By Adam

Everything I know about my maternal grandfather is based upon a story; George Paul died before I could remember him. He was a fighter pilot in World War II, and his plane was hit by German flak. He was a member of the Free Masons up to a point. He disagreed with one of their rituals and attempted to quit. Rumor has it he took issue with their racial policies. Years later, when he died, the Masons stepped in took care of all of the finances—the funeral, the coffin, and his old membership dues. Apparently, they took care of their own, and respected a secret taken to the grave.

My paternal grandfather, Vaughan Robinson, died long before I had a chance to meet him. After the death of my father’s mother, Vaughan, a truck driver, retreated into himself and died shortly after. A broken heart can be, and often is, fatal. After Vaughan passed, my father, only a teenager then, took it upon himself to care for his three siblings. He grew old and became a parent before his time, and it wasn’t fair to him. But there was a common thread among my forbearers: they understood responsibility.

Apparently, at the dinner table, George Paul would ask basic trivia questions to his children and grandchildren, and those who answered incorrectly were met with a rap from the handle of a butter knife. Why, after his heroic and selfless life, this is the only thing I remember about him, I have no idea. It just goes to show how death informs life, and how questions left unanswered remain mysteries. There is no denouement.

When I was a child, I used to ride my Big Wheel around the driveway, pretending I was Rodimus Prime or something. Kid stuff, I guess. One day, when I was too young to accurately remember things, I was adventuring through Cybertron when my father pulled into the driveway with a screech. He moved briskly and said little which was not unusual for him. But on this particular day, my brother, always the Megatron to my Prime, was poised on the deck overlooking the driveway, carefully lining up his shot. He was trying to drop an empty milk crate on my head. My father saw this, and, wordlessly, stormed into the house, emerged onto the deck, and grabbed Luke by the scruff of his neck. Luke received a spanking. At one point, Luke tried to block my father’s hand, resulting in a broken thumb. I can’t remember what happened after that.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned what happened: my uncle Sean, my father’s brother, had died. This came as a surprise, because I had no idea my father even had a brother! I had a good relationship with my aunt, Beth, and had spoken to my other aunt, Patti, on the phone. But, incredibly, there was another sibling. One day, when my father was at work, my mother took me into our basement and showed me some artwork. The photorealistic style was impressive, even to an amateur such as me. My mother explained that nearly all of the art that hung in my house was created by my uncle Sean, my father’s younger brother, whom he had taken care of since the passing of their parents.

No one had mentioned Sean to me because Sean died of AIDS. He was gay. My father, for all of his inherent greatness and faults, decided it was better that my brother and I just kind knew about this guy in the periphery of our lives. Dad was old-fashioned, and when he discovered Sean wasn’t “normal,” took it personally: he felt like he failed as a surrogate parent. I can’t imagine that: only 17 and thinking you had failed at raising one of your three children. Life is rarely fair.

And still, the idea of death existed tangentially. I knew neither Sean nor George nor Vaughan. Death seemed to be a vacation to me; you saw the time share and just bought unlimited access. Then I went to college and did what everyone does. I grew up.

While I never knew the person—male or female, name, age, whatever—when I saw that person jump from the sixth story window, an unknown gear turned. Things changed irreparably. Later, when I saw the picture in the school paper, I convinced myself that we’d never had an encounter in dining hall or the elevator. I convinced myself that I was still innocent. And then I went home.

We had had Beau since she was a puppy. Her name was delightfully ironic; a girl dog named after the French word for male beauty, she was rambunctious and loyal and she was mine. We grew up together. Beau was the only friend that made the journey from Alaska to Minnesota with me. She loved her new life, what with three acres of prime land to explore and be wild. One day, while walking to the end of the drive way to get on the bus, I heard a gunshot and, for a split second, a yelp. I knew immediately it was Beau. I ran back to my house and tearfully told my parents what had happened. They did all they could: they told me it was probably nothing, and solemnly drove me to school. Later that day, they took me from classes early. Beau had been shot, and was at the local veterinarian’s. We always knew who had shot her, and that it was done simply out of spite, but never took any vengeance. This is frequently something I think about before falling asleep; it is my private shame.

Beau survived the attack, but lost a leg. She lost none of her personality and spunk, however. We placed boxes all over the house so that she could jump to her favorite spots: the living room couch, my bed. She was more timid, and more reserved, but she was still Beau. And when I would leave my house to go to high school and later to college, Beau was on the forefront of my mind. Loyalty is, sometimes, just a word. And sometimes, it’s palpable.

When Beau was diagnosed with cancer, my parents again did all they could. They invited me into their home, and they gave me plenty of time to spend with her. And on that Saturday, they took Beau in for a routine appointment, but returned red-eyed and puffy-cheeked. We didn’t talk about what happened. I went into the driveway, sat down, and cried harder than I ever had before. And when the rain started, I walked back inside, and I gathered my laundry, and I drove back to college.

Today, I frequently think about my own death. I don’t think about taking my own life, but I often wonder what people would think about me. With Beau, I had lost a companion, and a pet, and a part of me, and in a way, my innocence. Will I be missed? Will I be mourned? Part of me, the shameful, tragic part, wants there to be a tearful woman in attendance at my funeral, lamenting my loss. But mostly, I envy Sean. Those who knew and loved him mourned, and those who didn’t were able to look back at his life’s passion and work, and be inspired. But I’ve grown up, and life is rarely fair.

Advertisements