Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Crux of the Biscuit is the Apostrophe

My (only) brother loved Frank Zappa. When we were in high school, we'd be sitting at the dinner table and he would look at me with a crazy grin and announce "I'm moving to Montana soon..." to which I'd reply "...gonna be a dental floss tycoon." We'd giggle, my father would look at us like we were speaking SerboCroation, and my mother would tell us to finish our vegetables.

This morning NPR did a story on Alexander Calder and a new exhibit of his jewelry. They finished with a piece by Frank Zappa, who apparently had been influenced by Calder, and compared his music to a Calder mobile.

My brother died a year ago July 12th. He was 47. He has three bright, beautiful daughters and a wife who adored him. He worked as a painter - of faux finishes (amazing marble work) and murals and when those weren't available, of houses, inside and out. On July 3rd he woke up with a headache, but went to the painting job anyway. He called my sister-in-law and asked her to bring some ibuprophin when she brought their 15-year old daughter to help with the painting. The two of them arrived at the same time as the ambulance; Jess on the ground where he had fallen, head first, off a ladder. When the Coos Bay Hospital realized that his situation was more serious than they could handle, he was flown via small jet to a trauma center in Portland. The short story is that for the first week the doctors told us that there was a very good chance he would wake up and recover. He might never walk again, but he would be back. We would have years of therapy, but he would wake up. I waited here in Missouri, thinking that the family had plenty of help now, but would need me more in the weeks ahead when Jess came home and learned to walk and talk again. Haley, his fabulous sister-in-law called me every evening to keep me updated. We were all terrified but continued to believe that he'd open his eyes and recognize one of us. On July 11th Haley called and said that the doctors had changed their minds, that things were indeed dire, that I needed to get there immediately. I booked a plane, and left at 6:00 the next morning.

Even though he was surrounded by loving friends and family 24 hours a day, prayed over, talked to, and tended to by the best doctors available, he was no longer there in his body. He never breathed again on his own, and on July 11th his heart stopped. A pacemaker was inserted so that his family could get back to the hospital to say 'good-bye.' The machines were turned off July 12th. When Haley called to tell me I had gotten no further than the Kansas City airport. Trying to find a private place to take that phone call was impossible. Like in a bad movie, I collapsed in a chair while fellow passengers tried not to stare. With tears and snot running down my face, I listened as Haley kindly and lovingly recounted the events. And then I got on the plane and continued on my way to Portland. I was welcomed with love and big hugs and compassion by my sister-in-law and nieces, whom I hadn't seen in years. They are truly amazing.

My relationship with Jess was tenuous, at best. Raised by crazy parents who tried but who were not up to the task, we both learned to survive, but not to consider each other allies. Family dynamics continued, and years went by where he did not speak to me. We were working on repairing the damage again, in fits and starts, through misunderstanding after misunderstanding, when he died. My mistake was in assuming we'd have years and years to patch together our differences, and that we'd grow old and gray together. We weren't that fortunate.

This morning, while writing copy for one of the books we carry in the Mercantile, The Heron Dance Book of Love and Gratitude, I found this:

Always say what you feel, and do what you think is good and right.
If I knew that today would be the last time I'd see you, I would hug you tight and pray the Lord be the keeper of your soul. If I knew that this would be the last time you pass through this door, I'd embrace you, kiss you, and call you back for more.
If I knew that this would be the last time I would hear your voice,
I'd take hold of each word to be able to hear it over and over again.
If I knew this is the last time I'd see you, I'd tell you I love you,
and would not just assume foolishly you know it already.

~Gabriel Garcia Marquez