My parents are literally in the closet. And by “literally,” I don’t actually mean “figuratively,” as most people mean when they use this word. “My eyes literally popped out of my head!” … No they didn’t, or you would be blind and creepy looking! “I literally shit myself!” … I hope like hell you mean you figuratively shit yourself, because … you know.
Anyway, yeah … they’re both downstairs right now in my closet. Before that, my dad was in my mom’s closet, and before that my parents lived in the house that I grew up in. But then my dad died and my mom moved shortly thereafter into a smaller house. The movers, she told me, were kind of freaked out to see a box labeled “Husband” the day they came to collect my mom’s stuff for the move. She had a wicked sense of humor.
So she moved into a smaller house that was much easier for her to manage in her later years, and in that house my dad served as a bookend on a shelf in a closet. And then my mom died and I inherited my dad’s box and I had my mom cremated and so now I have two boxes. They are both in the official “temporary containers.” My dad’s container is a black plastic box. I guess the funeral home got a bit chintzier in the years between my parent’s deaths, because by the time my mom died the “temporary container” became a cheap white cardboard box. That cardboard box, incidentally, cost $75 according to the funeral home bill, so I highly recommend anyone reading this to bring along some Tupperware or their own container when picking up cremated remains. The actual remains are in a plastic bag inside the box anyway.
I was in the process of getting my mom’s house ready to sell when I picked up my mom’s ashes and brought them “home” to her house. A kind neighbor of hers offered to take me to pick up her ashes, saying I shouldn’t have to do that alone. It didn’t actually bother me in the least, to be honest. It was just a box of incombustible salts, really — the residue of ignition (ROI). But I pretended to be very thankful and let the neighbor drive me to fetch my mom.
I didn’t know what to do with the ashes, so I opened up the box and pulled the plastic bag out and had a look at it. Then I pulled my dad’s plastic box out of the closet and opened it as well. My mom’s particle size was quite a bit smaller than my dad’s. It was clear that the funeral home had purchased a better mill in between the two cremations: No doubt the $75 cardboard box helped pay for that. Anyway, I carefully poured a sample of each parent out into a cereal bowl. I mixed them together and took them out into my mom’s backyard and spread some around the bushes and such, and then hurled the rest in the dish high into the air. But overall, it was only a small fraction of each: I still had the bulk of each parent, and eventually I put them in my car and took them home.
They sat in the closet for several months until I went on a cruise. I went with a friend on the Carnival Legend on a seven-day cruise with stops in the Cayman Islands, Mexico, Honduras, and Belize. What a wonderful opportunity to dump my parents, I thought. But I didn’t want to dump too much of their ashes so far from home. It sounds silly, I know, but it was too far away. So I only packed a small amount of the ashes in my luggage: Quite a bit more than what I spread in my mom’s backyard, but still not truly a substantial sample of either.
My plan was to spread the ashes off the stern of the ship as you see done in the movies. I waited until we were well underway and far at sea, and I went and inspected the area of the stern. There were security cameras back there and I hadn’t told the staff or anyone that I planned to toss ashes off the stern. The cameras worried me as did, frankly, the stern itself. The notion of leaning far at all over the railing at the back of the ship made me queasy. The ocean was so far down! But what triggered more fear in me than the possibility of falling to my death from the stern was the thought of falling and actually living. It seemed to me that, while somebody would be monitoring the video cameras and catch me tossing ashes, my luck would be that nobody would be monitoring the video feed should I fall. If I fell and lived, in other words, the last thing I would see before drowning would be my cruise ship sailing away from me. It would be a truly lonely death, and that terrified me. So my situation was, I didn’t want to lean too far over the railing, I didn’t want any people around, and I didn’t want the cameras to see me tossing cremated remains off the ship. These things complicated matters.
So, I went back to my room and came up with a plan. I took one of those cheap plastic cups that drinks come in on cruise ships and I filled it with my parents.
I returned to the stern, holding the cup containing my parents, pretending they were a delicious fruity drink. It was a good time — late afternoon when most people were getting ready for dinner and the stern was empty except for the occasional passerby. I casually rested my arms on the railing with my “drink” in my hand and waited until the few people who were in the vicinity wandered off. I figured that anybody watching the cameras would just think I was dumping the residual of an unwanted piña colada or something, so there would be no trouble. My stomach churned along with the churning white water cast off from the propellers so far below. Finally, I had the area to myself. With nobody else around, I gripped the railing with my free hand and flung the contents of my cup into the air off the stern of the ship.
Fucking Vortex!!! As I discovered, the winds are kind of crazy on the stern of a cruise ship moving at full throttle, and the vacuum created in the wake of the ship is such that anything you try to toss off the stern is likely to come right back at you. That is especially true of fine particulate matter, such as cremains. My parents were in my eyes, in my hair, in my nostrils, in my mouth. They were everywhere.
When Keith Richards snorted his father, he did it deliberately. Of course, he was stoned as fuck, but still — it was a deliberate act. In my case, it was purely accidental. I spit what I could out, but I’m sure I ingested a little. Fucking Hell! I returned to my room and showered.
Fortunately, I didn’t throw the entire sample of my parents off the ship in that mishap, and I had a more pleasant experience discarding what I had left. It was a few days later when I put the remainder the ashes that I had packed for the trip into a screw-cap jar and went for a stroll on a beach of the Isle of Roatán. The weather was beautiful and the water cool and clear and I waded out into the sea. With the cool water up to my neck, I took the jar from the pocket of my trunks and unscrewed the cap underwater. I looked down and watched as my parents drifted from the mouth of the jar and swirl around my hands and body, and then slowly disperse into the ocean. And I said “goodbye.”
“Goodbye,” sort of, because most of my parent’s remains are still in their boxes downstairs in the closet. I’ve told my sister that I really need to get rid of the rest at some point, or else one day she will have three boxes of ashes in her closet. I don’t think I can ever bring myself to part with the entirety of the remains though. They are mostly calcium phosphate along with various salts of sodium, potassium, magnesium, and all the other metals to be found in the human body. All that remains of my parents is a residue of ignition. But there is something else there too that is a little less tangible — Memories.