It’s been a sad end to the season; our cruise director died after a car crash in Cozumel. I was lying in my bunk reading when my mom came into my cabin to tell me; I had known about the accident but assumed he would recover. I was stunned, but after she left, I went back to my book, not knowing what else to do. He was such a good spirited and fun-loving guy; it is hard to imagine he is really gone. On the cruise staff, we are all like a family – probably closer, because we spend every day, all day and all night living and working and socializing together, going to our separate cabins basically only to shower, have sex, and sleep. Since he died, it’s like we’re all in a daze, operating on autopilot, going through the motions, and being careful to not let the passengers see our grief. I’m not sure any of us have truly had the chance to feel it.

He used to read this poem at the end of the last show of the cruise:

Did you know that God above, created you for me to love?
He picked you out of all the rest, because he knew I’d love you best.
If I’m in heaven before you’re there, I’ll carve your name on the golden stairs.
If you’re not there by judgment day, I’ll know you’ve gone the other way.
I’ll give the angels back their wings, golden halos and everything.
And just to prove what love can do, I’ll even go to Hell with you.

He’s really the first person I’ve been close to who has died. My grandparents on my father’s side are dead, but I hardly knew them. I vividly remember when they died, because it happened on the same day, although not at the same time. They were both in a nursing home. Shortly after my grandmother was told her husband passed away, she also died quietly and peacefully in her room, I guess from a broken heart. Or maybe she was just ready to join him. That’s a kind of love I want in my life.

I don’t remember a lot of grief when they died either; the focus was just on the things that needed to be done to plan a double funeral. I don’t have many memories about my dad’s mother, but there were quite a few stories. He says that when she was younger, they used to call her “Big Tit Mary”. I didn’t inherit that feature from her. I only knew her as an old lady with a big nose and big ears whose boobs merged with her belly under the baggy threadbare house dresses she wore on the rare occasions when we visited her and my dad’s stepfather, Harry, in their rickety house in the middle of nowhere, near my heritage town of Fonda, NY.

My dad tried to take care of his mom, but by his account, it seemed like whenever he did something for her, it backfired. One time, he opened the door to their house and was overcome by a stench like raw sewage. Mary had tried to grow tomatoes in the kitchen, and actually spread manure and dirt on the already cracked and buckled linoleum floor to grow the plants. He cleaned it up, like a lot of other sh*t he felt she left for him to handle.

My dad has come a long way from the hard life growing up with his crazy mom. She had three boys, but the other two died in childhood. His dad was an irresponsible alcoholic, and basically deserted the family; his mom was probably an alcoholic too and couldn’t keep her act together enough to always take care of him, so he spent some time in an orphanage. My dad’s real name was Adam Clark Fonda, but the kids in the Catholic school used to make fun of the name Adam, as though the image of Adam and Eve naked in the Garden of Eden was something embarrassing to tease a kid named Adam about. The teasing had an impact; he picked Joseph as his confirmation name, and then when he was older, changed his legal name to his middle and confirmation names, Clark Joseph Fonda, and dropped Adam all together. His father was Douw Adam Fonda; based on the family lineage, each generation swapped first son’s names between Douw and Adam. So, if I had been born a boy, my parents would have named me Douw Adam Fonda. There’s a good chance I would have changed that name as well…. maybe to Joe.