Death Becomes Us All

May 28, 2012 at 12:00 pm (Sweet sticky things, That's not funny...)

Death is on everyone’s mind. This year was an extra-strength Memorial Day weekend.

I received a call from Rain the other night. “I know you think I only call when I want something. Well, I want something.”

I braced for The Touch. Phone bill? Groceries? She doesn’t ask for much, and doesn’t ask often.

“Whatcha need, hon?”

“Saturday would have been my son’s 34th birthday. I can’t go to the cemetery alone. Would you come with me? I will cook you his favorite dinner after. I just can’t be alone.”

Emotional support? I can afford that.

Good thing I have plenty. Meg was having a dramatic day as well…

* * *

“I’m downstairs. You ready?” I’d buzzed Rain’s intercom, could hear lots of noise in the background. The door opened without response.

She opened the apartment door, we hugged, and she led me to the bathroom. “My son’s father is going with us. That’s him having a beer out there. My friend Yvonne too. You don’t mind, do you?

“Of course not.” Truthfully, I was relieved.

We made a mad dash past the Timbers Army for the bus. Soccer day is always fun; Rain lives across the street from the stadium, and this day’s event appeared to be a big one. The match started at 7 PM, at 2 PM the line snaked almost all the way around the stadium. Chants, bagpipes, drunken hollering. Not exactly a serene beginning for a trip to the boneyard.

The ride was quiet. Rain can’t ride a train or bus without talking to everyone; this time she sat and spoke to us in low tones. She shared stories with her son’s father. She teased Yvonne, who gave it right back. We rode too far, trying to save steps. Soon we were at the cemetery gates.

Rain raised her voice occasionally, Yvonne would shush her. “Don’t you shush me! What am I gonna do, wake somebody up?” Yet every time Rain would see someone other than us walking across the grass, she would yelp like she’d just seen a zombie. Being this was Memorial Day weekend, there were lots of zombies.

We arrived at her son’s grave. Rain brushed away a twig. “I wish I’d brought flowers.” As she dusted the headstone, I pulled out a tiny bud and laid it in a whorl near his name.

“I know you know I mean no disrespect,” I told her as I laid it down.

“It’s cool. If his friends visit, they’ll probably smoke it for him. Heh!”

Yvonne sat off to the side, waiting patiently. She looked around and asked to no one in particular, “Ever wonder how many dead people there are buried here?” A dramatic pause. “All of ’em…” That broke the tension. I took a few pictures of Rain and her son’s father. We looked at old headstones, talked to veteran’s families.

After a half-hour or so, it was time to go. The bus ride back was crowded with Timbers fans. I squeezed into a seat with Rain, who knew most of the women on the bus. The people who worked at a cafe Rain hangs out at seemed to know who I was. (She’s probably created a couple urban legends about me by now. Rain knows how to flower up a story.) I smiled and tried to live up to my godly status.

Yvonne had some things to do, so she left. Her Son’s Father had got off the bus a couple stops early to buy more beer. I’d been told Rain and I were to have a quiet dinner and a movie. It was loud and fractal. I pulled Rain aside. “I’m going to step out for a few minutes. I’ll be right back.”

“Are you going to your friend’s house?” She says “your friend” with a hint of snark when referring to Meg.

“Yeah, I want to check up on things. She’s got neighbor issues.”

“You’re coming back, right?”

“Of course.” I let myself out.

I called Meg. “Hey hon, I need a few minutes of quiet space to burn something. Can I come over?” I knew I could, but I always ask.

“Yes! Thank god. Tony’s been here all day, and I’m frazzled.”

Tony is Meg’s neighbor. He’s got terminal lung cancer and lymphoma, and has had six months to live since I met Meg two years ago. The first time we met, he told me Meg had bedbugs. (So not true!) I know he has a crush on her, and I look the other way. I understand.

When I stepped in for my quiet moment, Tony was sitting in my chair, hawking up ungodly amounts of phlegm into a soon-to-be-disposable trash can. Meg looked at her wits end. She was talking on the phone. After five minutes I put the beer I’d brought her on the bedside table and walked out.

“Hi Rain, I’m heading back. Need anything from the store?”

Tomatoes. She needed tomatoes, so I walked to Freddy’s. Scored tomatoes and my work lunch for the week. I hadn’t gotten many chores done this weekend.

I walked back to Rain’s. I could hear the drunken chanting blocks away. (Timbers!) I buzzed, waited. Buzzed again. The door opened.

Upstairs again at Rain’s, winded from a thirty-block walk. I went to sit on my spot at the end of the bed, but Her Son’s Father had chose my spot to take a nap. It’s also the only comfortable place for me to sit with her lack of furniture. I handed her the tomatoes. “I’m going to run my lunch down to work. Be back in a few minutes.”

“Okay, dinner should be done by then.”

At least I could sit on the MAX.

But no… There were just enough folks on the MAX that I’d have to crush in with some brah in a green scarf, and I wasn’t up for that. So I stood through downtown, dropped stuff off and headed back to Rain’s. I’ll tell baby-daddy to go sleep on the floor…

I buzzed, got no answer. The intercom is connected to her phone, so I tried again. Phone rang, went to message. Grr… I waited five minutes, then headed for the bus. As the kids say, fuck this.

As the bus rolled down the hill, my phone rang. It was Rain. “Where are you?”

“At the bus stop. I came back and you didn’t answer. I am tired and want to sit down, so I think I’m heading home. When you said dinner and a movie, I was thinking just you and me, not a houseful. I am getting crabby, and I don’t want to do that to you today. I’ll just catch up to you tomorrow or something.”

“I’m sorry, I was in the bathroom and didn’t hear the phone. You sure you don’t want to come back?”

“Nah, I’m on the bus.” I wished her a goodnight and rang off.

I rode five blocks and departed. I went to Whole Paycheck for carrot cake and a bottle of Secret Aardvark sauce. I texted Meg; “Hey you, I’m coming back. Clear me a spot?”

“Yep!”

I bought goodies and made for the exit. The sky was a wacky orange, with dark ominous clouds bearing down. As I reached the door, the downpour began. In a few minutes over an inch of rain fell. Spectacular lightning, explosive rolling thunder. I texted Rain, “Told ya I felt like raising hell. Look outside…”

She texted back, “Well, can you calm down a little please? This stuff scares me. Sure you won’t come back?” I left the question unanswered, much like her door on my last visit.

Someone left the cake out in the rain…

I thought of the Timbers fans, and smiled a cheesy grin. I stood under an awning and watched the rain. In my pocket was a special cupcake I’d saved for the evening with Rain. I took a bite, snapped a picture and sent it to Meg with the caption, “Fuck it.” I was tired and cranky. It wouldn’t help the tired, but it could cure the cranky. I squeezed into a Dollar Store rain poncho and hustled to Meg’s, probably resembling a walking condom mascot.

And… Tony was still there. Nodding in my chair, sputtering awake every few minutes. Meg patted my side of the bed. “Come sit.” She went to the closet and pulled out my red shorts. “Look what I have!”

“Is this an invitation?”

“Yes,” she said. “Please stay. I can’t sleep when he’s here, and I don’t want him to die alone. and I don’t want him to die in my chair. I would freak out.”

About 10:30 we decided I’d spend the night. We filled out the necessary paperwork, and I went to the Kwik-E-Mart for a six-pack and a nucular burrito. The six-pack got a hero’s welcome, but mine was bigger. She told me she loved me.

I settled in for a chaste evening of TV and watching the neighbor die. Meg fell asleep as soon as I told her I was staying. It was just me and a full six-pack. It stayed full.

About 3 AM Tony rustled around. I sat up and he looked over at me. Nodding almost to the floor, he’d jostle awake again. “Tony, why don’t you go home and go to bed?”

My voice must have done the trick. He looked at me sitting next to Meg in bed and scowled. He got to his feet, and I grabbed his keys. “Here, let me help you over there.” It’s a miracle! He could walk just fine.

I rushed back to Meg’s and locked the door. Tidied up the area. Tony hadn’t moved from that chair in about twelve hours. I didn’t want to sit in my chair until I knew it was “dry.” So I took a big bong hit and curled up next to Meg. She rolled around. “Did Tony go home?”

“Yeah, I walked him over.”

“Good. Wow, it’s 3 AM? I slept so hard. When did he leave?”

“About ten minutes ago.”

“Jesus, sorry. I just can’t make him sit over there alone.”

While Meg was talking to security about me spending the night, Tony’s brother had called. Since Meg had been trying all day to reach him, I answered. The brother told me that Tony wasn’t as feeble as he played it, he just liked the attention from Meg and her friend upstairs. I told this to Meg as gently as possible.

“Well, you’ve had a pretty shitty Saturday, haven’t you? You’ve still got twelve hours of weekend left…” She draped a leg over mine. “Anything I can do to make it better?”

Rhetorical question.

My get-up-and-go-to-work alarm went off at 11:30. I got home at noon. Showered, made coffee, charged my phone enough to make a couple calls, and headed back to the city. I was bone-tired by the end of Sunday night, but things had ended okay. Rain knows I care about more than just her luscious bootay, and I got to be He-Man in Meg’s eyes. Tony is off to hospice, so things should be a little less crazy at Meg’s.

I’m ready for sunshine and rainbows now.

Please?

UPDATE: Tony went to hospice Sunday night, and passed away Tuesday morning. Meg called, crying. She and those who were with Tony at the end held a small private wake, where beers and memories flowed freely. RIP dude, and thank you for not dying on my birthday.

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