As I drive to my childhood home, it dawns on me that this will be the first time in over a decade that my family is together, since that raucous Seven Fishes dinner. The best smelts in the world couldn’t shut us up that night.
“You’re a bitch,” my older brother Carl yelled at my Dee. “You only show up here because you feel like you have to. It’s fake. You’re fake to me, to Mom, and even to Jim.”
“And you’re a bastard, Carl,” I defended, slamming my hand on the table. Dishes clattered. “We’re gone.” I grabbed Dee’s hand and stomped us out.
“Jim,” Mom said at me. She was unsure how to handle the situation. She’d been unsure about a lot since Dad passed. A lot of widows and widowers find their independence and strength. She was lost.
Dad would have been disappointed in all of us that night. He always told us, Don’t say anything you can’t take back. Disagree. Don’t disrespect. Dad was kind, chivalrous, and coolheaded… a true gentleman. I tried to emulate him and inevitably failed. Carl, a “me first” prick, always shot his mouth without considering the consequences and apologized later. He was right about Dee, of course, but that was for me to find out.
And the apologies came. Texts buzzed first, the easiest and least personal. Then two emails hit my inbox. Finally, he called and left a voicemail. I’m sorry he said. He always said that. Sorry for stealing your favorite baseball card. Sorry for crashing your car. Sorry for screwing up your screwed-up marriage. It was his final reaching out and the last time I heard his voice. Forgetting him was easier than forgiving him.
Driving through my hometown, I notice the homes, friends’ homes, wrecked. The storm’s floodwaters have washed clean the foundations and memories. Piles of debris line the streets. I pull up to my house, park at the curb, and get out of the car. Mom and Carl carry boxes from the porch to their own pile at the end of the driveway. Mom’s face is blank, like she’s burying a relative but it hasn’t set in yet. Carl whistles behind her, the unaware child at the wake.
“Honey, I made you and Carl lunch,” she says. She thinks ham sandwiches and lemonade will make it all better.
“I’m here for Dad’s tools,” I say. The good son gets the tools.
“Oh.” She rubs her aged, translucent hands together unsure how to handle my brevity “They’re in the shed. Take what you want from your room, too.” She walks away from me. Carl follows behind, whistling.
My Chevy now loaded with Dad’s toolbox, ratchet set, and giant wrench, I check out my old room. It had become a catchall, but my trophies, noodle art, books, and a picture – an unframed photo of Carl and I when we were in grade school wearing our peewee baseball uniforms and Dad crouched next to us wearing his coach cap – are still there.
“Jim,” says Carl, scaring me a bit. “I’m s –”
“Get out of my room, Carl.” I push him into the hallway and shut the door in his face. I bury the picture in my back pocket and grab a photo album labeled Family Trip to Disney World. Sitting on the floor and leaning against the door, I flip it open.
published 29 June 2013