What shall I say of Charles in eulogy? Though I had originally disapproved of his marriage to my sister, he came to be far more than just a brother-in-law to me. He was a real brother, but a brother unscarred by the picking and tormenting of our mother. He was calm, and happy with life. He was interested in everything his children had to tell him, and cuddled them and let them climb on him like any good dad. He took them with him as often as he could to dinners and events; they behaved well, I know from experience, for when Jesse was gone I was often drafted to accompany them. Bless Nanny for her lessons in manners! In pictures of him with his children around him, Charles glows with joy.
He was generous, kind, optimistic; an attentive father, tolerant, if a bit at sea over how to react with our parents, dutiful and patient with his own parents. He was always a gentleman, and I never heard him speak badly of anyone, except the gardener's son who pruned the apple trees so savagely one year that they didn't even blossom the following spring. "What an utter chopping asshole!" In fact that was the only time I ever heard him swear.
I had visited at the estate often, being determined to be a close Auntie. Charles welcomed me graciously as often as I would come, and never a hint of "Her, again?" Indeed, if anything, I was the one who kept a distance, as Charles would have just as soon made me a part of the household. On nearly every one of my visits, after the children were asleep, or earlier while we played and chattered in "Aunt Sully's study," Charles would come in and sit and talk, about worries and wonders in our lives, about the personalities of the rest of the family, about theater productions and movies and books, about Jesse.
A model citizen. How I hate the phrase, "The good die young"! It's just that we wish they could have stayed around longer. The world was truly diminished with Charles' death. Heart attack at fifty-one, no fair. Just there and then gone, leaping from this world like an olympic high dive into the sky.
He was a good friend to me, and I miss him very much.
How he was as a husband I have no idea, and Jesse gives no clue. She was tearless at Charles' funeral as she was at Mom's, and though she voiced no negatives, neither did she ever talk about her love for him, at least not to me, not in all the eleven years of their marriage, or ever after.
The Year Everybody Died. For Jesse and me, the blow upon blow of the sudden death of our father, our mother's suicide, her husband's untimely passing would mark that year, 1996, as a turning point in our lives. Before that year, our concerns were immortal: my stubborn yearning for Adam's return to me, Jesse's passion for her globetrotting research and exploration. Then standing beside open graves, we felt the obscene snuggling of Mortality, breathing smelly breath into our faces as it became a reality to us, smirking and wiggling and promising to take away our dreams.
I can't tell what it was like for Jesse; but for me, there was an empty chasm that seemed to want to engulf me. Rationally, I knew that I was not to blame for any of the sorrow; subconsciously, I still was punishing myself for all my failures and losses. I should have been closer to my father; I should have prevented my mother's death; I should have been more reassuring to Charles, should have seen that he wasn't well, should have listened to my instincts and the whispered forebodings in my heart.
My own heart. God, I spent a lot of time that year thinking about my own heart. Dad's death should have been the worst for me, I loved him so, but he was already in the tomb for years, buried from me by my mother's insistence upon attention being paid to herself. I found it hard to feel sadness for a death already done years ago. But oh, Charles. Such a patient listener, such an unjudgmental soul. The day his father called me to tell me of Charles' death is one I will never forget. I was efficient and calm as I threw clothes together and put Gabe's collar on him. Then I looked up at the sky when I stepped outside the door, and the crushing weight of the universe fell upon me, and I sagged in the doorway and cried like hurt baby. We are so tiny and insignificant in the scheme of things, and all the rest of existence is so big. Why do we leave such gaping holes in lives when we leave?
The days passed, and soon Fall was in the air, with cottonwood trees dropping their golden leaves in the first fall rains. The heat of each day gave way to chill at night, the evenings getting too cold for sitting out without a blanket. Orange lights and pumpkins and skeletons began to adorn the lawns, with gauzy wisps of polyester ghosts with dark patches for eyes. Skeletons and ghosts. We welcome a time of year to make fun of Death, for an evening, Halloween; for a day, All Souls. I sat in front of my house on Halloween, giving out candy, thinking about how few years we have, any of us, and how quickly they go by.
I set a special agenda for myself that All Souls' Day, November Second. One more death to end the year. I went to San Francisco early in the day, and caught the ferry to Sausalito. I stood on the starboard bow side of the ferry, and looked down at the cascades of froth of the bow wave. All I can do is pray for your soul, I thought. This is the day I free myself from the memories that make every day a day for Death, cut the chains that I drag along like Marley's ghost, turn me loose to wander in the wilderness, alone but alive.
I wandered around Sausalito, looking at people's tiny gardens, watching tourists, had an early glass of wine in a bar open to the fresh morning air, and then moved on. I cried a little, drawing stares as I sat on the edge of a fountain in a park near the ferry dock. On the cruise back to SF, I watched for a clear sight of the stairs that lead to the bay below Ghirardelli Square, where Adam and I had cuddled, and we had known that we would mate. When we were within eyesight of the stairs, I began watching the bow wave again. My hands rested on the rail, and with a little movement, still gazing into the white foam, I let fall into the deep waters of the bay my wedding band, now to be gone beyond recall.
I drove home before late afternoon, and made a little charcoal fire on a makeshift hearth of bricks. I propped the two pictures of Adam and me that I had found in my mother's house against the bricks of the hearth and looked at them until the sun went down, and I was on my second bottle of wine. When the light grew dim, and no longer glittered through the west-facing windows of my house, and stopped making the last roses of my garden glow, I dropped a few small pieces of incense into the fire, and after kissing them, tore the photos into tiny pieces and dropped them into the blue flames, as blue as his eyes had been, as hot as the desire I had felt so many years ago.