Thursday, November 19, 2015

In the End

Every night, after my first wife went to sleep, I would go upstairs to write in silence. Looking back on it now, it occurs to me that this practice may not have been the most conducive to a strong marriage. But oh well. I was going to be famous, you see. And fame takes committment. It would all pay off in the end. I used the piano bench for a table (having given up on a career as a concert pianist), and I had a giant old Remington typewriter that had a problem with spacing, such that the lines always leaned like the Tower of Pisa. At one o'clock sharp, I would stop writing, sit on the floor, turn on the TV and watch an hour-long offering of Three Stooges shorts. Often enough, the phone would ring and my brother would be on the other end.

"Are you watching?"

"Of course."

"Did you see what Shemp just did."

Whatever Shemp, or any of them, had done always seemed funnier when shared with my brother.

The Stooges were a sort of guilty pleasure for us. When we were little, our mom had forbidden us to watch them because they were violent and she was sure they would inspire us to hit each other with hammers or stick screwdrivers in our ears or poke each others eyes out. Doink. So we could only watch them when she wasn't around, which wasn't very often, or when my dad was there, because he thought they were funny too and said 'Oh don't be silly, let 'em watch.' It was the only thing we had in common with dad, the only thing we shared with him as kids, except for the New York Yankees, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Whitey Ford.

One time, I drove down to the old school to shoot some baskets with my brother, and when I got out of the car, I could hear him out on the asphalt, bouncing the ball, heaving it at the backboard, and making noises of frustration like Curly.

I was in my 20s then and we had some catching up to do, because we had spent some years estranged from each other. He was two years older than I and he had grown up too fast and it took me a long time to catch up. Or maybe he just finally slowed down.

In the end, it mattered more than either of us could have guessed it would. As with all young men, life seemed to have no conceivable end.

I was the first to arrive at the hospital on the final day. I had come early because my wife had things to do and she didn't want me to waste her whole day.

When I entered the room, he was already gone. Most of him was already gone. I sat on the bed and spoke, but he didn't answer. It was enough effort just to breathe. His entire being was trapped in one labored breath after another.

(Did you see what Shemp just did? Did you see that hot chick who was dancing with Larry? Did you see It when Moe twisted Curly's nose with the pliers?).

I picked up his hand, lifted it in mine, as anonymous, as unresponsive as a stick of firewood.

He stirred then, seemingly startled. He opened his eyes for a moment. Blue as the sky. They looked right through me.

"Wha", he said.

Famous last words.

"It's me," I said. "It's just me. Rich."

What the hell did I mean by that, I wondered. Just me? Like, don't worry, it ain't the angel of death. It ain't the grim reaper. Just yet. Just me. What a stupid thing to say.

(Do you remember the one where Shemp went to hell and met the woman in the skin tight devil costume, tail and all? But it was only a dream).

A pastor came into the room and asked if he could pray.

Of course.

I went to the table and picked up the phone, dialed my parents. You had better come now, I said.

It was spring. It was April 16th. 1982. It had been raining all night and now the rain had stopped but it was still dripping from the branches of the trees onto the soggy grass and the paved black paths. It wasn't light out yet. It wouldn't be light all day. It wouldn't be light for a long time to come.

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