Thomas Wictor



Today it finally hit me that my brothers, my sister, and I are orphans. Eric still has his mother, but the rest of us are parentless. We’re all fifty or thereabouts, so it’s not like we’re now helpless and terrified. I find it incomprehensible more than anything else. Though Mom and Dad died for nine months, I still can’t quite believe that they really did what they did.

There’s a lot I want to tell Mom. I wish she’d lived to hear the Ghosts and Ballyhoo album. She would’ve loved it. After Dad died, it took about two months before I stopped thinking, I have to go over and see how he’s doing, or I need to ask him how to fix this schmageggy that doesn’t work. It’ll probably take about that long to stop thinking, Hey, I’ll go tell Mom about the shy thug with his daughters’ faces tattooed on his forearms.

What’s very helpful is Led Zeppelin. The last time I listened to them was in early 2012. I’d forgotten how much I like “Achilles Last Stand.” The bass tone is fantastic, and the lyrics have one of the greatest turns of phrase ever:

Oh to ride the wind
To tread the air above the din
Oh to laugh aloud
Dancing as we fought the crowd

Wouldn’t you love to tread the air above the din?

Pat goes back to New York tomorrow, and then he’ll come out for the service. Mom wanted a Catholic mass. I wish her faith had been as strong as I thought it was. Tim told me about her last day of consciousness, and now I have to accept that she was very afraid. An army of doctors and nurses and her two sons did everything to save her, she beat the cancer, but she stubbornly starved herself to death and then regretted it at the last second. Tim told me tonight that when he warned her hundreds of times that she’d die, she’d smile and say, “Oh, that’s not going to happen!”

That makes me very sad. I don’t belong to any church, nor am I sure of what happens after we die, but I’m not afraid. It saddens me that both my devoutly Catholic parents had such little faith. The saving grace is that they both died unconscious, so they didn’t know when it happened.

Though I describe myself as a lapsed Catholic, I have no plans to ever rejoin the church. Still, one thing I admire about Catholics is their military chaplains. The Last Rites must be given as close to the moment of death as possible, so Catholic military chaplains go into combat. They’re unarmed, of course, but they face all the dangers of battle, and they do it so that they can bring peace to the dying. Catholics suffer the highest rate of combat deaths among military chaplains.

I understand why they do it. They want to alleviate suffering, and they have faith. I wish I’d been able to alleviate my parents’ fear. My belief is that once they died, they discovered that it wasn’t bad at all. Despite my faith that they’re now happy, their fear and self-imposed suffering haunt me. In time I’ll accommodate the pain and sorrow of my parents’ deaths.

Years ago Tim found a little orphan sapling in the garden section of Home Depot. Nobody knew what kind of tree it was, and it was sickly. They let Tim have it for practically nothing. He planted it in my front yard, and it became a giant.

Dad really hated that tree. He kept telling me to trim it. What he’d do is ring my front doorbell, and when I’d answer, he’d silently beckon with his index finger, one of his more irritating habits. How hard would it have been to say, “Hi, Tom. Could you please come out and look at something?”

He’d take me outside, point to the tree, and say, “Doncha think it’s time to clean this thing up?”

What he meant was, “Why are you letting that filthy plant cast its indecent shade across your yard? Strangers will think you’re lazy and disreputable!”

I used to make some token cuts here and there, but finally I told him, “I like it the way it is.” Boy, that frosted his patootie. After I got Meniere’s disease and Tim’s hernia doctor punctured his colon, giving him a whole-body infection that nearly killed him, our nephew Hunter offered to do our yard work until we were capable again. I’ll never be capable again, but Tim gradually recovered.

Dad used the occasion of our helplessness to butcher my tree almost down to its trunk. He glowed with triumph and satisfaction when he presented me with his fait accompli.

In his memory I’ll never trim the tree again. If Tim wants to, he can, or if the city orders me to trim it, I guess I will. But I want to see if the branches will grow all the way down to the ground.

It’s my way of treading the air above the din.

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