I began to take the things you always told me to heart after I came back. I wanted to make up for what I thought was a major disappointment in my failing to graduate from college. I never told you about how I was assaulted near the brand new school dormitory by a gang of roving gang-banger wannabes, nor did I tell you about my experience as a homeless young man. You were always a lioness in the ferocity with which you protected me. I could not help being sick; I know my first seizure scared you to no end, and I never let on that I knew that I had nearly died on the operating table after they performed the catheterization. I rememember when we moved to Wappingers Falls on June 30, 1979, you planted four small pine brushes in front of the house, and later my youngest sister told me that each one represented the four of us, and that the bizzare instance of shock, grief and anger you displayed one day was because the last tree had died. You never let me know that, I either figured it out or was told years later.
I began to understand what it meant for you, all of the times you stood up for me in my education, in our neighborhood, in the doctors' offices and hospitals... yet it took me longer to understand how you could put up with Terry. The constant bickering, the yelling and screaming, the pettiness that transpired between you two... I had all of this in mind when I started to stay away from home. What did I really know, I just stayed away. I could never handle the fighting, it was like how you told me how Dad beat you while you were nursing me. We all left right after that. But even though there was never any threat of physical harm between you two, I can only imagine the beatings you put on each other's minds... on each other's hearts... and all I could do was stay away.
I don't know if it was this fear of things I could not control, or if it was a divine intervention that caused me to stop and understand something as I was leaving my sweetheart's home for what I thought was the last time. She said something you always said, but now it was in a way that was meant for me to hear. There was a desperation in her tone, the same desperation you had developed in the last year as you spoke of family and honoring and loving and respecting, as though it were urgent that I understand this right away. It made me stop in my tracks, turn around and go back in to listen to some more. You had a way with saying something so intrinsic that I had to stop whatever I was doing to make sure I heard it right, and hope that there was more.
I came home during the day; it was summer and it was very warm. I had already started over at Dutchess a couple of years before, but you felt I was wasting time. I didn't take kindly to that; after all, my youngest sister had attended and graduated from there nearly ten years before I got there. There were some people there who still remembered her, too. Was I not the Editor-in-Chief of the school newspaper? Was I not the program director at the school radio station? Did I not become a commissioner in two different departments in student government? And was I not also an outstanding performer in the school's drama club? Was this really a waste of time?
Consider all things.
I consider the most the day I came home after having spent several weeks away, finding it easier to stay with my sweetheart than at home so that I could get back and forth to work on the school grounds. You had been angry at me because I took the car and stayed out with it for days. You threatened to call the cops if I didn't give it back. I drove home, left the keys on the counter and walked back to her place, fifteen miles away. I stayed away for quite some time. But now I was back, home for rest. You greeted me with open arms and hugged me as though you hadn't seen me in years. You asked if I was hungry; even Terry was concerned. You both gave me money and told me to go buy something to eat. It was dark when I came back, and your concern was quite disconcerting. There was something very odd in your regard and maybe there was something that made you think that I was still mad. Was it that there was no anger, no tension, not even the mildest bit of annoyance? It was concern. For me.
The next day, I decided I had to go back again, as my schedule would pick up once again. I was going to walk, but then Nikki came rushing in; we attended Dutchess together, much like we attended elementary school together for one year. My own car had broken down, and the car I bought to replace it had also broken down. Nikki offered salvation in a ride back to the school, where I was working as part of the maintenance crew. I was not in a particular rush, so I sat in your courtly antique chair in your bedroom and talked. And listened. We talked a good while. Then as I gathered my things to leave, you watched, then followed me to the door. You smooched me playfully as Nikki honked the horn and threatened to leave.
"I'm staying," I declared, and turned to wave her off, but she had already left. Good, I decided, as I had felt a sudden urge to stay. It was absolutely necessary, I felt, as I hadn't seen you in a while, and now we found so much more to talk about. I went downstairs to my room to unpack the few things I had gathered. When I came back up, Nikki was back, honking the horn once again. Strange, for once she made up her mind to do something, there was usually no turning back. I had wanted to help out around the house, work in the backyard with you, watch some TV with Terry as we were at peace once again, and just enjoy being in the company of my family. But Nikki came back, a significant gesture I felt compelled to honor.
I hugged you tightly. You kissed me and said, "I miss you." "I miss you, too," I said.
My mind fought my instincts, but I yielded to my instincts and Nikki's horn. I got in the car and we drove away.
It was late afternoon the very next day when my beeper went off. It was hot and humid. I was in a bad mood, and I ignored the buzzing. It continued twice more, then the telephone rang. My sweetheart answered it, then handed it to me.
"Why didn't you answer your pager?" demanded Nikki's voice. I was already in a bad mood, but let this go. "Did anyone call you?" she continued, "there was a fire in the house." I remembered the several instances of small kitchen fires we had, and easily put them out. "Was it a kitchen fire?" I asked, wondering why she would call me about something that was really not cause for panic. "There was some damage," she said. She wouldn't quite tell me how much. " Actually, it was bigger than the kitchen."
Now I was worried. "Where are Mom and Terry? Put Mom on the phone, I wanna speak with her." To this she became cagey. "Well, I don't know where she is." What? "Well put Terry on the phone." "I don't know where she is, either." "Did they go out to the store or something?" "I don't know." Is the car in the driveway?" "I don't know where the car is."
"Look out the window, Nikki, and look in the driveway. Do you see the car?" I was getting frustrated. "No, I can't see anything. I don't see the car, I don't know where Mom or Terry are..." Now I was worried. If it were a small fire, there would be no reason to call, right? But if it were bigger than that, then I imagine they could be anywhere but inside the house. But if the car wasn't there, where where were they? "Let me have Dorothy call you back." "You find out where Mom and Terry are, then you call me back! Stop being so fucking stupid! Don't call me back until you find them!" I was trembling with anger at Nikki's obstinacy. How could she do this? Call me up and tell me that the kitchen was on fire, but then not tell me where Mom and Terry were? If it wasn't so bad, why doesn't anyone know where they are? I played out the likely scenario in my mind. Maybe it was a bigger fire that damaged a part of the house, but they got out and drove off to get help. Or maybe they were driving around, laughing at their escape, or calming their nerves, or taking care of emergency things as the case may be. If the car wasn't there, they had to be driving around, I said anxiously and hopefully to my equally anxious sweetheart. She agreed with me as the phone rang again, and this time I picked it up.
Dorothy, my youngest sister; nearly ten years older than me, spoke.
"Weo..." she said in a low tone.
"Where are Mom and Terry?" I demanded.
"There was a fire in the house," she replied. "It was bad, Beo... they found two bodies."
All I can hope is that you know how much I want to thank you. I understand now why you protected me, why you worked so hard, why you never let us see you cry, and even why you put up with Terry. She was your child, and you would give your life for any of us, no less her. You taught me so much in so little time, and I realized something at that moment in time: you were more than my mother and my father. You were my hero. You were our hero, Mom. And Terry... I understand. Thank you. And I hope with the spirit you both gave me, I can be a hero as well. In the meantime, may you both always be my Mom and my Big Sis. I miss you.
Love, Weo :)