Chapter Thirteen: The Meeting

 

We are now up to about 11:00am on my last full day in Colorado.

 

And, you will be relieved to note, the actual worst day of the whole saga.[1]

 

 

I sat in a suddenly empty room with my father—now docile as a lamb—as he held my hand, watching his thumb stroke mine.  He turned the television back on but left it muted, watching the images flash across the screen.

 

A cough sounded from the doorway and I looked up; the notary was back, waving a manila envelope at me.  I greeted her without disrobing.

 

 

NOTARY:  So I’ve scanned both forms into the system and that’s all done—no matter what, it’s on record with the hospitals.
ME:  (nods)
NOTARY:  But you still get these (offers envelope)
ME:  Okay?
NOTARY:  That’s the original and two copies, one for each Agent.
ME:  … Umm… I think it’s best if we don’t draw Mark’s attention to this.  You know, to avoid an actual explosion and/or massacre.
NOTARY:  (nods)  I understand.  I’ve heard… it’s been tough.  So you go ahead and do whatever you think best with those.  But the original is in there.
ME:  Thank you.
NOTARY:  As well as one copy for each Agent.
ME:  (frowns)
NOTARY:  (bustles off)
ME:  (re-entering)  Okay, Daddy… looks like we’ve got the forms back…
DAD:  (uninterested)  That’s fine.
ME:  Well, we’ve got the original and two copies.  (thinks hard)
DAD:  (possibly enslaved by television)
ME:  I’m thinking… if it’s alright with you… I’ll take the original with me for safe-keeping?  And I can leave one or two copies with you?
DAD:  Yeah, leave ‘em here.
ME:  Shall I put them in your laptop bag?
DAD:  (considers)  Yeah, do that.
ME:  (fetches bag)  (removes my copy from envelope)
DAD:  (grabs arm)  Let’s not… draw attention to this.
ME:  … Well I wasn’t going to hand-deliver his copy, if that’s what you’re getting at.
DAD:  (grins)
ME:  I like all my bits where they are, and if that man doesn’t already own a gun I’m sure he knows where to get one.
DAD:  (nods, goes back to television)

 

 

After that we played a fun game where my father proved who was really in charge of his care by requesting his BiPAP after all… for about ten minutes.  Then he wanted it off.  Then on again.  Then he needed it adjusted.  Then it was the wrong mask; the wrong headpiece (that actually might have been legit, and I called for a new one in the size he’d been wearing before all this) and the wrong settings.  Then he wanted it off again.  Then he wanted it on, but I was to wake him in exactly 40 minutes…

 

Ever watched a Marine on a power trip?  Because they do it like nobody else can.

 

Eventually it was time for me to make one last plea to wiggle out of The Meeting.

 

 

ME:  Dad, I should get going soon if you still want me to go to that thing with Kenny and—
DAD:  Yeah, go (waves me off)
ME:  But… here’s the thing… you wanted me to go there to make sure the girls know we support Kenny living in the house—
DAD:  (looks up suddenly)  Only if you do!
ME:  Of course I do!  I love the idea!  I’m… I’m not ready for strangers to live in my home, you know?  Even if I’m not welcome there, it’s…
DAD:  (holds hand)  I know.  I’m not ready for it either.  I don’t know (emotionally)  if I’ll ever be ready for it.
ME:  (nods)  So we’re agreed on that, though I don’t see where it’s any of their business where their brother lives.  Not like they ever cared before.  But the other thing…
DAD:  ?
ME:  The burial?
DAD:  At the base (nods)
ME:  (shakes head)  I tried to tell Kenny about it yesterday, and he doesn’t believe me.  They’re not going to believe me.
DAD:  Then I’ll talk to them.
ME:  (desperately)  Then why am I going at all?
DAD:  Because I want you to have a say!
ME:  They won’t let me!
DAD:  (mulishly)  They will.
ME:  (bites lip)  (looks off)  They don’t even believe me about your wishes when I’m the one here talking to you.
DAD:  Convince them.[2]
ME:  Okay, and when that doesn’t work?
DAD:  (sighs)
ME:  When that doesn’t work  (sets his cell phone within easy reach)  I’m going to call you.  And you’re going to pick up.  And I’m going to put you on speaker phone so they can all hear you say this is what you want.
DAD:  (smiles indulgently)  Okay.  (pats hand)
ME:  I’m going now.  (pointedly)  Call you in a bit.

 

 

 

I was late to the meeting and still beat them there.

 

The nice funeral lady[3] fussed over me, asking after my father and when she realized I was the one who’d been at his side all day every day (not bragging, just… she asked when the others had been by and I answered honestly) she sat me down and insisted on a cup of tea and some snacks.  My stomach was, at that point, rejecting food and all its empty promises but I gratefully accepted the tea.

 

And braced myself for the arrival of The Three.

 

 

ME:  Hey… how are you guys holding up?
KATIE:  Oh, you know—
KENNY:  Oh, I just want you to know I’m gonna steal that Beemer out front.
ME:  Uh… What?
KENNY:  That’s a sweet ride.
LUCY:  It’s not hers!
ME:  (smiles awkwardly)  It’s not, so…
KENNY:  Well—
LUCY:  It’s a rental!
ME:  (flustered)  Actually, it’s just… on loan.  From my friend.
KATIE:  (sits)
KENNY:  Oh?
FUNERAL LADY:  Kenny, I’m going to have to take your seat here because it’s where my laptop—
KENNY:  (sits far from me, at laptop)
KENNY’S WIFE: [4] (remains beside him)
FL:  … Or I can move…
ME:  (smiles apologetically)
KENNY:  So what’s with the car?
ME:  Um… it’s just on loan.  From the friends I’m staying with.
KENNY:  They had a spare BMW?  (scoffs)
LUCY:  (pours coffee, fiddles with cigarettes)
ME:  (quietly)  He’s a collector… it’s what they have.
KATIE:  (chirps)  Well, everyone’s here!
KENNY:  Yup.
LUCY:  (grumbles)
FL:  Let me just…
KATIE:  And we’ve been to see the plot—
KENNY:  Yeah, we just went to see where they’re going to be buried, and that looks nice.
ME:  Um… (raises hand)
LUCY:  (glares)
ME:  Just one small point… Dad and I were talking and he wanted them to be buried at the (base) cemetery.
FL:  Oh, he’s a veteran?
KENNY:  That’s not what he wants.
LUCY:  (to meWHY THE HELL DID WE JUST GO THROUGH ALL THAT EMOTIONAL TURMOIL, THEN?!
ME:  I… I’m sorry for that.  I did mention it to Kenny, that this was what Dad wants—
KENNY:  And I talked to him today and he said he doesn’t want that.
ME:  (tilts head)  Today?[5]
KENNY:  Yeah, when we were on our way… in the car… earlier!
ME:  (looks around for confirmation)
KATIE:  (blinks at Kenny)
LUCY:  (glares at me)
ME:  Well then I’m confused.  Because I just left Dad’s hospital room with instructions to come here and convey his wishes to you.
KENNY:  Well it’s too late—
KATIE:  Mom said she didn’t want—
LUCY:  I just want to know what the hell is going on!  Because we just went through hell, tromping through a graveyard looking at where our mother will be buried and now you’re saying we didn’t need to do all that!
ME:  (holds up hand)  Let me call him, and we’ll sort this quickly.  (to FL)  So sorry.
FL:  (shaken)  It’s fine…
ME:  (steps away to dial)
KATIE:  Mom always said…
LUCY:  (over her sister)  Why are we…
KENNY:  (over both)  I talked to him today…
DAD:  Hello?
ME:  Hey, Dad.  I’m here at the funeral home, at The Meeting.
DAD:  Is everyone there?
ME:  Yeah, everyone’s here—Kenny and Katie and Lucy and… Kenny’s wife.[6]
DAD:  Good.
ME:  Well, not really.  Because I brought up the (base) cemetery and now everyone’s confused.  Because Kenny said he just talked to you and you don’t want that.
DAD:  (sighs)  How much does theirs cost?
ME:  (tucks head back in room)  (ignores stares, glances at screen)  Just over 13,000.
DAD:  And how much is the base?
ME:  Less than 5,000.
FL:  Actually, the base plot is free.  Ours is 1,200
ME:  Right, but that was for the total—
KENNY:  She says it’s free!  She would know![7]
ME:  … They’re saying it’s free at the base, but 1200 each here.
DAD:  Then let’s do that.
ME:  Okay.  I’m gonna put you on speakerphone so everyone can hear that, okay?
DAD:  (sighs)  Okay.
ME:  (puts him on, sets phone on table)  Everyone can hear you, Dad
DAD:  I WANT TO BE BURIED AT (base)!
KENNY:  Okay, Lee, we were just confused because—
LUCY:  I suggested it—
DAD:  JUST DO IT THAT WAY.  IT’S CHEAPER!
ME:  Okay, Dad… Everyone heard you.  I’m gonna hang up now so we can get on planning that, okay?
DAD:  Okay.  I love you.
ME:  Love you too.  (hangs up, sits down)
FL:  So what  we’ll need is a copy of his DD-214 and I’ll see if I can get with (base) to schedule a service.
KENNY:  Chase has that.
ME:  So do you.
KENNY:  No I don’t—you took it.
ME:  And I texted it to you, emailed it to you, and mailed six copies to the house—what happened to two electronic copies and six hard copies?
KENNY:  I don’t know anything about that.  (to FL) Chase has it.
FL:  I don’t need it today, but I can’t get things moving with (base) until—
LUCY:  If Chase took it then it’s her responsibility—
ME:  Because I texted it to Kenny, and emailed it to him, I should have copies in my sent email and sent texts.  (picks up phone)  Can I print from here?
FL:  Let me… go check…
LUCY:  (ominously)  It’s too many cooks…

 

 

We got the DD-214 sorted and a funeral planned—with many grumbled complaints of “too many cooks” from Lucy in between her frequent smoke breaks.  I never did figure out what her actual complaint was about my presence; it’s not like I was allowed to voice an actual opinion on anything.

 

The lovely funeral lady kept stepping in and out, under the guise of coordinating with someone at the base—honestly, I think she was just ducking away from our little kennel of crazy and I don’t blame her.

 

 

KENNY:  I just always remember Mom saying that they didn’t want to be buried in a military cemetery or any of that because Lee hates the VA and hates the military.[8]
LUCY:  I suggested the base, because that’s how we did my dad and I know it’s cheaper…
KATIE:  Well, it’s done now.  I just hope they’ll be able to do it while we’re all still here.
LUCY:  Oh, probably not.  I only got three days, two of ‘em travel days.[9]
ME:  (surprised)
KATIE:  Well… maybe they can.  It would be sad if nobody can go to the funeral now because of this change…
KENNY:  Yeah…
LUCY:  I just wish we hadn’t been put through that hell of going to the cemetery and checking out their plots.
ME:  Those thumbprint necklaces are creepy.
KATIE:  Yeah, I don’t want anything like that
LUCY:  Nah, that stuff is all (shudders)

 

 

Oh!  The headstone was a special hour-long hell.

 

See, at a national cemetery you’re allowed one emblem of belief and one inscribed sentiment, usually no more than eight words.  As they’re going for a uniform appearance, there’s no wiggle room on these points.  There’s an impressive array of symbols to choose from, but you must choose one and you’re only allowed one and it must be from that list.

 

How many times do you think I answered the question, “Is there a butterfly?  Mom really loved butterflies.”

 

Stan Marsh facepalm

 

 

KATIE:  No crosses or anything like—
KENNY:  Yeah, Mom wasn’t really—
LUCY:  Oh, she hated the Catholic Church!
ME:  (recalls her dying wish that my father return to the Church, says nothing)
KENNY:  Yeah… What about this bird thing?… what’s this one symbolize?
KATIE:  Are there any butterflies?
KENNY:  I don’t see any, but maybe they can—
LUCY:  Ma really loved butterflies.

 

 

 

Finally I handed a sheet to each of them and had them mark their top four—no, Kenny, don’t just circle them, actually mark 1-2-3-4—and pass them back to me.  Lucy told everyone what she liked and left to smoke again.

 

 

ME:  (looking over votes)  Okay.  It looks like everyone liked the Celtic cross.
KATIE:  I like that one
KENNY:  …
ME:  It wasn’t anybody’s favorite… actually, it was everybody’s number four vote… but it’s also the only one you all had in common.
KATIE:  Really?  (to Kenny)  You didn’t like the Infinity symbol?
KENNY:  Mom didn’t really go in for that mystic stuff.
ME:  (WTF eyebrow goes into spasms)
KATIE:  It’s not mystic, it’s—
LUCY:  (bursts through door)  So did we pick something?
KENNY:  I guess.  (points at me like it’s my fault)
ME:  You all liked the Celtic cross.
LUCY:  (nods)  I like that one.
KENNY:  (grumbles)
ME:  Now, there are two Celtic crosses on here—And Lucy, you said Celtic cross but I wasn’t sure which one you meant so I went with this one… (points to “Catholic Celtic cross”)
KATIE:  That one’s—
LUCY:  Oh, Ma didn’t like anything Catholic!
KENNY:  She hated the—
ME:  (sharply)  Yes but—as the only actual Catholic in the room—(stares all around)  I can promise you these little notches have no special liturgical significance.  (unleashes eyebrow at Kenny)
KENNY:  (subsides)
ME:  Besides… (suddenly inspired)  It’s not like anybody’s going to look at this and go knocking on her new door and want to talk Catholic dogma with her, right?  And!  This one will show up better than the other… (now blatantly pandering)  won’t it, Lucy?
KENNY:  (turns to Lucy)
KATIE:  (turns to Lucy)
LUCY:  … It should, yeah.  ‘Cuz of the white stone, all this will be carved in and darkened.  (points)
KENNY:  Okay so that’s settled!  (taps table)  Where’s Funeral Lady?
ME:  (frowns at sad, empty teacup)
LUCY:  Didn’t they have any butterflies?

 

 

No, they did not have any butterflies.  Because it’s an emblem of faith, and there is—to my knowledge—no Church of the Butterfly!

 

There’s even a bit on the site (and on the sheet we were given) about how the emblem you choose is meant to honestly reflect the beliefs of the family and of the individual during their life.  So their attempts to pick a pretty picture were—if not specifically offensive, like Lucy’s suggestion that we go with “the one with the wineglass”—absolutely not in line with the intent of the list.

 

I don’t even know what was decided about her inscription, because that was quietly written down and approved by all without my seeing it.  No, I am not kidding.  That’s how fucking petty these bitches got, right in front of me and a professional funeral planner.

 

It’ll probably say Chase is a raging cunt.

 

And always—always—the constant litany of “too many cooks” from Lucy every time I opened my mouth, even if it was to agree with them.

 

Fun!

 

Actually, she did acknowledge one benefit of my presence…

 

 

ME:  I could probably go now, actually… I was really only here for that one thing; Dad wanted me to make sure everyone knew he supports Kenny staying in the house and that he wanted to be buried at the base, so—
LUCY:  See, and we’re getting conflicting stories!  ‘Cuz he told us that you asked to be here.
ME:  (to Kenny)  Oh really?
KENNY:  (awkwardly)  Well… (clears throat)  That’s what he told me.
ME:  (raises eyebrow)
KATIE:  It’s good that Chase is here though, because—
LUCY:  ‘Cuz she’s gonna be doing this all alone when it’s her dad’s turn, so she needs to see how it’s done.
KENNY:  Yeah.
ME:  (surprised)[10]
LUCY:  (sighs, leans back)  I just wish Lee was here.  He’s the one that’s supposed to be doing this, you know?
KENNY:  Yeah.
ME:  …
LUCY:  I never had to worry about Mom with him around. I’d call and he’d say, “She’s fine!  I’ll call you if that changes!”  and I’d say, Okay… and that was it.[11]
KENNY:  Yeah.
ME:  (stunned)
KATIE:  Well we’ll go see him after this; tell him what we’ve planned.
KENNY:  Are you going back to the hospital?
ME:  (nods)
LUCY:  We’ll stop for lunch first though, right?
KATIE:  Oh yeah, sure… although… I should go to a meeting… (pulls out phone)
KENNY:  (still to me)  I mean, are you going right back?
ME:  I… might stop to grab a bite, but probably right back, yeah.
KENNY:  Okay.  Well, you can show him but we’ll probably stop by…
KATIE:  How’s he been?
LUCY:  I’m sure he’s handling this a lot better than we are.  If he were doing this, he’d just tell me what time to show up and everything else would be (gestures)  handled.
ME:  (appalled)  He’s… you know.  Good days and bad.  It’s been rough.
KATIE:  (nods)
KENNY:  Well we know what that’s like, don’t we?  (looks ‘round at sisters)
LUCY:  Oh yeah.
ME:  Today’s been a tough one, but… he was getting better before I left.
KENNY:  He making you fetch and carry for him?
ME:  (shrugs, not about to be caught in that trap)  The hospital’s really good.
KENNY:  And then once you bring ‘em the thing they asked for they don’t want it anymore!
ME:  (seizes opportunity)  Well, you will have to learn about his sandwiches, since you’re going to be here and I won’t.
KENNY:  His… sandwiches?
ME:  (recites)  Just enough peanut butter to keep the jelly from soaking through the bread; four and a half packets of jelly—not five, though he’ll ask you for five, because then the whole fifth packet will glop out and go to waste—four and a half is the perfect balance for him.
KATIE:  (stares)
LUCY:  (snorts)
KENNY:  (gapes)  He’s getting that particular?
ME:  Sorry, have you never met my father?
LUCY:  He’s probably getting bored!
KENNY:  Hasn’t he got anything to do in that hospital?
ME:  (stares)  Well, I visit.
KATIE:  (looks uncomfortable)
KENNY:  (studies table)
ME:  And there’s his physical therapy, but he’s not really working on that because he’s been so depressed.  You know, because his wife of over 30 years died.
KATIE:  …
LUCY:  …
KENNY:  …
ME:  So yeah, there have been some tough days.  But some okay ones too.  Hell, just the other day he…
KATIE:  What?
ME:  (shrugs)  He called me a godsend.  And then today he said I was the love of his life, the reason he wakes up every morning.
SIBLINGS:  (laugh)[12]
KENNY:  (still laughing)  Who did he think you were?
LUCY:  (cackling)  Yeah, cuz Mom’s dead!
ME:  (narrows eyes)  Ac—
FL:  (pops head in)  Quick question—who’s the beneficiary on this life insurance policy?
LUCY:  (gestures at her side of the table)  We are.  Her kids.
ME:  (quirks eyebrow)
KENNY:  Actually…  (coughs)  Her husband is.
LUCY:  But only if he outlives her by 30 days—
KENNY:  (hurriedly, with shushing gesture)  Yeah, it’s Lee.
ME:  (intrigued)[13]
FL:  And—just to check—is this a group policy?
SIBLINGS:  (share confused look)
ME:  (sighs) N—
FL:  I mean, is it through her employer, or…?
KENNY:  Oh.  No….
LUCY:  No, I don’t think…
ME:  (bored)  She hasn’t worked a day since she married my father.
KATIE:  (startled)
LUCY:  (stares, slack-jawed)
KENNY:  (frowns thoughtfully)
FL:  Okay then!  (exits quickly)
KATIE:  I… I guess that’s—
LUCY:  (shrugs)  He took care of her.  Like I said—
KENNY:  I thought she had—
ME:  (to Kenny)  Nope.  Not a day.  Not in all the years I knew her.[14]
LUCY:  Well, I wouldn’t know ‘cuz I was her dirty little secret.
KENNY:  (snorts)
ME:  (raises eyebrow)[15]
KATIE:  (to me)  You have to understand, our mother didn’t raise us.
LUCY:  Nope.  Dumped me off with Grandma and Grandpa.
KATIE:  So we have a lot of anger—
LUCY:  I’m not mad at mom; she did what she had to do.
ME:  (offers incredulous side-eye)
KATIE:  (to Lucy)  Well I have a lot of anger toward her about it.  (gestures)  Kenny and I went to foster care.
LUCY:  At least she wasn’t ashamed of you![16]  I didn’t even know they were married until—
KATIE:  Oh, none of us knew they were married, right?
ME:  I told you how I found out, right?
KATIE:  I think…
ME:  Well, I went to visit my dad one summer…

 

 

… And mind you, this was the first summer in years because my mother… well, let’s just say her philosophy on custody agreements was that they really only applied to other people.  But all of a sudden, there I was flying down to San Diego to see my daddy for the first time in ages.  And he met me at the airport with this woman.   Said he hoped I didn’t mind that he brought his “lady friend” with him.

 

I was ten, not stupid.

 

Then we went to dinner.  And she kept staring at me.  I sat there, sipping my Shirley Temple (she had a screwdriver, I remember that like it was yesterday; she was drinking screwdrivers back then—she had a brief fling with blush wines in the early 90’s but she always went back to screwdrivers.  I don’t get them in bars unless they’re using real orange juice, but otherwise we’re in agreement that it’s basically the perfect beverage) thinking, what is your deal lady?  Have you never seen a kid before?  So yeah, I kept looking back at her, out of the corner of my eye, you know… mostly trying to figure out why my father’s weird girlfriend was staring at me.

 

My father, perceptive as always, finally broke the awkward silence.  You keep looking at her, he observed.  What do you think?

 

I said she seemed fine.  I mean… was I supposed to rate her or something?

 

That’s when he confessed she wasn’t just his friend… she was his girlfriend.

 

I think I might have actually said “duh.”

 

But then we went home and as we parked he laid another “confession” on me: actually, she lived with him too.

 

My “emotionally fragile 10-year-old” response?

 

“Okay… cool.”

 

And so we went for weeks before one day Marsha finally burst and blurted out to me, I don’t know why he hasn’t just told you yet, but we’re actually married.

 

 

ME:  (slaps table)
KATIE:  …
LUCY:  I’m surprised she out and told you like that.  ‘Cuz Mom loooooved her secrets!  (sneers)  Didn’t she Kenny?
KENNY:  Oh yeah.
ME:  Well, I think it—[17]
LUCY:  How old were you, Kenny, when you found out I existed?
KENNY:  I don’t…
ME:  (shocked)[18]
LUCY:  Oh yeah, he didn’t know I existed until we were grown up.
KATIE:  The first time we met?  (points between herself and Lucy)  Was in the hospice room with Mom.  This month.
LUCY:  Yup.  ‘Cuz she was ashamed of me.
KATIE:  She wasn’t—
LUCY:  She was; she didn’t like tellin’ people about me because I made her old.
ME:  ?
LUCY:  Your dad is eight years younger than her.
ME:  I know this.  (patiently)  So does he.
LUCY:  But he didn’t at the time!
ME:  (remembers 1989 Marsha, considers that unlikely)[19]
LUCY:  I used to have to call her in secret, ‘cuz she didn’t want him to find out about me.
ME:  …
LUCY:  I’ll bet you didn’t know about me either!
ME:  I did.
LUCY:  (scoffs)
ME:  She told me about all of you.  I think… Yeah, that first summer I started hearing about—
LUCY:  But not me.    
ME:  (tuning on her)  Actually, I have a favorite Lucy Story.  Would you like to hear it?
LUCY:  (waves)  Lay it on me.  We’ll see if it’s even—
ME:  (grandly, warming to the role of storyteller)  I’ll tell you my favorite Lucy Story—as it was told to me—and you tell me how much of it is true.
LUCY:  (nods)
ME:  Because we already know my favorite Kenny story, about the time he lit the fridge on fire making kool-aid—
KENNY:  I didn’t—
ME:  (holds up hand)  Give it up, Kenny, we’ve all heard the story!
KATIE:  (giggles)
ME:  This is how I heard it…

 

 

Lucy was out with her boyfriend at the time—date night, it’s so important for couples, isn’t it?  Anyway, they went out to a bar or something, had a couple of drinks, talked… whatever.  Our story isn’t about their conversation so I can’t report on that, but I like to imagine they were still in the early stages where he was trying to impress her with his listening skills without actually having any and she was dazzling him with her encyclopedic knowledge of whatever sports team he mentioned once.

 

I do not miss dating.

 

At some point in the evening, Lucy excused herself to the restroom.  Everybody pees, y’all, especially when someone else is buying the whiskey.

 

Also?  This is when our story gets interesting.

 

Lucy came back from the restroom to find her man—maybe not so much her boyfriend after all, but certainly her date and therefore reasonably presumed to be hers for the whole evening—chatting up another woman in entirely too friendly a manner, if you take my meaning.

 

He was, to put it crudely, fully hitting on some skank while his date was in the toilet.

 

Now, some women would scream, argue, make a scene.  These, I am here to tell you, are lesser women.

 

Lucy walked right up to the guy and—without a word spoken—punched that motherfucker out.

 

Lucy then walked calmly back to the bar and ordered herself a drink.  Which she did not pay for, because everyone agreed that was epic.

 

 

LUCY:  Not quite.
ME:  Oh?
LUCY:  Lucy was the bartender.  Went to the back to get another case and heard her boyfriend on the bar phone—my work phone—telling another woman to “come on over, baby, we’ll have a real good time.”  Getting all explicit about what he was gonna do.
ME:  (wrinkles nose)  Ick.
LUCY:  Oh yeah… she loved telling that story.  (mocking)  ‘Cuz I was such a bitch.
ME:  … Actually, it was always told to me as a Lucy’s so strong, Lucy’s such a badass, Lucy takes no shit from anybody  type of story.  “Be more like Lucy, Chase!”
LUCY:  …
KATIE:  (eagerly)  Do you have a favorite story about me?
ME:  … I—[20]
FL:  (pops in) Okay, I’ve got everything settled with (base) and we’ve got you in their schedule…

 

 

 

And that was it.  Marsha would go in the ground the following week and I…

 

I would have to sort out a lot of feelings on my own, somehow.

 

I stood at the big window of the funeral home, watching them pile into Kenny’s car and drive away, loving and supporting each other.

 

 

 

FUNERAL LADY:  (gently)  You did good.
ME:  (without turning)  I think I did fucking amazing, considering I just planned a funeral for a woman who hated me.
FL:  (gasps)
ME:  (turns, smiles)
FL:  (puts hand on my shoulder)  Now, do you know that, or—
ME:  Oh, everyone’s told me.  (frowns)  Everyone except her, of course.  She did love her secrets…
FL:  I’m so sorry…
ME:  (shrugs)  Just… bury her.  I did my part.
FL:  I’m sure your father is grateful.
ME:  (smiles)  He isn’t.  But… (sighs)  What are you gonna do, eh?

 

 

 

On the drive back to the hospital I thought about my last conversations with Marsha—her demands, her prevarications, her accusations—and searched for the clues I must have missed; the proof and the truth of our relationship.

 

I recalled her interrupted request for forgiveness, and mulled over that question.

 

I’m aware this might fall under the heading of Unpopular Opinion, but you’re not here for anything else so here’s where I’ve landed on forgiveness in general:

 

  • Forgiveness is requested or offered in instances of debt, be it financial/tangible, spiritual, or emotional.
  • Forgiveness does not redeem the debtor; it merely relieves the obligee of the burden of collecting.
  • Forgiveness is most useful in cases of bad debt, where the debtor is either unlikely or unable to repay the debt and the cost (again, be it financial, emotional, or spiritual) of collecting is too high for the obligee to contemplate.
  • In any case, the forgiven debtor remains a bad risk; hence the expression: forgiven, not forgotten.

 

Marsha—for neglecting my father’s poor health, endangering his life by lying to hospital staff, and keeping me away from him in what might have been his last moments on this earth—owed me a debt she had no ability to repay, even when she was alive.  My only possible recourse was to forgive her.

 

But.

 

I also knew, on that not-so-long-ago day, that what she was asking for was not forgiveness.  It wasn’t even redemption, which is what people so often seek when they mistakenly ask forgiveness.  No, what she wanted was to hear me say I actually thought she’d done a fine job taking care of my father, all things considered.  She wanted me to erase the past—and that’s a thing I won’t pretend to do.

 

Not even for a dying woman.

 

So.  Now you know why I withheld “forgiveness” when she asked; if I had said to her, Marsha, I love you and I forgive you… she would have then wanted to discuss why she didn’t actually do anything all that wrong.

 

It’s right there in the ask, if you know where to look:

 

“But I do love him.”

“But I did try.”

 

I did forgive her.  On my own, because the forgiveness is for my benefit, not hers.

 

I dragged my battered soul into the hospital one last time; up the elevator, down my father’s hall… and there I paused, sensing something in the air.

 

There was the distinct tingle of… stupid.

 

I flagged a passing nurse.

 

 

ME:  (nodding toward Dad’s door)  Are they still in there?
NURSE:  (surprised)  No… they just left, oh, less than five minutes ago?
ME:  (narrows eyes)  Oh, Kenny.

 

closeup of jaguar, lips peeled back in snarl, eyes locked on camera

 

 

 

[1] As of the time of this writing.  Which is a few days before actual publication, so I make no promises.

[2] Look, I know I’ve got some powers of persuasion—I have, in fact, sold cheese to a vegan (long story).  But given the siblings’ natural bias against me, the smear campaign by Mark, and the truncated timetable of a funeral planning meeting?  This was asking for some “I heard a rumor” level abilities, which I do not possess.  (If I did, I wouldn’t currently live in a shitty haunted house with a creepy –ass neighbor who doesn’t actually live there but reports me for having my trees trimmed.

[3] Her official title is Funeral Director, but she’s a funeral lady. Your job is creepy, madam; own it.

[4] The new one.  New-ish?  For the life of me I cannot recall her name.  She might be the most irrelevant person I’ve ever met, but that’s a discussion for another time.  Dad has a similar impression, by the way, but he blames Kenny—thinks he doesn’t treat his wife like a wife.  Given that I’m married to a man who barely talks at all yet still everyone he works with knows my name, I’m inclined to agree.

[5] O rly?

[6] Seriously.  Can’t ever remember.

[7] It took me a while to figure out what this was about, I’m embarrassed to say: Kenny had already agreed/decided to deal with this funeral home and was not now going to hear about how much cheaper it would be to let the professionals at the national cemetery handle it.  So we ended up paying more than we should have, more than most people buried where Marsha rests paid.  He later informed me that I would need to go back to this same place in order to make sure everything “matched.”  I said nothing, because as far as I’m concerned neither of them will give half a fuck if their coffins clash.  And I have no intention of sitting through the hard-sell of guilt when I’m grieving my father.

[8] Hates the military?  Nope, that was me.  Hates the VA?  Nah… nothing wrong with the VA that funding it won’t fix.

[9] Quick mental math… she wasn’t going to be able to make her mother’s funeral no matter where we put her.  Maybe if we stuffed her in a Hefty bag and buried her in the back yard—but not too deep, because a good hole takes time to dig…

[10] So they’ll take his money—not just for the last 30 years, mind, but after he’s dead—but they won’t show up for his funeral?  Are y’all hearing this?

[11] This was, you’ll recall, precisely the problem that got them into this mess: their refusal to speak honestly with anyone else about what was actually going on.  Marsha covered for Dad’s deteriorating condition and Dad minimized Marsha’s.  Now, he told me she was wasting away and so forth, but when I got worried and announced I was flying out suddenly that was unnecessary and she was doing much better.  Clearly he told these three even less, and now she’s dead of the cancer our parents ignored, and they’re nostalgic for that shit?

[12] This is why I don’t share with the group.

[13] Have you ever heard of such a clause?  Apparently Marsha’s will was also written thus: her husband to inherit everything, but only if he survived her by at least 30 days.  Otherwise, all to her three children and only her three children.  She never made that change she so grandly promised.

[14] Let that sink in.  The “estate” they’re squabbling over?  All his.  Literally.  Every penny of it earned by him, every improvement on that house done by his hands and to the detriment of his health.  His shoulder permanently destroyed by the addition of the fireplace, his spine deteriorated by the kitchen remodel and the garage.  Oh, but they don’t think I—his only child—am entitled to any of it.  Because their mommy didn’t like me.

[15] This is how my father should have sold this meeting.

[16] Nope, no anger at all.

[17] Here’s the thing: I know why she had to tell me.  I made it impossible for her to keep a secret like that.  I was, as I’ve said, no dummy.  So I spent those weeks watching them together and seeing how close they were and visions of orange blossoms popped into my head because—think backI really wanted my parents to hurry up and marry other people. So there I was, bopping around her every day, all bright-eyed and talking about if they someday got married could I come to the wedding, could I maybe even be in the wedding… how was she going to keep lying into my big hopeful eyes?

[18] They had.  The same.  FATHER!

[19] Dad’s eyes were bad, but not that bad.  She’s one of those unfortunate women who… didn’t age well.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that—other than the skin cancer thing—just… it’s more likely that Dad guessed 55 than 35 when they met, unless he was beer-goggling harder than usual.

[20] I have absolutely no idea where I was going to go with this sentence.  Because no, I don’t have a favorite Katie story.  I don’t remember any Katie stories… and in that moment, I suddenly realized just what that meant and how sad it was.

 

 

Lost? Start at the beginning.

 

 

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9 comments on “Chapter Thirteen: The Meeting

  1. Rivergirl says:

    Another battle won. But lord… so many secrets, so many lies and manipulations. I’m sorry to speak ill of the dead, but Marsha sounds like she was a real piece of work.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Losing the Plot says:

    I am seriously rooting for Karma to ride into town in a Mercedes S-Class, margarita in hand ready to dish it out in spoonfuls to all the MFs who seriously need it!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I’m so sorry you’ve been going through this. My family is headed toward the same situation with what I’m hoping is far less drama someday soon. I’m kind of glad that there was only one thing of my parents that I ever wanted (their old naugahyde couch) and they threw it out when I went to college.

    I have heard of life insurance clauses like that — I think they are usually put in so that if there is something like a car accident which kills both people they aren’t stuck trying to determine who died first.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. nbratscott says:

    Did they have a Flying Spaghetti Monster for the headstone? (asking for a friend)

    Like

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