I used to announce my presence with a loud Hallo in case he was napping. When I got to the house after the long fraught drive, I heard a sound. A machine, a small engine.
Sister and bro-in-law and niece were in the house.
This makes sense to you or it doesn’t. Let me explain. We are industrious and practical and there is a time for weeping, and in fact we are weeping now within, but there will be people coming over and the rugs need a good vacuum. The alternative is railing and raging and rending of garments.
I know it sounds insane to some, but I was grateful for it. The thing I did not want was sadness. Yes, the embrace. Yes the words of consolation. Yes, the horrible truth of The Day. But the man was laughter and energy and a big bright spirit, and I want us all to sing about him and celebrate and exult and shout our our gratitude. Cry, yes, but with happiness for having been his children.
I don’t know. I suppose that’s some sort of justification. There is no correct way to grieve, and I am stoic to a fault.
Besides, he’s going to walk in the house any minute, right?
Right? Because here, in my head, he’s alive - white shoes and khaki shorts and white shirt and a big devilish grin and a bit hunched, hell he’s 93, sure he had a stent, but he’s up for Perkins and some eggs and hashbrowns, and -
I don’t know much about the night except we talked and worked and filled some bags and told stories and had a few shell-shock moments, and then I was in the parking lot of Hornbachers grocery store, and it was what, eleven?
Picked up some things for breakfast. (I had completely cleaned out the fridge and wiped and sanitized and scoured the vegetable drawers, so there was nothing in the house to eat, and I was sleeping there. Had I done that? Yes. Broke a lightbulb in the fridge. We had to turn off the power to get the base out. Dave and I tried to find the circuit breakers. Had we done that? The day after he died, were we searching for a circuit breaker to turn off the fridge so we could remove a broken light bulb? Yes. This had been terribly important for five minutes or so. It gave us purpose.)
When I got back in the car I remembered that I had not shifted the bleat redirect, so I got the laptop and went back to the grocery store, sat in a closed-off coffee shop area and accessed the public wifi.
Renamed index10.html to index.html.
Drove back to the house.
Everything was neat and silent and utterly empty of energy, of spirit.
Walked to the back of the house, to the back porch. Sat down in the chair where he’d last sat, because his glass was on the railing.
Looked down at the patio. Two steps. A metal bench. His head had struck the bench. There wasn’t a sign that anything had happened here, that a man had fled this plane right here, just hours ago. Not a stain, not a piece of furniture out of place. I walked down the two steps.
The first one felt wrong, in an indefinably subtle way. A sight sag. I felt a sudden well of hatred for this one fucking step. Touched the arm of the bench that killed him when his head struck it.
Went back in and dug through his CDs and got out the Buck Owens greatest hits, put it in the CD player by his chair in the room where he sat. The CD player wasn’t plugged in. I looked at the power strip; two empty plugs. Why had he disconnected it. Some personal inscrutable decision.
Plugged it back, cranked it up. Went to the kitchen, poured a slug, sat at the table facing the empty chair with Conoco jacket, and wondered how to start the conversation.
Sorrow? Apologies? Gratitude? Bullshit?
I looked at the glass I’d taken from the cupboard. The etching said:
Two out of three.
Well, this conversation wasn’t going anywhere, so I turned to the kitchen cabinets, which needed emptying out. As with most of the house, heavy second-wife presence. She was wonderful, don’t get me wrong; made him quite happy. But seeing the evidence of her was like a cedar sapling grafted on an oak tree. I cranked up the Buck and poured another slug and then sat down in the chair outside where he’d been before he fell and wrote a column about him, somehow.
Then it was 3 AM and all I could say to the chair with the jacket was I wish I’d hunted and fished and been that kind of son and I know it’s okay that I wasn’t, but I wish I hadn’t been the pudgy bookworm who couldn’t throw a ball.
It wasn’t cathartic. I’d said it before, in our recent kitchen-table conversations. He’d smiled and shrugged and said it didn’t matter, and then he’d give me the needle about something I’d done as a kid that showed my aversion to his kind of work, and he’d laugh - wide smile, twinkling eyes, laughing at my foibles the same way we nudged him for his.
That was The Day. None of it really happened because he will come through the door from the TV room any minute now and ask if I’m still typing. Tomorrow morning when we go out for breakfast he’ll pick up the Conoco jacket from the chair.
But I’ll be damned if that’s where the story ends.
TOMORROW: The machinery begins to whirr. Updates because they were done and because life goes on.