Monday, October 29, 2007

Play by Play

I start writing on the Lord's day. It is supposed to be quiet and restful. They are at church and she is playing "Love One Another" on the piano while her seven-year-old daughter tells knock knock jokes.

I have been in this city for almost 72 hours. It hasn't gotten me and I haven't gotten it, though we are both trying.

One of the first things I do is see a friend, my BFF since Mr. Olson and fifth grade and city bus rides to buy Snoopy and candy corn. I stand in her modern, edgy kitchen as she copies onto a note card a recipe for Candy Corn Sugar Cookies and later in her laundry room as she tells me about how cancer has invaded her life and the lives of others. We ease into and around the conversation like friends who have been friends a long time. We hug and kiss goodbye to talk of a 20-year reunion and children and when we will meet again.

An impromptu lunch with sisters and nieces and nephew and mother results in a ride to see the new condo that will replace the other new condo. The project supervisor runs when he sees my mother. She laughs it off as I swallow uncomfortably and sweat a little. It's four o'clock on a Friday and they want to go home, but she is determined to show me the emptiness. I am unimpressed and I can't hide it.

Later in the car with my almost youngest sister and her husband I recount this story of the unfinished condo which leads to talk of lice and bed bugs and parasitical behavior. We soon arrive in Provo, home to Brigham Young University and thousands of young married and procreating and wanting-to-be married and wanting-to-be procreating people. Provo feels as if a cultural vacuum has been taken to it, swallowed up dirt particles, crumbs and even carpet. As luck would have it, the vacuum has conveniently dumped its best contents into my aunt's house.

My aunt and grandmother and cousin gurgle surprise when they see me. I have not told anyone, but for a few, that I will be at the party. It is my grandmother's 86th birthday and she does not look a day over 60. "I am so glad to see you Jane," she says. "I'm 86 and I am going to die soon. I don't know if I will see you again." My grandmother has always been this matter-of-fact about death. She doesn't skirt the issue. At all. And as much as I want to be thrown by the prospect of losing this dear, feisty, high-heeled, little woman, I know that she is right. But I also know that she won't be passive about death's arrival. She will go pluckily and beautifully, especially if her hairdresser comes through. My grandmother, at the party while sipping punch and eating sugar cookies, asks this woman to take responsibility for her funeral hair.

I talk with anyone who will listen about the Red Sox and my cousin gives me a lead on a place to watch the game. It's called Fiddler's Elbow. "The fans are loud," my quiet cousin who favors the Yankees says. "But you'll find them there." Around midnight I feel like I am going to fall asleep in my Fresca and finally find someone to take me to Salt Lake. My parents live in a condominium complex where one needs magnetic cards and keys to get in. I borrow a card, but forget the key thus requiring a sit with my luggage outside their door. I read my plane book called How to Be Good by Nick Hornby and think about applying its contents. "How do I be good?" I wonder aloud to the stale artwork on the walls.

By 1 I am asleep on the blow up bed. Morning light and my mother on the computer wake me around 5. My parents want to go to Ruth's Diner, a favorite breakfast joint, and I am pleased. We take a drive up Emigration Canyon and wait for a table and chat. I embarrass my father when I talk about eggs, not the kind a person eats for breakfast. I do not embarrass my mother, yet. Eventually conversation turns to excessively large houses, first ladies, private jets and sexism, though they wouldn't call it this.

After breakfast we go separate ways. A few years ago out of guilty familial conscience I might have joined them for errands to buy scuba diving wetsuits and unnecessary furniture, but not this day. This day I try not to feel slighted and take myself to the Coffee Garden and to see Into the Wild. I sit in the dark Broadway theater and send messages to people I love. A woman asks how many seats I am saving and I chuckle and tell her that I am alone.

The game is in the top of the third when I arrive at the bar. Fiddler's is a "private club" which in Utah terms means that people have to pay for a membership in order to drink. The price is $4. A woman explains to me that before recently acquiring private club status for serving more alcohol than food, a person had to buy food if they wanted to drink. "So it's kind of the same thing," she says. "$4 for an appetizer or $4 for a club membership." I'm smiling big because I used to know about the private club rule and the food rule and the one shot rule. I don't tell her about Massachusetts and my local bar and the stiff drinks that the bartender pours with our without food for accompaniment.

I see comfortable leather sofas and a gigantic television. Red Sox fans occupy three of four seats. I ask if I can sit and we joke about the team for which I will cheer. They welcome me by offering up cold wings and Gorgonzola. I accept and by the end of the night we are hugging and high fiving and making plans to watch the next game.

Sunday seems the day to take a drive up Little Cottonwood. It is hazy and I am anxious with the idea that I might not see him. I decide to call and get him on the phone, which is a rarity. "I'm not going to make it to dinner. I'm watching football and drinking beer and I'm trashed," he says to me through the phone as my on-listening parents puzzle out the conversation. "Tell them I got called into work," he says. "O.k." I say. "I'll tell them that you got called into work."

Dinner passes pleasantly enough, but I can't stop thinking about my brother. Three weeks ago I wanted to fly out to see only him. I thought through this idea and waited. Now it's been over 48 hours in this city and nothing. At 7 I sheepishly excuse myself from dinner and go off to be with Sox fans and find him.

After the game is won I drive to where I can see the temple all lit up in the night. It is a beacon, a warning. He invites me in and introduces me to three women, friends, maybe lovers. The apartment is bare but for a shelf stacked with books, CDs and pictures. There is a sofa, an entertainment center and one painting hanging on the wall. We talk. We talk about Into the Wild and death wishes and family. We talk and talk.

At 1 I feel tired. I say that I'll be leaving. "I want to give you something," he says. "It's important that I give you something. What can I give you?" he asks. He goes to some boxes in the back of the apartment. "Here. I want you to have this." It is an old photo taken in the airport after his visit to New York City when he was 13, the defining visit, the one that "will fuck him up forever." The look on his face, then and now, tells me what I need to know. The sadness is heart stopping and thick and palpable. I want to rip it up, this photo and the sadness. I want to vomit.

Outside, the nearby temple throwing light, he looks me in the eyes like he is looking at me for the first time. "I don't know if I will see you again," he says. "I am sick. My heart is sick. My liver is sick. I am sick. I can feel it."

These words make me sick. "I don't want you to die," I say. You are 35," I say. 35 fucking years old. Not 86. Not my grandmother. This is my 35-year-old brother and I'm trying to talk him out of dying like a person would try to talk someone out of hang gliding or buying a motorcycle or walking alone into the Alaskan wilderness with a 10 pound bag of rice.

There is nowhere for this conversation to go. I am selfish and I tell him so. "This is about me, me, me. I would rather have you here in pain than not here at all," and as soon as the words leave my mouth I am floored. I think about the knife in the Nick Hornby book, the one that gets stuck in her gut. The question is one of severity: Do I remove it and bleed to death or do I leave it in and live with the pain?

I don't do either. I walk to my mother's car and drive to my mother and father's condominium at the top of the hill and enter the gate with the magnetic card and a key and quietly drop onto the aero bed and lie awake until the sun comes up and it is a new day.

The sun comes up and it is a new day. It is a new day and anything could happen.


Mr. J. Cook said...

Thank you. I know that's a strange comment to leave considering the content of the post. But there is something very true; very essential; very familiar; yes, very sad but also kind in what you have written. I am happy you are my friend.

Jane said...

Best thing you have ever written; sad though it is. As hard as it is to look at, your vision is clear. I love you.