My Stupid Dead Dad's Covid Ghost
"His voice was all jacked up, like a garbage disposal learned English."
My first mistake was I bought the frozen Pop-Tarts where you put on the frosting yourself. I thought maybe I'd get lucky just the once even though they get stuck in the toaster every time and if you guess what happened next you don't get any prize at all. Yeah, that's right, they got stuck. Since I'm not a total dope, I start going at them with a chopstick and almost have one out when of course my dad decides to do his whole haunted house routine. He pokes his bald head up through the kitchen counter and starts moaning about Dr. Fauci's emails for the one-millionth time and it's like "oh my god, dude, I get it."
I didn't even know he was sick or anything until Sandra, the lady he married, posted on Facebook asking for everyone's prayers and also, oh yeah, seven grand to cover expenses. My sister saw it and called me. She was laughing because she always had problems with both Dad and Sandra. "Play stupid games, win stupid viruses," she said. Me, I couldn't see a lot of fun in it dead or alive. The guy was a total deadbeat who basically gave me crooked teeth and a bad hairline and that's all. My guess was him dead would be about the same as the last 25 years before that. I called Sandra anyway, who said the funeral already happened, which, hey, fine by me. Like I'm going to Indiana if I don't have to.
Was I sad? Yeah, I was sad, dude — it's my dad. I didn't want to fuck with my work situation though so I made a deal where I wouldn't think about it until the weekend. Tuesday is my Friday so when I got off at midnight I walked straight from the Circle K to the old ballfield where the minor league team used to play and hopped the fence. That was pretty much my one cool memory of Dad. When I was nine, he took me and my sister to watch the Acorns play the Mountain Cats and got totally wasted, of course. Then a foul ball popped over the backstop and almost right into my lap and this kid sitting in front of us shot his glove up and snagged it. I was about ready to cry. That's when my dad gave me a look like "check this shit out."
I knew that face pretty well because it was the one he'd make right before ruining Christmas, my birthday, whatever. This time he took a big swig of beer and then started flopping around in his seat making these horrible gurgling sounds. Everyone around us was freaking out looking for a doctor or something, including my sister, who was tugging on her daddy's sleeve and bawling her eyes out. In the middle of all this, Dad winked at me and jerked his head toward the kid who caught the ball. Twenty minutes later, we're driving back to Mom's and I have the ball in my jacket pocket and my sister is stewing in the backseat all pissed and Dad's laughing like a maniac the whole time. He was like that.
Anyway, I was sitting in the stands remembering all this when I notice something to my left and there's my dad right there, wearing a hospital gown and looking like total ass. Maybe you're somebody who sees ghosts all the time, like a dead dad is about as exciting as a squirrel, but I didn't know what to think. To be honest, what I mostly thought was "I'm mad." So I started laying into the guy, saying, "Well, are you happy now? You finally fucked up so bad even Mom can't bail you out. There's no rehab for this one, Dad. It's done." In the movies, what would happen is he'd turn to me and say he's sorry for everything, that he knows he was a lousy father and hopes I can forgive him for his various inabilities. Instead, Dad chugged a Bud Light only it started leaking from the hole in his neck where the breathing tube must've been.
“Maybe you're somebody who sees ghosts all the time, like a dead dad is about as exciting as a squirrel, but I didn't know what to think.”
When he finally spoke his voice was all jacked up, like a garbage disposal learned English. All he wanted to talk about was the virus. He said, “TO DOCTORS, A PATIENT CURED IS A CUSTOMER LOST." For 20 minutes, I tried to have a real conversation with the guy, but he wouldn't even look at me. So I changed the subject, asked him what it was like being a ghost. He responded by rattling off Spanish Flu statistics. It was pretty obvious he didn’t know he was dead and our big heart-to-heart was going nowhere so I just bounced.
I figured that would be the end of it, one last weird conversation with the dude who got my mom pregnant. But while I was playing FIFA with my roommate Erik later, my dad levitated through the coffee table right in front of the TV. He looked sort of like Superman, if Superman was a bald guy with a goatee who weighed 300 pounds and wore a medical robe. I wasn’t sure if Erik could see him. If so, he didn’t mention it, and it’s not like I was going to bring it up. Then Dad started going off about the CDC in that wet garbage voice. I tried to just ignore him, but thanks to Dad's ghost I couldn't see the TV so Erik beat me and shouted “wazza,” which is pretty much his catchphrase.
Every few days after that, Dad would show up while I was at work or getting gas or whatever to rant about Bill Gates and population control. It’s crazy how quick you adjust to any kind of thing, even your stupid dead dad’s covid ghost. One day it’s like “whoa” and pretty soon it’s just normal, like your roommate’s aquarium or the car door that sticks. After the first couple times, I tried to talk to my sister about it. Basically find out if we shared custody or what without saying too much.
“Does Dad ever talk to you?” I asked.
“Only through debt collectors,” said my sister. She's always making a big deal about being the money person in the family.
Lately, I’ve been trying something different. When I see that big head rising from behind the employee sink or between the washer and dryer, I’ll pretend that it’s not my dad at all but somebody’s confused baby that doesn’t know why it’s here and never asked to be born. And like a baby, I’ll tell him it’s okay even if I’m almost off break or Erik’s being a total dick and it’s not okay at all. I’m not saying he deserves it — you don’t have to tell me that I don’t owe the guy anything. But now and then when I’m doing my whole nanny routine he’ll give me a look like he knows he fucked up and I’ll say, “It's going to be alright,” and he’ll say, “NO VACCINE HAS BEEN APPROVED BY THE FDA.”
Is it annoying? Yeah, it's annoying — I never signed up for this. But I figure if I try to be cool instead of a dumb selfish asshole maybe I can just be dead when I die. Then my kids or whatever can at least eat a toaster strudel without getting hassled. I wonder if that was Dad’s problem. Was the spirit of Grandpa Joe always breathing down his neck, droning on about Korea? I don’t know how ghosts work, really, but that’s just life I guess.