To the Woman Who Made my Father Mix CDs
CHRISTINE M. LASEK
He kept them. In a dusty box. In the alcove under the basement stairs, behind the Costco-sized package of toilet paper, the trio of mustard, catsup, and pickle relish that we’ll never use. Hidden, until my father’s heart attack, my mother’s need to get out of this house.
He kept them and I can tell he used them. The slim jewel cases in blue, purple, orange, are warped and fogged. I imagine the cases crammed into the glove compartment of my father’s ’94 Taurus. Left to bake on the fabric-upholstered passenger seat. The discs themselves safely inside the ten-disc changer my mother got him for Christmas.
Each CD has a folded-paper insert with the track listing. You gave each one the same title: To Dave with the date. You signed each creation “With love, C. R.” The first was dated March 13, 1998.
I try to imagine you, C.R. From the music on the CDs, you must have been from the generation between my father and me. There are tracks from bands like Roxy Music and The Cure, alongside Counting Crows’ “Round Here,” Stone Temple Pilots’ “Interstate Love Song”—old songs that were still on the radio when my boyfriend drove me home from high school theatre practice. I feel the absence of Pink Floyd, of Bob Dylan, of Led Zeppelin, of the music my father still occasionally listened to on vinyl as recently as last year.
Did we meet? During the only Doeren Mayhew company picnic my family and I attended? Maybe your highlighted hair was in the Rachel cut, or your black satin heels were unfit for the grass around the pavilion, or you tucked your billowy forest green-colored blouse into a belted skirt. The day of the picnic was overcast. I wore a black cotton sundress printed with daisies, which hung on my wispy fourteen year old frame, arms and neck tacky with sunscreen. My father sweating in a golf shirt pulled tight around his middle. My mother’s glass of candy-pink white zinfandel fogging in the humidity.
Or maybe it wasn’t as brazen as that. I can almost believe the CDs were the beginning and the end of your relationship—you compiling them, my father listening to them, ardent but forever separate. My understanding of my parents’ marriage faint but still intact.
I smuggle the dusty box out of the house. Tiptoe up the basement stairs, and, while my mother is busy in the back bedroom, out the side door. I put it in my car.
I don’t tell my mother about it, but I wonder if she knows. Maybe not about the CDs, but about what they represent. After my father’s death, the first thing my mother got rid of was his music collection. The albums saved since college. Cardboard sleeves carefully preserved, some still wrapped in disintegrating plastic. I had wondered at her decision, but was too shocked by my father’s death, too afraid of my mother’s grief, to question her actions.
Do you know, C. R., that my father’s dead? That he died of a myocardial infarction? That he kept mowing the lawn until he collapsed? That the lawn mower kept going, through wood chip mulch and the pansies my father painstakingly planted every spring, before crashing into the side of the house?
It is dark by the time I leave the house. Sweaty and dirty, with the kind of emptiness that is only felt after wading through a lifetime of accumulated possessions, weighing their importance, throwing away what doesn’t make the cut.
But when I get to my own house, I find myself hesitant to take my father’s box inside. As if secretly taking the CDs from the house only stretched my loyalty to my mother, while that step over the threshold and into my life would break it.
So I stay in the car. Engine off. Windows cracked open. Testing the battery as I listen to each CD, in chronological order, until long after midnight. There are five in all.
The final one, To Dave January 10, 2000, is my favorite. Tracks from Toad the Wet Sprocket, Depeche Mode, Annie Lennox.
Drifting in and out of sleep, the final track snaps me awake, “Everloving” by Moby, and I am back, after the open house my parents threw for me for my high school graduation, class of 2002, after the chicken, the coleslaw, the potatoes, after the chocolate cake decorated with a plastic graduation cap with real tassel, after the water balloon fight, after the guests have gone and my parents have given me one last gift, a check for $1,000, “For school books,” my mother said, and Moby’s Play.
“It sounded like a transition album to me,” my father explained. “Like moving from one state of being into another.”
I turn the car off. Go inside. To shower, to bed. The next day, I’ll worry about what to do with the CDs. With everything else. But right now, I’m just glad it’s over.
Christine M. Lasek is the author of the short story collection Love Letters to Michigan. Her fiction and nonfiction have also appeared in literary magazines including Midwestern Gothic, Sierra Nevada Review, Tampa Review Online, and elsewhere. She is the Academic Professional for the Creative Writing Program at the University of Georgia. Find Christine online at http://christinemlasek.com/