Sunday, December 20, 2009

And then they're gone

I think a lot about death. I think it may be because I don’t believe in an afterlife. Lacking that belief does seem to make the whole DEAD thing seem a lot more immediate.

When my beloved Frank died, I missed the funeral. I missed it because I didn’t take the paper at the time, and no one called me to tell me he had died. On a whim, I went online and pulled up the free obits for a glance, and there was Frank. It was the day of his funeral, and it was already over. Yes, I cried a whole big bunch over that one.

A few months later, someone came to my door. My mother answered, and, not recognizing the 6 foot tall, cowboy hat-wearing, exceedingly intoxicated man on the porch, lied about where I lived. She was scared. He seemed scary to her. I can understand why. She told me when I got home that some scary drunken person had asked for me, stammered something about Frank, and then wandered off. I knew immediately.

I took a deep breath, girded myself, and went next door, my brave and wonderful husband in tow. See, I knew it was Shawn. Shawn, Frank’s grandson and my one-time best childhood friend. And I knew he would be impossibly inebriated. Why? Because Shawn had been impossibly inebriated for most of his days since his early teens. Shawn’s childhood didn’t give him much of a chance at being anything but that.

Shawn and I hadn’t really spoken to each other in over twenty years. But he knew me instantly, and I knew him. He grabbed onto me like a man drowning and hugged me, sobbing. He was so wasted, had that scary, thrumming mixture of booze and meth going on. He just wanted to touch, to talk, to rail against the unfairness of Frank’s death. He paced, punched the air, staggered, sometimes doubled over with the pain of his loss and his terrible addictions. He bawled openly while telling me that he had been too inebriated to make Frank’s funeral, and how terrible he felt about that. Even sadder? I found out later that he HAD made it to Frank’s funeral, but had been so intoxicated that he didn’t remember being there. Isn’t that awful?

A neighbor came over after an hour or so, lied and said that Shawn’s Aunt (Frank’s daughter) had demanded we leave immediately or she was going to call the police. Yeah, I know you lied. I asked Frank’s daughter later on down the road, told her what you'd said and done in her name. You heartless creep. I started to argue with this neighbor, asked him for Frank’s daughter’s number so I could call her, explain things, but Shawn cut me off. He mumbled that it was all perfectly okay, and started to get into his car. I argued that he was too messed up to drive, while yon neighbor pushed for him to do it, arguing that it wasn’t very far (30 blocks), and it would be fine. I offered to drive Shawn, but he refused. He took out his keys, placed them in my hand, hugged me again, then ran off into the night. Heartless neighbor was joined by the father of the registered sex offender who lives across the street (with his sex offender son); they both began pushing me HARD to get the car out of Frank’s driveway before Shawn came back. Had it not been Shawn, had Shawn not been Frank’s grandson, I’d have told them to do their own damned dirty work.

Yes, both these men think they’re good guys. But that wasn't compassion going on, it wasn't goodness--it was a big, fat case of NIMBY . . . like the father of a sex offender has any right to whine about what goes on in ANYONE else's back yard.

I drove Shawn’s car (used to be Frank’s) back to the house where Shawn and I had played so many years before. The car still smelled of Frank--of hay, leather, mud, and clean, happy dog.  The house had been his mother’s when she had been married to the mean bastard Shawn called a step-dad through most of his childhood. His mother had married “up” and left the place to Shawn while she kept herself in much nicer digs. I parked the car in the driveway, locked the doors (it’s not a great neighborhood), and hung the keys on the inside handle of the screen door. My husband had followed in our car, and he drove me home.

I never saw Shawn again. He came by my house a couple more times (once at 10 pm, once at midnight, both times completely intoxicated), but I was on vacation when he came, and, to be brutally honest, I was glad. I have a husband, our son was seven years old then, and I just didn’t have a place in my world for a wildly unstable drug addicted alcoholic who shows up at all hours of the day and night needing to be rescued. I couldn’t be someone to answer his cries for help, I couldn’t be the person who would drop everything, family and home included, to be his savior. And the guilt has gnawed at me all this time. Because I wanted to be the person who could “save” Shawn. I wanted to be that hero, that wonderful, selfless saint. But I wasn’t, and I’m not. I am selfish, I put my husband, my child, and myself before the Shawns.

Shawn died just ten days shy of Christmas this year. The obituary said he died of head injuries sustained in a fall. That he died in the loving arms of his mother and sister. The obituary didn't say what all of us who loved Shawn knew. It didn't have to.

Could I have saved Shawn? I don’t think so. I mean, we all want to think we’re somehow magical, that we can reach people who’ve been far beyond the reach of others. But realistically? No, I don’t think I could have made a difference. Many others tried, including a number of professionals. No one could save Shawn, and Shawn couldn’t save himself. He was unarmed and ill-prepared for this life. And so he ended.

I don’t believe in an afterlife. But if I did, I’d put Shawn, clear eyed and peaceful, riding horses along a stream up over Monte with his Grandpa Frank. Maybe riding SiSi and Zen. Cindy trotting alongside, fetching sticks and chasing squirrels. Saddle bags loaded with Vienna sausages, Snack-Pack puddings, and a few cans of Fanta Red Cream Soda. A blanket, a beaver dam, and a forever full of laughter and love.

I’m so sorry, Shawn. I’m sorry I couldn’t help you. I’m sorry you couldn’t help yourself. If there is something else, something beyond this, I hope you’re finally happy.

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