I was naked after my shower, preparing to dress for a job interview at a second bar, which was scheduled in less than an hour, when my phone rang and my father’s former longtime live-in boyfriend (and current friend), Cliff called. Cliff had only ever called me one time, years earlier, when I was out having the time of my life dancing at my favorite gay bar on Madonna night, to tell me my father had just had a stroke. When I saw his name on my cellphone’s caller ID, I was immediately alarmed. I remember the moment I saw he was calling, but the conversation we had is a blur. He gave me the news that my father was dead. He had fallen off his third story balcony doing Christmas decorations. I don’t remember the exact words he used, but he told me I had to call the coroner and he gave me the phone number. If I remember correctly, he sounded hysterical and possibly drunk, but Cliff was always drunk. He was an alcoholic, and everyone knew it.
I remember calling the place I was to have the job interview, and explaining what just happened, and that I had to cancel. I remember things I did after that call, but I was in shock, and can’t recall the exact order in which I did them.
Years before, when my good friend Stephanie lost her own father and was going through all of the things one does when you lose a parent, I felt so bad for her. I thought about how lost I would be if and when something happened to my dad. I told him about it over the phone, and having that conversation with him was one of the smartest things I ever did.
I said something like, “Dad, remember my friend Stephanie? Her father died last week and she has been having such a hard time. I don’t like talking or thinking about it, but one day when you are gone, I know I’ll fall apart. I don’t think I’d have the first clue what I would need to do. If you could write me a letter and tell me everything you want me to do or know and mail it to me, I will put it in my files and I won’t open it until I have to. I just want to know I have it just in case.” Thank god my father did that for me and I thought to ask for it. Stephanie had a brother and a husband. I had no one but me. I was in this nightmare alone.
That night, I remember calling my best friend Andrew in Los Angeles. I know I was a hysterical mess. I don’t remember the conversation. I remember kneeling on the floor next to my file cabinet and finding that letter in my files. I took it out and looked at his handwriting and it seemed surreal. I opened his two-page typed instructions. It instructed me of his church where he wanted the funeral, and the pastor he wanted to speak. He gave me a few friends and family members names and phone numbers, and told me of his wish to throw a party. I don’t remember what else it said; I just remember kneeling on that cold hardwood floor, holding those pages and sobbing. Even that, I don’t remember exactly clearly, because I was operating in an extreme a mode of shock that I had never before and have never again felt.
My father’s former boyfriend Cliff, who was still very much in his life until the end, was a loser. He was an alcoholic who never had a job and who my father supported, even after they were not a couple. I never said a bad thing about him when my father was alive. I don’t think at this point, I have to sugar coat my opinion about him. It was a mystery to me how my father who was a handsome, charming, fun, successful, interesting man, could fall for some loser with no job or means of supporting himself, who was not handsome, charming, fun or interesting; and also had a loser family with a son in jail who my dad always ended up helping, and some other family members who my dad ended up spending his money on, could capture my father’s affection. Why was my dad with this loser? He deserved so much better. Everyone thought that.
Unfortunately, I was doing almost the same thing at the time. I was dating a guy named Tony, who was not up to par with what I deserved. I thought he was devastatingly handsome, and he did hold a job working security at a nightclub, and supported himself and an adorable dog that he had taken in in a touching story—he had formerly worked at an animal hospital where this little fluffy dog belonged to a very old man, but the old man got too sick to take care of her. The dog loved Tony, so he kept her and took her for weekly visits with the old man until he passed. Tony had a good heart. He had a heart of gold actually, but he had an addiction to pills that he was losing against, he was going nowhere with his life, and I wanted no part of being with an addict.
There were times he lied to me about it, but I knew he was drugged out and it embarrassed me. I struggled between my love and attraction, and knowing he was dragging me down and I that could do better. I had broken up with him and then I missed him and we got back together—the day before I got this devastating news. He spent the night with me and left for work that night shortly before I got the call that changed my life forever. I couldn’t deal with my own relationship issues now; that would have to get put on the backburner while I dealt with life and death. I called Tony to tell him about the call I’d just got. He sweetly said he would come back straight after work and be with me because he didn’t want me to have to be alone. That was all he was emotionally capable of—physically being in the space with me, but he wasn’t emotionally strong or evolved enough to say or do anything to help. In fact, the reason he dosed himself silly on pills is because he couldn’t deal with the world and didn’t want to have any feelings. He walked around like a zombie when he was on pills and then tried to keep it from me, but if I talked to him even on the phone, I could always tell immediately. He did not want to feel. This was the exact wrong person to be my rock, but in that moment, he was all I had.
My first thought after canceling the job interview, calling my best friend and boyfriend, and reading the letter, was probably to call my mother, who did not have any relationship with my father, which had been his choice. I can’t recall the conversation we had, but she was my family, and in a time like this, that is whom you turn to. My very next thought was a feeling of panic that I had to freeze all his bank and credit card accounts so that Cliff didn’t drain them of everything he could. I didn’t trust him one bit. In a three-day blur, I was on the phone for hours with every creditor I could think of, having long, countless conversations with people who acted like they cared and tried to be sympathetic, who transferred me repeatedly, only to go through the same thing over and over again. I remember not showering and barely eating for days. My boyfriend Tony would leave me on my bed doing this while he stayed in the living room, probably wishing he could bring himself to leave. I think he tried to do what he could, like get me to eat, and say nice things to me, but I know he felt helpless, in the way a child would. He wasn’t smart enough or together enough to really help at all. He was a sweet, handsome emotional retard, barely capable of taking care of himself. Did I mention he was handsome? At least there was that.
I spoke with about a million people on the phone. Not only the bank and roughly 10 different credit card companies, his building manager, his lawyer, the guy managing the bar my father owned, and friends who could take in his two cats immediately, but because of gossip, distrust and intrigue, it all took an even more distressing turn…
He had some friends that lived in his apartment complex, who had talked him into moving there. They were a gay couple, and somehow they got my number and contacted me. I’ll call them Rob and Steve, because I no longer remember their names. Rob reminded me I had met them before, and then told me their explosive theory. According to Rob, my father had been supporting Cliff for a long time and was sick of it. My dad had informed Cliff and everyone else they knew that Cliff would have to get a job and figure out how to support himself, because after years of threatening to do it; he was finally going to cut Cliff off financially on January 1st.
Rob said that at the time of the accident (on the night of on Dec. 6) that Cliff’s car was parked at my dad’s. He said they believed that Cliff and my dad had a fight and that Cliff had pushed him off the balcony, in some sort of angry ex-lovers rage, or possibly because he knew he was getting a life insurance policy. I now officially felt like I was living inside a gay version of an 80s nighttime soap opera like Dallas or Dynasty. Can you imagine already being overwhelmed with information and tasks surrounding the most important person in the world to you dying, and the grief you would feel, and then being told that it may have been murder? I was all alone in this. I didn’t even know what to do.
Since I was in shock, I don’t remember exactly how I obtained the number, but I probably looked on the death certificate or police report for a police number, and then left a message with a homicide detective. He called me back and I told him the story. I was concerned that a gay murder wouldn’t be as importantly treated in Texas as a regular one, so I said as much. I told him, “Look, I know that being gay isn’t widely accepted in Dallas, Texas. I want to make sure that this lead is being treated as seriously as any other.” He assured me that he had looked into everything thoroughly and after being at the scene and speaking with neighbors, he concluded it was an accident. My father had a staple gun in or near his hand and was stapling a snowflake Christmas decoration in his third story balcony, when he must have lost his balance, and fell and died, end of story. I accepted this. I didn’t want to think about the alternative, but these people had forced me to. I will never know for sure, but I believe in Karma and I know Cliff will get what he deserves in life, regardless, so I let it go. (Eight years later, I recently visited Dallas and I always stop into the gay bar he owned. Two bartenders who were former employees of my dad’s now own the bar. One of them was there and he bought me a drink. He said, “We all still think that Cliff killed your dad.” Cliff did receive a $250,000 life insurance settlement, but more on that later.
When I spoke with the building manager (also gay—is that relevant? Probably not unless I’m casting for the movie version—this guy was a character), he informed me that Cliff had demanded to get in to the apartment and get some of his things right after the accident. I am not sure if the cops also told me that, or if they were present at the time, (again, in shock, details blur), but I was told Cliff gained entry into my dad’s apartment that night under the guise of getting his prescription medications that were inside. He could be a real crazy bitch, and I am sure it was difficult for anyone to tell him no at the time. I was told that many of their friends believe that Cliff stole several pieces of my dad’s jewelry that night, and was seen wearing them very recognizably around the gay bars. (#gaynighttimesoapopera)
I set up the funeral with the pastor at his church. I spoke with a few people who knew my dad through Mary Kay and asked them to speak, including the president and 2 top selling saleswomen who were close friends. There was absolutely no way I would be strong enough to speak at my dad’s funeral, (in a church especially, with all my strong mixed feelings about Christianity in general). Mary Kay Cosmetics was generous enough to pay for, write and place his obituary in the Dallas Morning News. This was one of a long list I began to encounter that I had no idea cost too much money when someone dies.
I explained to the pastor I spoke with that I am not a Christian, and that I was fine with the word God, but did not want the words “Jesus Christ” mentioned during his service. I was assured that was fine and he explained to me how they are paid $300 in cash, which I would need to bring that day, as if I didn’t have enough to worry about. This whole church thing, paying a church in cash and them not being taxed because they are a religion is another thing I don’t really understand or agree with, but this wasn’t really about me, it was for my dad.
I spoke to his lawyer, who I paid $300 per hour to go into his apartment and look into his files, to give me important information over the phone, since I would not be in Dallas until the funeral two weeks later. I would have rather had a trusted friend do this, but at this point, I trusted no one, and at least his lawyer might be trustworthy.
The night my dad died, I called my current employer at the bar I was working. I told him I would need the next few days covered for me, but that I would still show up Saturday night because I knew they needed me and I wouldn’t let them down. It seemed they couldn’t do without me for even one day, because he called me the next night and asked me to come in. I told him I had been on the phone for nine hours, had not showered and was totally fried and in no headspace to be able to come in that night, but assured him, as I said before, I would be there Saturday. Three days after the call that changed my life forever, I walked into work Saturday night, in uniform, ready to perform, and my boss had replaced me and there was a new guy in my spot. My boss did not even give me the courtesy of a phone call; he let me walk right into another bombshell. It felt inconceivable that someone would be that callous. I asked to speak with him in his office.
He said if I still wanted to work that night, I still could. I said (in shock, something to the extent of): ‘No thank you, I will return my keys to the bar this week, and I will take this night off as a gift, and you have probably done me a favor, because I don’t have time for this right now.’ I will never forget how wrongly I felt that man handled this situation, at a job I felt I’d gone above and beyond for, continually doing more than was ever asked of me. Firing me the week I needed a few days off due to a death was unbelievably cruel. I knew of a punk show happening that night, so I immediately walked straight there in a weird daze. I had lost my dad, dealt with accusations of murder, and been fired all in the space of a few days. I headed directly into the warmth of my friends in the punk scene and the comforting feeling of loud music. Coupled with that first beer down my throat, all was OK, at least for that night.
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