The only losses this child was trained to fixate on were fat and inches. In that category, loss seemed elusive, distant and always required more discipline and endurance than I had. By now, at almost seventy, I have lost the weight, the way, my youth and several fortunes.
But, my first and most serious loss was announced in a rather benign telegram.
PHILIP KILLED IN CAR CRASH
I had no image for this event until my sainted mother reported -after her visit to the mortuary – that my father had been “decapitated. ” She said this so flat out and plainly that I had to ask what the word meant. Her explanation included how she could see the stitches peeking over his tie. So this image branded the horrible event.
In the Chicago hotel, she smoked and breathed whiskey for comfort as I sat there obsessing on the dreadful vision she had provided – so gratuitously. I did not have the mind to wonder about the permanence of death as I was waiting for the “seriously slurring” part of the evening. Finally, my sister signaled we could cross the street to Granny’s.
It was Granny, who really needed the whiskey but it was not her way. She paced her bedroom mumbling about how none of this would have happened if he had not taken up with the shicksah. She circled a subtile Nain. Grandfather’s eyes followed her from the Baroque Gold frame and she continued her bitter monologue.
This was my first view of despair. somehow, I could see but not feel her depth of emotion. I was frankly numb except for a vague dread of what would happen when she saw my mother. Most certainly, they would not embrace graveside.
There was red anger and black misgivings on both sides of Astor street. That night seemed impermanent and cold as the wind gusting through the open transoms to vent the radiators. The starched sheets rustled all ice and brittle and my sister whimpered on the bathroom floor as she had all during the kidnappings and long divorce. It seemed more home than any place had in a long while.
Breakfast with the maids in the kitchen was hyper normal. They were from Norway, so, were always solemn and orderly. We chewed our old person flavored bran in the usual silence.
They told us that the family would receive guests all day and the funeral would follow on the next morning. There were no plans for anything beyond these mysterious rituals. And, we were expected to be present for all of this while my mother was excluded. This was the endless familiar tension.
It was most pleasant without her around. I could slather butter my popovers and eat all the Frangipanni mints I wanted. And not be pestered by her cosmetic concerns. So what if I would need to wear a dresses like tents or came down with diabetes? Back at Granny’s I was free.. Grief or no this was stern comfort I did not know that I missed it until this dark reunion.
I wondered if I could just stay.
You know, not go back to L.A.?
During the reception, my sister sat listlessly on the other brocaded chair in front of the fire place. I maintained my focus on a hoard of canapés, when, Uncle Sam glided to my side. I was the youngest and female so, it was not like any of the very grey men to engage me beyond a greeting. But, somehow, Uncle Sam stood next to me, said “condolences” and fervently pressed a twenty dollar bill into my hand.
“Huh?” I thought and thanked him.
Having given me this gift, he slithered away into the Minion. My mind went wild: Did my sister also get a surprising handshake? Would I have to share it? What was that about?
I would find out soon enough.