Don’t leave me alone

Don't leave me alone. Regret

The last thing my father said to me before he died was “don’t leave me alone”. I could hardly hear it. He had close to no breath left in his sick lungs, so I had to get uncomfortably close to his lips in order to hear him. His mouth was covered with blood smears while mine was covered with a medical mask, making sure I wouldn’t get infected with whatever was killing him. He, or rather what was left of him, was lying in a small bed in an isolated hospital room in Amsterdam. Hospital rooms, it seems, are like McDonald’s. No matter where you visit one, you feel like you’ve been there before. My dad’s room was no exception. It had that typical hospital smell that somehow sticks to your clothes. You can still smell it hours after having left the hospital.

I could still smell it three days later, standing at the edge of his freshly cut grave. It was January and it had been freezing for several nights which made it impossible to dig the grave. Instead, they had to literally cut it out of the ground. Looking at the perfectly shaped rectangle I imagined my dad would’ve appreciated the perfect straight lines. I know I did. I glanced around to see who had shown up. My mom was there, against all odds, clearly to support my brother and myself. She had no other reason to be at his funeral since they had been divorced for most of my life. Some of my brother’s friends where there. A handful of people that supposedly knew my dad, most I’d never met, showed up as well. All in all, we were about ten people, the creepy undertaker included.

“Alone and broke”

I can’t say the small turnout surprised me. My dad had died the way he had lived: alone and broke. He had managed to be in some relationships over the years but, with the exception of one or two, nothing seemed to last very long. Job-wise it was no different, the last time he had worked for a living was about a decade earlier. Since then he had been living a subsidised life, courtesy of the Dutch government. This meant, among other things, that he received subsidised housing. His latest habitat was located in ‘Concrete Village’, a grey and sober neighbourhood in the East of  Amsterdam. The ground-floor apartment had one bedroom. It used to have two bedrooms, but my dad had removed a wall dividing the living room and a small bedroom which had created a larger living area. A day after my dad had passed, we went to the apartment to clean out the place.

“A mixture of tobacco, incense and ‘Kouros’ cologne”

The first thing that hit me when we entered his place was the familiar smell. It was a mixture of tobacco, incense and ‘Kouros’ cologne. The walls in the living room had a fresh coat of light-green paint. Framed pictures covered nearly every inch of these walls with artworks and semi-antique clocks. The sitting area consisted of a small wooden bench that was as uncomfortable as it looked, and two antique-looking chairs placed around a heavy wooden table. A round wooden dining table stood on the other side of the room next to two heavy chairs. The decor reminded me of a “Game of Thrones” set. Between the chairs, a fireplace mantel was built around a gas-heater. A fireplace screen in front of the heater together with a set of fire pokers successfully created the illusion that the small apartment had an actual fireplace. Above the mantle a large gold-framed mirror completed the look my father had tried, and somehow succeeded, to create. With everything exactly in the right place, the room, as usual, looked as if no one had ever lived in it.

“A mild case of OCD”

A large canopy bed he had built himself, was taking up most of the bedroom. A bookcase, filled with books and his records took up one of the walls. We went through his records collection, most of them vinyls. It was a strange and varying collection which ranged from classical music through Tina Turner to the Village people. Frames pictures filled the remaining walls of his bedroom, most of the Dutch royal family for which he had an awkward love. The kitchen looked like it had hardly been used, which was probably true. The kitchen cabinets and counter were all painted bordeaux. The opposite wall, filled with commemorative plates commemorating a range of royal jubilees, was light-blue. Inside the kitchen cabinets I found carefully stacked cans of food, arranged by colour and contents, all labels facing forward. Looking at this, I silently hoped my rush of satisfaction didn’t show. A mild case of OCD was one of the three things I inherited from my father, the other two being the ability to draw and his debts.

“Don’t leave me alone”

He had not taken care of his final arrangements, meaning we had to somehow take care of them. This was clearly a result of not giving a shit as opposed to not having the time to take care of his affairs. After all, he had been dying, any minute now, for plenty of years. The first time he told us he was dying I was 16. After informing us he’d been diagnosed with cancer, he added that it had started in his intestines but by the time of discovery it had spread to other parts of his body. The doctors, he continued, had told him he had mere months to live. By the time he eventually died, I was 36. During the time in between, nearly every time we spoke he told me that it would most likely be our last conversation. It never was, until that night I was standing in his room and he expressed his dying wish. “Don’t leave me alone”. He died less than 2 hours later. I was told so over the phone. I had left.

‘Don’t leave me alone is the story behindRegret’ which is part of the Mutes collection and is for sale.

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© Ran Kunst