The Night Before the Funeral
Mom came in and woke me up by turning on my light. She liked to do that early in the morning to wake me up. Usually she would spurt out “WILLIE, time for school,” while she put my clothes away into my closet and dresser and I would roll over and snooze some more until the last possible minute to get out of bed. Then I would rush around to get to school.
This day was different. The light flicked on. Instead of telling me it was time for school, my Mom was pulling things out of my closet. It wasn’t morning either. It was nighttime. It was late at night - the night before the funeral. Mom was asking me if I had anything Pat could wear. I had two identical sweaters. One sweater was white and black and one sweater was blue and black. Selfishly, I thought that I didn’t want him, or anyone, wearing my sweaters. I worked hard for those sweaters and bought them at my own accord. Why couldn't she just buy something for Pat to wear? Why should I give up my favorite sweater?
To this day it haunts me to see my brother lying in a coffin and wearing my favorite sweater for eternity. We were nearly the same size and it didn’t bother me when he wore my clothes while he was alive. Sometimes he would ask me ahead of time if hen could borrow my clothes, and other times he would just go into my closet and find something that he liked.
He worked hard for his money. He spend most of it on liquor and hard drugs. But he had a addiction disease and I was sympathetic to his place in the world. He would work a hard nightshift at the concrete plant in Bethel and ride his ten speed four or five miles home across hills and on busy morning streets. He would be so exhausted that he would fall onto his bed and collapse into sleep fully clothed and lying on his stomach.
I would picture him riding home as fast as he could with the wantonness of a crazy person to get his sleep. All around him was the beautiful Pennsylvania countryside with the sun coming up and the misty coolness and quiet that, to this day, I long for. For him, it was simply getting home to his bed. Everything around him was a blur. All he could think of was that bed in his tiny blue wood-paneled room with a half-view of the back porch and the little brick pump house.
I can still see him there with his work jeans, crusty concreted boots on and his dirty blue pocket t-short sprawled halfway across the bed – his arms spread and hugging his pillow like a kid hugs his teddy bear and two legs spread and one leg hanging off the side of the bed at the knee.
I look down on my rumpled always slightly dirty brother lying in the clean white-laced and open coffin, his mustache combed, and his face cherry red from the exhaust fumes. he is wearung my favorite black and white sweater topping his "Wrangler” work jeans. My Mom said that because he liked to smoke his Marlboro’s so much that she put a pack of smokes and a lighter in his jeans. I remember thinking abut the cigarettes and the lighter while I looked at his expressionless face with those sleeping eyes. I know he had his crusty concrete blonde leather boots on. I looked at him and studied his face. I wanted to touch him, but I was deathly afraid of dead bodies. I wanted to hug him, like he wanted me to hug him, two weeks before when he told me that he was going to kill himself. But I couldn't. I didnt know what to do. I tuned to my Mom and gave her an awkward hug and cried. I didn't really cry, I wailed like the "baby of the family."
My Mom always called me her baby. After all I was the baby of the family. The label was endearing. More endearing, of course, than the other nickname - the "mistake." I wasn't actually supposed to happen. My Mother tried to abort me. It was a year before Roe V. Wade so she tried to strain herself by lifting the bumper of the car (still attached) in an effort to have a miscarriage. That is where my unborn brother/sister went. There was supposed to be a baby between me and Tom, but I never met my other sibling. He or she didn't survive my Mom's other attempt at self-inflicted abortion. That kid went down the toilet, or so goes the story.
My Mom was very open about the fact that she miscarried a baby. She told the story often, probably out of guilt, or ignorance - one will never really know. But according to Mom she was out chopping wood, got stomach pains, went inside to the bathroom and had a miscarrage right there on the toilet. So instead of ladeling the poor blob out of the toilet, she flushed it down.
It was always a story I repeated because it gave my Mom an appearance of toughness. What other kid could say that their Mom was bold enough to chop wood while preganant, have a miscarriage and flush it down the toilet with a nanchalant flush of that chrome handle? What she failed to tell me was that it was planned.
At 35 I learned that I was nearly a victim of the flush. After many months of self-pity and confusion about what my relationship to my Mom should be, I came to grips with the fact that I was here and I don't know enough about my Mom's situation in 1970 to pass judgement. I did know that she lived with three kids in a trailer and was married to a drunken, violent and emotionally distraught man who happened to be my Dad. Then my opinion changed from anger to pity. Only I didn't know who to pity more - my flushed sibling, or my abused Mom.
A couple of weeks before the dat Pat killed himself, Pat admitted his plot to me and me only, with no details, after he showed me the set of aluminum wheels he stole for me. He stashed the wheels away in the chicken shed. He really wanted me to thank him and appreciate what he had done for me, but instead I scolded him and told him that I wasn’t going to accept stolen wheels, no matter how cool they were. I didn’t even know if they would fit on my Mustang.