I wrote this today on line at Chipotle.
The girl in front of me tried to cheer me up.
“It’s okay,” I said, “I’m just working on a story.”
“I guess it’s not a funny one,” she said.
My dad’s father died on the floor of a bathroom in a hotel in Miami Beach, Florida. My grandmother was there, kneeling beside him.
“Who will take care of you?” were his last words.
I actually don’t remember my grandfather’s funeral. I was kind of young. I remember afterwards there were lots of people at my parents’ house. They were everywhere, standing around.
I remember that my mother wanted me to talk to my grandmother. She was sitting in the kitchen. I didn’t want to go because my grandma was upset and I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.
Our kitchen was very long and narrow. It was more like a hallway than a kitchen. My grandmother was sitting at the table at the end. Her back was to me. She was wearing a mink coat.
My grandmother always wore a mink coat.
It felt nice against your face when it was cold.
There were other people sitting around the table. Old people, people I didn’t know. They saw me coming and smiled but they didn’t say anything. My grandmother was crying a lot.
“Do you want anything, Eve?” one of the women said, but my grandmother just shook her head.
At that point she realized someone was behind her. She turned around and saw me there.
“All I want is to make love to my grandson,” she said.
And she opened her arms for me and cried even more.
I think in retrospect this was the most disturbing thing that anyone has ever said to me or near me in my life.
I probably should talk about it with my therapist.
But I don’t like to do that kind of thing.
My grandmother was really a very nice woman.
My grandfather liked to sing songs.
My friend Jay died when I was a senior in high school. Actually, I had just graduated. He drove his car around a sharp turn and right under an 18-wheeler.
The 18-wheeler was making an illegal u-turn. It was the middle of the night.
Jay’s funeral featured an open casket. I have no idea whose idea this was. Jay had gone under an 18-wheeler. The top half of him had come off.
I remember sitting there in the room. In the funeral home, whatever they call it. People were standing up front, making speeches. I could see the casket, but I couldn’t see Jay yet.
At the end of the service, Jay’s dad spoke. I don’t remember most of what he said. Jay had been a wrestler; his dad talked about that. Then he held up a radio.
It was one of those radios everyone had back then. A big boombox, like in the movie Say Anything.
“This is what they played when the wrestling team won,” he said.
And then he pushed play.
He stood there and held the radio up, over his head just like in that dumb movie. And “We Are the Champions” started to play.
And the room became loud with many noises.
I managed to hang on, together, for the most part, although everyone around me was sobbing.
But then the line started to form to go up and view the casket.
I was there with my friend Ed and he was saying to me “You wanna go? You gonna come? You gonna come up?”
I didn’t want to but I figured I probably should.
Jay was dead; it seemed like I owed it to him.
The line to the casket was really long. Everyone up there was crying. People were saying things and yelling things and stumbling about.
I was really not looking forward to it.
When we finally got there, I looked in the casket, and there was Jay with the weirdest haircut I’d ever seen. Just the idea of Jay with that haircut; it was absolutely impossible to believe.
The rest of him looked approximately like him. Like if someone had described him to a sculptor. “He’s about yay big, he’s white, he’s got eyes and a nose, what else do you need to know?”
But it was the hair that really got me. It was just absurd. Jay would have laughed at someone with that kind of hair.
Not that Jay went around laughing at people.
He was the nicest guy in the world.
If my friend Ed hadn’t been there I don’t know what would have happened. I couldn’t open my eyes and I didn’t know where I was. I have never cried so hard in my life.
Well, at that point, that is.
I have since.
Somehow then we were standing outside. In the parking lot. My tie was ruined. This is why you bring tissues to funerals. Otherwise your tie gets misused.
Across the parking lot I saw Chris Peer. Chris Peer had been Jay’s best friend. Chris was standing by his car, looking out at the road, and smoking a cigarette.
“I didn’t know Chris smoked,” I remember saying.
Somehow Chris looked very calm. In fact, he looked like a model on the cover of GQ or Esquire or something.
My mom’s mom was 93 years old when she died. She liked to watch Johnny Carson. She’d moved in with my parents some years before. Her hips had disintegrated, one by one.
My grandmother never drank a glass of milk in her life.
She’d make a face if you even mentioned it.
My grandmother was perfectly lucid and fine up until a few months before she died. Apparently one day she woke up and was different.
“Something just changed,” my father said.
They moved my grandmother to a nursing home. My mother was drowning in guilt. She’d spent so many years taking care of her mother, I guess she felt like now was not the time to stop.
Everyone else knew that it was.
I still don’t know how she did it for so long.
I flew out to see my grandmother in the nursing home. She was very happy to see me. We sat a table with lots of old women. My mom tried to make conversation.
My grandma would look away and then look back and see me.
“Well, hello!” she’d say, and smile.
I greeted my grandma about twenty times that day. She seemed to be having a great time.
When she died the whole family flew to Colorado. She was buried in the town where she grew up. The town was out in the middle of nowhere. The only greenery was at the cemetery.
My grandmother had been cremated. She was in a little box. I remember it as pink, and done up with a bow. But that, I imagine, was not the case.
They put the box in the ground and covered it up. My parents and sister stood there talking to friends and family. I wandered away, through the graveyard, and then I stood out in the street.
There was a field there, next to the graveyard. There was nothing in it yet; it was just dirt. But there were sprinklers all around, those big industrial ones, and there was water flying all through the air.
I stood there and watched all the water fly around. It was a nice day and the water was pretty.
Then I noticed my family was standing beside me.
“Are you all right?” they kept saying. “Are you okay?”
I didn’t understand why they seemed so concerned.
“I’m just looking at the field,” I told them.
Then we got in the car and drove to some restaurant. I probably ordered ice cream.
My girlfriend’s father died of cancer. He was fine, then he went to the doctor.
“It’s cancer,” they said.
It was too late to fight it.
Two weeks later, he was dead.
I was there when he died but it’s sort of hard to talk about. There was a cousin John who was a medical student.
“He’s gone,” John kept saying.
There was something wrong with the equipment. It kept starting to beep again after saying he was dead.
“He’s gone,” John would say again. “I don’t know why it keeps doing that.”
Then the nurse came in and turned the machine off.
The service was at a church. There were hundreds of people. I swear, it was like a Broadway show. All the pews were full, there were people in the aisles. There were people at the back, out the door. My girlfriend’s father was really a special person. He was your best friend; everyone loved him. He had friends from his surfer days, friends from the army, friends from the police force, from little league and boy scouts. To be honest, I don’t know how to account for all the people. There were more people there than I’ve met in my whole life. In my head, when I imagine the funeral I will have, my funeral looks like the clean-up crew from his.
The funeral was held at a cemetery in North Hollywood. Sort of behind the Fry’s Electronics store. I don’t know why, but that made a big impression. I never knew there was a cemetery there.
At the end of the ceremony, I stood there with my girlfriend. She was crying, of course; her dad was dead. I’d spent the last week trying to keep her together. Make sure she didn’t fall apart like my grandma’s hips.
As people were breaking up, my girlfriend saw someone.
“I think that’s Aunt Pam,” she said.
Aunt Pam was my girlfriend’s mother’s half-sister. She hadn’t seen her since she was little. (My girlfriend’s mother was also dead. There were a lot of dead people around there.)
“It’s Aunt Pam,” my girlfriend said, and she started crying even harder.
Aunt Pam was walking away.
“I’ll get her,” I said, and I headed out after her.
Aunt Pam was really pretty far away. She was walking with her family toward their car. I was running across the graveyard.
“Aunt Pam!” I was saying. “Wait, Aunt Pam!”
I didn’t think I’d get there in time.
But then, suddenly, she turned around. She saw me coming and she frowned, confused. She had no idea who I was. Her family had turned around too.
I knew I should speak then so I opened my mouth, but it was like Jay all over again.
“Oh, honey” she said, and she opened her arms.
And then my girlfriend was also there.
I have been to other funerals, of course. But these are the ones that stand out.
I don’t like going to funerals at all, but no one invites me to births.