Saying Goodbye: Hannah Lillith Assadi on Brian Cox, Logan Roy, and Her Father

Literature

This letter begins on a night just before my father dies. Back when he could still walk, we might have been on the porch sharing a cigarette, confessing our last words before sleep to a congregation of stars. Instead, we’re in the living room of the ranch house in Arizona. The credits roll on yet another episode of Succession and that improbably, mystical soundtrack swells forth from the television set.

This night, he predictably asks if we should watch another.

And I tell him, I have to go to sleep. My youngest daughter is eight weeks old, nursing.

I wonder now, why I couldn’t give him this? This last indulgence. What does another hour of sleep even mean beside the scale of my father’s life? TV is all there is left for me to do with my father. He is so weak. He is the kind of thin that shouldn’t be allowed. Twice, toward the end, I take him for a drive—all of his life he loved going for drives—precariously moving him from the walker, into the passenger seat of my car.

The first time for a slice of pizza, which he doesn’t touch, and a pack of smokes, which he does. And the second time to the hospital, when his blood pressure drops, then drops more. That’s a day I can’t forget, watching a monsoon rise over the desert, and from the hospital windows, seeing the sunlight eclipsed by a sudden dusk, a rainbow in the distance particularly poignant against an otherwise charcoal sky. Someone in the lobby was playing the harp.

Okay habibti, he says back on this night. Make sure the front door is locked, he adds. He doesn’t plead with me to keep him company, or say, I can’t sleep anymore from the pain. Or, What good is sleep? I’m dying. (Almost, all he does is sleep).

And so, begins the goodnight ritual, which was so long his (how many times had I fallen into dreams to the shuffle of his footsteps dawdling around the house, locking, unlocking, locking the doors, closing the windows, opening them, shutting them, the sound of the stovetop burners clicking on, off, on, hearing his whispers, to the oven, to God, to himself, that it was okay, it was okay to go to sleep). Now, it is all mine to do. Yes, I am his successor.

I check the locks on the front door, the back door. I ignite the burners just to shut them off, shut them off, the cats are inside, the windows are closed, everyone is breathing, and on this night, so is my father. I go through the ritual not once but so many times more. And it is never finished.

The Succession opening credits roll, and that music croons again, as I shuffle through the house doing my father’s deeds. So, he’s watching another without me. The episode is “Lion in the Meadow,” one we’ve seen—I think it is his favorite, or one of his favorites—the one in which Kendall Roy and his father are forced to perform cordiality before a skeptical shareholder. And as the father and son amble through those maritime woods at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, Logan appears to nearly die.

Do you remember that view? I ask my father, interrupting his rerun. Hadn’t we taken very nearly that walk toward the same, holy blue end? I have seen Montauk again and again, and it is always with transporting revelation.

Remember we were there for my 33rd birthday? I ask my father, but don’t say the rest: That that was the last trip before the diagnosis. We were walking at the edge of the sea, the moon was full, and I didn’t know it then, that I was pregnant, nor that I would miscarry the one you thought would be a son. You told all the Yemeni bodega guys you were having a grandson. The ones who sold you illegal cigarettes. It was a son. I saw his face in a vision when he left. Had he lived, I would have named him Sami, your name. That same day while we were in Montauk, Notre-Dame burned, and as we gazed east across the sea toward Paris, you said, you’re a Paris girl. You belong in Paris.

Why? Because he loves Logan Roy. No, he doesn’t just love Logan Roy, he wants to be Logan Roy.

But my father isn’t listening to me. Logan is back on the screen and my father is utterly transfixed, rewatching his favorite character’s near-death. Why? Because he loves Logan Roy. No, he doesn’t just love Logan Roy, he wants to be Logan Roy. In these last days, more than anything, he almost is Logan Roy. Because he certainly isn’t himself. And don’t we all love Logan Roy? But why?

Why does my father, a Palestinian refugee, who has nothing to his name but debt, who will leave me no inheritance, who came to America paperless, who was made, then unmade, and now is dying from an acutely aggressive form of prostate cancer (thank God for Medicare and Medicaid), find more to say to himself in dialogue with Logan Roy, this Lear without a Cordelia, than me who is standing there right before him wanting to reminiscence over our Montauk?

Here we are, in this low-ceilinged living room, and though beyond these walls there is a star-studded desert cathedral, a billionaire clutches his heart. He’s not dying, my father finally says, as if to reassure me, as if that is what I’ve been waiting to hear. He’ll be okay.

When’s the next season coming back on? I ask. I consider this an innocent question before leaving him to his show, turning to bed, a question like busy work, like Windexing the bathroom mirror while the world ends.

February, my father says eagerly. They just announced it would come back in February, my father repeats excitedly. He wants to talk about it. The certainty of Sucession’s return.

And here comes the part I can’t forget. We all have our regrets once someone is gone and not returning, things we didn’t say, things we did say, time spent looking at our phones, writing “urgent” emails, scrolling through social media (on my father’s last day, I was writing reports for an adjunct gig) when there they are, there they still are right in front of us, breathing, talking even, and where are we? What other sensation is there to describe this sense of regret, but like looking up at what was, what you once had, like the conclusion of all light from the unseen pit at the end of the undertow?

What other sensation is there to describe this sense of regret, but like looking up at what was, what you once had, like the conclusion of all light from the unseen pit at the end of the undertow?

So, this is what happens next: I don’t say anything at all. I just nod, stare out toward where the desert night begins. I don’t say, February doesn’t exist. You’ll never see Succession again.

I just go to sleep.

*

My father must have been beaming in the afterlife when three months later, back in New York, there Logan Roy was (I mean Brian Cox), fumbling over tangerines in the produce department of Brooklyn Fare. I looked at him, and my brain registered our acquaintance first, and then placed him in that category of acquaintance particular to celebrity. I was kinda playing hooky from that aforementioned adjunct gig for which I had written those five reports on my father’s last day, looking for a sandwich, before dashing to the subway home to breastfeed my baby (I can’t pump, I can’t pump), before I would have to run back to the subway in order to make my afternoon session. (God what is a woman?)

But goddamnit here was Logan Roy in that fucking black baseball hat that he always wears on TV, staring back at me like I was a ghost. Or he was a ghost. Or we were both ghosts, recognizing one another’s characteristic pallor in the fluorescent aisles of a Brooklyn grocery store.

There was so much I could have said to this man, this actor, his character, on behalf of my father. I am his successor after all. As an only child, there is no one else. What would my father have said standing face to face with his last best pal?

But what did I have? I had less than three minutes before missing the next G train. And what I had to say to Brian Cox required a letter, truly and dutifully composed. And my poverty level check for the semester was on the line. So, there I was, trying to compose a letter, while simultaneously doing the calculation of the time it would take to order the sandwich, get the next train (or worst case, the next ten minutes later), ride for 15, walk the 11 minutes to my place, stuff my face, stuff my daughter’s mouth with my boobs, right then left, under 10 minutes if I rush her, run the 11 minutes back (maybe I could make it in 9?), get the train, 15 minutes back, not to mention the walk from station to school, to make it for the afternoon session.

What could I say to Logan Roy? He was right there before me, heaven sent. I was my father’s messenger. All I had to do was open my mouth. Say something. Invoke rapture with my words. I am a writer after all. We dance with angels. Maybe I could make even Logan Roy cry.

I needed the job more. Time was up. I scurried for the cash register with a pre-made sandwich and ran out of Brooklyn Fare, like a fugitive, across Schermerhorn toward the train. Whose joke was it? My father or God’s? when ambling up the subway stairs was the director of the MFA program, giving me a funny look. Where are you going? He asked. And fuck, there went that train.

*

Succession returns and it hardly matters that it isn’t in February like my father thought but in March—my father was gone by late October. Around the time of its airing, I receive an email announcing I’ve been let go from that adjunct gig, the one, I may have already mentioned, for which I spent hours writing reports on my father’s last day Where is Logan when you need him to say, Oh, fuck off.

The night of the premiere, I snub my mother’s insisting that we watch it together. Your father would want us to, she says. We have to watch it for him.

Want what? I ask. Do you think if he even still is, he cares about an HBO series about a billionaire fuckface?

And my mother gives me a wounded look.

I relent, but go out for a cigarette first, into the New York night, starved for stars but winning in music, then return, and when the soundtrack swells again, I’m back in it, sitting next to my father in the ranch house in Arizona, because here is Logan for almost the last time, wearing the very same outfit I saw Brian Cox in, that black track suit and black baseball cap, walking mournfully through an autumn evening in Central Park. The scene cuts, and he and his bodyguard find themselves in a diner.

And for the first time, it hits me, all of these months later, that I will never hear my father order two eggs over medium with ham, French fries, and white toast again. That’s when Logan Roy asks his bodyguard about the afterlife. Keeping in character, he doesn’t care for his bodyguard’s response. Because who is his bodyguard but his best witness? His audience. He is no one; Logan calls him his best pal. He is my father.

On the subject of the next world, I don’t know, I don’t know but I have my suspicions, I’ve got my fucking suspicions, Logan answers for himself.

In the last dream of my father, he is standing in a foreign city which only upon waking I realize is Paris. It’s rainy, grey, and the color of the buildings have that sepia tinge, the sky is closer than it is here in the Wild West. I approach him in the dream, and he says to me in Arabic, this is the last time I’ll come to you like this, and then he says to me gently, istenee shwaya, hold on a minute, be patient, which I take to mean, your time will come, our time will come … and then he walks away from me. I don’t want to istenee shwaya. I want him to stay.

So, I chase him through the Parisian streets, but he walks so fast now that he lives in the afterlife, walks so boldly, I lose sight of him as he weaves through all that traffic of spirit bodies. I’m your Paris girl. Don’t I belong in Paris?

Why, I wonder, does the dream feel sadder than his actual death? A death I saw. The real dream in which I laid my head down to his chest and heard no more music.

And why, I wonder, was I so sad all over again for my father, when Logan Roy dies? Who dies, too, as if in a dream, somewhere off screen, out of view, his plane over an ocean between here and there. We are mad, the grieving, the ones left behind. Look at Roman. But also, what happens after, is life. Shiv is pregnant, but who cares, there’s my baby, my real baby, and she’s learned to say hi at eight months old, and hearing “hi” in her voice is to hear hi for the first time, what it really means, a spirit announcing its presence ecstatically, as if returned from a long and unfathomable distance, all the way perhaps even from that place about which Logan Roy had so many fucking suspicions.

*

This is the letter I wanted to write Logan Roy, but it’s already too late, the letter I tried to articulate in front of you, Brian Cox, as you fumbled over tangerines already knowing Logan Roy would die and I stood there speechless in my cowboy boots, as my breasts leaked milk, and my throat grew parched with desert.

I wanted to say something about how my father loved you, but really what I wanted to say was something about how when my father died, in those last moments, as he drew those awful breaths I was there, I was there, and what I said in his ear was not heard by a board, and when it was all over, the markets didn’t plunge. The world didn’t end. We are dust and return to dust. I was like your silent bodyguard looking on at the plane which carried your corpse, stunned and bereft, as his life’s work, the person he had watched for so long, had just been ripped away.

I, too, had always loved watching my dad, I loved watching him act out the story of his life. He was my favorite character, my best pal. What I couldn’t reconcile myself to in the days after his death—and still can’t—was not so much that I would never see him again, but that his story was over. That, he was nobody again.

Unlike the Roy children, I was there, and what I said rather than goodbye was: Who am I going to laugh with now?



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