Death of the Casita
My dad is a 1987 Casita travel trailer that gave up in rural nowhere. Sixteen feet long, round in the middle, he is hard to reach for, hard to find, and impossible to reconcile.
The man who made me is parked off the bayou where cypress trees bare their knees. He wears a patchy, pale lichen beard over skin that was who-knows-what-color before it turned mottled gray. His window-teeth are loose and rotting through. A few feet to his right, perched on cinder blocks, a square plywood shack is his only friend—if one can be friends with destitution.
There’s talk my dad used to be road-worthy and fit for a family. Nobody knows for sure what he hit, what sent him into an unrecoverable skid ending at this place. For most of my years the tires were as flat as the bottoms of those feet that never went anywhere despite states full of asphalt roads. What a waste of good tread sunk into mud.
After decades of being left stranded on the side of the road, I no longer wanted him hitched to my life. So I never looked for him, though he sought me regularly and erratically.
It took two days of silence for his only friend to request a welfare check. My dad’s door opened for no one, and that’s how we never knew.
The sheriff’s deputies found him first. They climbed over ridges of cushions and clothes and papers, coils of used copper wires, jars of feces and urine, just to reach the bloated body stiff as its fiberglass shell. I heard it was splayed in the corner, empty arms above its head, one middle finger extended skyward. As subtle in death as in life.
They called the coroner, then they called me. Accents so Texas-thick, I could barely hear the loss.
I don’t know who you are.
Twelve hundred miles later I find him, after a Xanax and a trip to Walmart for gloves and thick trash bags.
They warned me but, when that door opens, breath rips from my chest. I stagger a few steps and crumple to the ground, sob and scrape in fresh air before going inside.
I hadn’t known my dad had no running water, nowhere to shit or shower. Months had passed since it last flooded here, and his stained walls marinate in mildew. Moldered together are western shirts with pearl snaps, photographs of my children, and cardboard snack boxes all held fast with a glue of roach dirt and failure.
A sour cloud surrounds him and clings to my cotton. The stench is sharp and tragic. I’m told his church family had complained and felt like sinners. Standing next to him, my uncle, my husband, and I feel only the weight of waste.
My dad was always full of the unnecessary, here is proof: losing lotto tickets, brown water-warped envelopes—never opened, porn tapes on brittle VHS, receipts and documents covered in cryptic all-caps messages about Jesus, and smeared jars as empty as that parking spot where my feelings should be.
We disgorge him, digging with hands at what we can recognize and shovels at what we can’t. My job is to read through every damp paper, dip my hand in every frayed pocket, to recover his valuables.
I stack pieces of him in a small pile and try to recreate a father: wallet, keys, church bulletin, my baby announcement, his six-figure bank statement. Two days pass and I understand no better than before. Sometimes brokenness is a choice.
We cremate my dad northeast of Houston. Saw him apart and set him atop an angry, determined burn pile on a floodplain. I don’t watch, but I can hear him go again and again.
Out in the dry grass by the ditch, my dad’s strawberry-red Dodge Charger waits to be driven away. By this time tomorrow, the two things he valued most will be gone.
Megan Hanlon is a podcast producer and writer. Her work has appeared in Gordon Square Review, MUTHA Magazine, and the anthologies The Order of Us and The History of Us. Her blog, Sugar Pig, is known for relentlessly honest essays that are equal parts tragedy and comedy. Twitter: @sugarpigblog
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