How to Live
You wake up and pretend you weren't just in the funeral home yesterday viewing your grandpa lying there with make-up on, in a casket. You throw the covers back and step into the bright morning sun as it streams in through the bedroom window on your side. You try to not wake-up fully, you look down, at your feet next to you are your white bunny slippers. You remember your grandpa gave them to you last year and you thought you were too old for them. You reluctantly faked a smile. You knew he could tell.
You head down the hall to the bathroom in your bunny slippers and you lock the door out of habit. You look at yourself in the oval mirror. Your bloodshot eyes and red nose make you look like you have been all night binge. You know you wouldn't touch a drink, haven't in years. You won't touch one now. You also know you were crying more than a few times yesterday and into last night. You will dab cold water on your face and you will try to smile at the way your hair is spiraling in yellow ringlets like haystacks around your head. You will then think better of it and start the shower.
You will let your tears run with the water as it releases the tension you weren't aware you were holding in your shoulders. You will wash your hair with your favorite blackberry scented shampoo
to hold on to the safe and the familiar. You will take your time knowing you don't want to go downstairs to the empty farmhouse kitchen. The kitchen that your grandparents raised you in.
You will try not to remember the phone call Grandpa Jack took in that kitchen telling you your life was over at age ten. Your Mom, Dad, little brother, Jimmy, and Grandma Lily had been hit head on by a drunk driver and no one survived. You won't remember that you thought your Grandpa was strong and you were not. You remember Grandpa making the arrangements: talking with the funeral home, settling the insurance claims, selling your parents house, and all of the other mundane details. You remember Aunt Cheryl, your Dad's sister, flying in from Tokyo where she worked as a teacher. How she only stayed a week and was gone.
You will remember Grandpa had stayed with you that night because you were sick. You will also remember him tucking you in at night and helping you with your homework. You will remember sneaking downstairs. He never realized you traveled downstairs sometimes. You won't remember that you realized he wasn't that strong one evening, two years ago. When you heard him crying, you quietly went back upstairs. You will remember the first time you realized that your Grandpa wasn't well and how you had held his hands and prayed with him at the sturdy wooden kitchen table. You will remember he called them “chest pains”.
Before the shower runs lukewarm, and before it turns cold, get out. You will need to wrap one towel around your wet head and dry off with another. Apply your eye cream, you need it. Your robe is hanging on the back of the door where you leave it most days. You can wear it while deciding on real clothes. You go back to your room and it is brighter as the sun rises fully. You open your closet door and realize you don't need to dress up, the funeral is over. You decide on your broken in jeans and a long sleeve cotton red shirt. Red to cheer yourself up. The one thing you know, and you learned it a long time ago, we are not promised tomorrow. You will grab some stripey socks from your dresser drawer, slip into your clogs, and make yourself go downstairs to the kitchen, you know you need breakfast.
Follow the same morning routine, as usual, you need the comfort of the ritual. You will get your tea kettle, already full of water boiling, pull a blueberry mug from the cupboard, and open the tin marked 'Earl Grey'. You will pour the water over the tea bag in your mug and grab the Silk creamer from the fridge. The same fridge Grandma Lily had for fifty years, the Coldspot, the coldest fridge in the free world. “It is really energy-efficient, too,” you remember your Grandpa reminding you. Your Grandpa tested it with a volt meter about six years ago when you, freshman in high school, suggested it needed replacing. You will half-smile at the memory.
You open a box of raisin bran and get a bowl from the cabinet. Opening the drawer to your right you grab a spoon. Opening the Coldspot again your take out the milk. Combining all of these you create the perfect after a funeral breakfast. You sit down at the kitchen table. The problem with sitting and not doing is the time to ruminate over loose ends and definites. That is what funerals do, though, they create a sense of urgency to life. Grief transforms your simple breakfast into a journey into your own mortality. All the people you haven't called because you were too busy. All of items on your bucket list unchecked before you kick it. All of the dreams just within your reach, yet, unattained.
You know you can't continue sinking in memory, loss, and regret. You pick up the cell phone where you left it on the table yesterday, after hanging up with Aunt Cheryl who could only stay for two days before the funeral and had to leave right out on an evening flight the day of. Your Aunt had said her good-byes, quickly, and rushed to the airport, calling later to apologize to you for not being able to stay. A year before she had met a businessman in Tokyo who was from Australia, he owned a large ranch and they had fallen hard for each other. The wedding actually took place there and you had gone. It was your first trip out of the country.
Cheryl had invited you to come with her on this trip back, offered to buy you a ticket. You had insisted you had so much to do still. Although, you had handled everything possible to do without the death certificate, to keep yourself from thinking of the funeral. You had been named executor of the estate, not your Aunt. She had been the one to insist, actually, that you be named beneficiary, as well. You had to handle all of the insurance claims and the paperwork for the bank. You had much to do once you had the paper, however, the Corner had said it would be at minimum three weeks to process the death certificate. There was a rush on death, he had joked. You didn't laugh. Corner humor, he apologized.
You really need to talk to a friend. Your first thought is of Anton. You spoke with him yesterday, but he said to call again. You push the glowing blue number two button on your phone. You hear the tone of ringing. Halfway through the second ring you hear the familiar, “Hello beautiful.” in Anton's sleepy welsh accent. You will not tell him how much you miss him.
You will not tell him how much you enjoyed spending time with him two months ago, the month before your birthday, when he was close to your place while working on a project .You will not tell him you need him, how much you love him. You won't tell him how much you wish he was here and how hard it is to be here alone. You will let him talk you into dropping everything and leaving. You will listen as he slips and reveals a bit of his plan to have you in his life.
You are going to Heathrow on the red-eye with the ticket you purchase this evening. Anton will pick you up. If today is all there is, you are going to live it to the fullest.