesium flakes, foot detox pads and Inner Strength oil for a special occasion; like her vintage lapis lazuli coat, wrapped in a silk bag, lonely in the wardrobe.
I was wearing the blue coat when Maddie called to announce the latest death. My cousin, younger than me, almost a little sister, lived next door until I disappeared on a diplomatic scholarship as a teenager and never went back home.
Is home a place? Or is it in your head? The place you live, the place you come from? The place you want to be when you are somewhere else?
Memory is not defined by fact. Sometimes it’s an atmosphere, a song, a pair of shoes in a shop window. Shining torches in the dark, talking about reincarnation; my cousin didn’t want to come back as a spider. My brother feared being a television after dressing up as one at Halloween. And I was pure dying to be David Bowie.
My autistic cousin resisted attempts to hospitalize her and find a cure for her obsession with Marc Almond. She was addicted to dominoes, karaoke and had a nun’s habit hidden at the back of her wardrobe.
Death is a reminder of your own mortality. Is it resurrection or the great emptiness? “At last I get to see Marilyn again,” were Joe di Maggio’s last words. But did he?
Everybody dies. Suicides control death by choosing the time and place and method. Maybe death, like life, is different for everyone? A way of keeping control is accepting that you can’t have it.
What will happen next? I don’t know. But I can’t hang around here waiting for the plot to thicken. I have books to write, martinis to drink, face masks to use.
Ritual breaks up eternity into small exciting steps. Quench is God’s tranquiliser on an overnight flight. Mastic Must evicts the desert from my pores. Myrrh Clay makes me emerge from the bath with skin like polished marble. Voicemail Mask is for my fourteen hour sleeps and, my favourite, FM makes me want to go on living.
On special occasions – when I’m facing an enemy or a funeral – I use all the Niods obvs.
Death is a reminder to enjoy your wee life. Dangerous and I are giving up guilt for Lent again this year. RIP Daddy.
Carole Morin is “Sylvia Plath with a sense of humour.”