[Excerpt only—my family would set me on fire if I revealed the entire story]
We embark on the four-hour ride back to Massachusetts. The van’s interior is deadly quiet, the vibe weighty. The mountains, terrain we had covered time and time again, sprawl out endlessly before for us, surpassing their usual proportions. We scale and scale, too much for the van’s transmission, any transmission, to climb with speedy efficiency. It is only a matter of time before one of us is going to break down and scream, beat our fists into the van’s upholstery in disbelief and frustration.
Was this an act of spite? Retribution? Self-hatred?
We don’t break down and scream or beat our fists into the van’s upholstery because two hours into the journey Dad senses we were going to break down and scream and beat our fists into the van’s upholstery, and pulls into a Dunkin Donuts. The five of us make a tearful reprieve over cups of tea and poke plastic knives into a half a dozen chocolate honey-dipped. My sister’s words, daggers to our hearts, still don’t make any sense.
How could this happen in our family?
We sit there at the three small tables we dragged together to make one. I stare at the bottom of my Styrofoam cup, dry for a long time, looking for the same things I searched for in Dennis’s face as we made a mad dash out of the inn. Confirmation of a dream, a cruel joke.
If she didn’t need us for our quotidian love, why now?
Like zombies we board the van on this day that leaves a well-earned shadow on Thanksgiving forevermore. My brother and I come to refer to the incident as “the hanging.”
Remember when the kids came over for a bit on Christmas Day? You know, before the hanging.
Their house looks as normal as others on the street. We pour out of the van in blind panic and when we see the kids, wrap ourselves around them—three numb lumps on the sofa with tear-stained cheeks.
My sister appears with a checklist in hand. Cremation, memorial, people to the house. She had already been to the morgue. The first few words she says to us is in front of her kids. They remain lodged in every one of my cells’ memory. And cells remember shit.
“He hanged himself with such conviction that he nearly took his head clean off.”
She slips her arm through my father’s and storms off to the bedroom saying, “He’s left all this mess.” She isn’t referring to the immediate, but the bills and unfinished work of family. The work and strife. Not the heartbreak of her children. This is about her, her pain and burden. Her husband had let her down at the ripe old age of thirty-six and it just plain pisses her off.
My mother puts her arm around Taylor and clutches her so tightly I figure she’ll squirm free.
Mom’s death grip is trying to melt away the pain.
My sister unleashes a tirade. The subtle bass tones of my father’s voice interject. Hell hath no fury like Chrissie scorned. The two of them stay in the bedroom for well over an hour, talking finances, the problems, the fact her husband wouldn’t replace the stove, three of four burners gone. He couldn’t have at least managed that since he worked at Home Cheapo?
When Dad emerges, my sister pries the kids away from us and into the kitchen. Dad sits down; gazes into his lap. His voice is journalistic, trance-like. “Chrissie and Tom fought last night. Tom left in a rage around midnight. Called half an hour later. Taylor picked up the phone. He said goodbye. He said he was never coming back. He said he loved her. Then Tom told Chrissie me and Mom would help take care of the kids. Then he hung up.” [END]