I emerged from the woods about 29 hours ago. Went camping with my Austin Family for New Years. Just now gaining some movement from my sore shoulders.
My house is a wreck. I can't get the smell of campfire out of my skin. I still need to unpack suitcases and tupperwares filled with muggy, cedar scented clothes.
I need to welcome 2003 to the Present and make note that 2002 is now the Official Past.
I also need to write about what happened in the last couple of weeks. I want to record what happened because I've recently discovered that my long term memory only works in flashes of moments and visuals instead of complete, detailed accounts.
I was nervous about the visitation. I'm not a big fan of Open Casket viewings. I mean, I'm not afraid of Open Caskets - I've attended both of my grandparents'wakes. I know that it's a way to get closure and gives those that were not there a final good-bye and I'm all for closure, so you know, yeah. Open Caskets and visitations are all good in my book as far as that goes.
But when you get down to it, it's really hard to shake the feeling that you're in the same room with a dead body. I mean, there isn't anything scary about a dead body--- you know that it's not going to jump up and eat your brain, most likely. It's just that when you're in a room with a body, you are face to face with the idea of death and mortality. Final. Permanent. No more. The End.
And I was not looking forward to seeing Alex in that sense. I had already seen him leave. I knew that he was Dead and had said what I wanted to say to him while he was still here. The visitation felt like a forced good-bye. My last chance to really make it a sealed deal. This made me nervous.
When I got to the Sanctuary, all of Alex's family was there. His Mom and my Dad. All of his Aunts and Uncles on his Mom's side. His grandparents. All of his step-parents. His step-sister and her husband were sitting in the third pew, out of sight. Doobird and her beux were talking to some Family friends, chuckling a bit. His little brother was clinging to his step-father's leg, a bit bewildered by all of the action and excited by all of the attention he was getting. His younger step-cousins, around Alex's age, were crying and seemed confused about what they were supposed to do. One would stand by the casket for 5 seconds, look in, and cry and walk away. Then she'd work up some more courage, stand by the casket for 10 seconds and so on and so forth. My Mom was there. Lipman was holding my hand.
Some of Alex's stuff was displayed. His glasses, his huge PokeMon collection, his Tenor Sax. Bunny Blanket was there and I burst into tears when I saw Moon Bear. Moon Bear was once soft and squishy. Now Moon Bear was flattened and his squishness had transformed to clumpiness after being weathered by Alex love.
Pictures of him were everywhere. As a baby. In his baseball uniform. Fishing. Watching Pee Wee Soccer with an analytical, pensive expression way too mature for a 6 year-old face to make. There were pictures of him I'd never even seen and was intrigued at how much he had grown in the last two years.
Seeing his body wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. It looked like Alex, but it wasn't Alex. It was Alex's body dressed in Alex's clothes. His nasty Yankees cap was on. He was wearing a Shady Grove Cafe' t-shirt underneath a velour looking white jacket thing. His face was still a bit round from the side effects of steroids, but his beautiful hands were the same and his lips and nose were there as normal looking as always.
"I hope you can see the make-up job they've done on you Alex," I whispered as I leaned in. "You've got on the most wonderful shade of Dusty Rose lipstick and I love what they've done with your cheekbones."
Looks like you got hit with a Mary Kay stick. I thought in my head, hoping that Alex now had mind-reading powers and would understand the Christopher Lowell joke I'd just made.
I kissed him on the head. Right on top of the Yankees symbol. I could smell the chemicals used.
That kind of took me aback.
I stood up and just looked at him. My mind went completely blank and I don't think a single thought passed in my brain for almost a minute.
"That's only his body.," I said to myself. "That was just his Soul Container."
I put my hand on his shoulder in the same spot I had it when he took his last breath. It was cold and a bit stiff. It didn't feel like him anymore.
"You did such a good job. I am so proud of you.," I said to the area above his body as it didn't make sense to talk to an empty Soul Container at that point.
Then I spent time talking to all types of people that knew Alex- teachers, doctors, classmates, bus drivers. It was a bit surreal knowing that all of these people were here because of the thread of life Alex had left behind. He was the connection for all of these people gathering. That was neat to know.
At the closing of the casket, all of the Family gathered and held hands. We sang "Go Now in Peace" (which is a favorite Unitarian hit for those not hip to the Unitarian jive) and gave another "Whoo-Hoo" and standing ovation. We each took one last moment with Alex's body. I don't remember if I said anything, but I do remember being really sad knowing that this was the last time I'd see his face in the physical sense and really happy knowing that it was just his Soul Container and not his spirit that I was saying good-bye to.
The casket was closed. The men in the family all helped move the casket onto a rolly thing and pushed it up a steep incline on the outside of the Sanctuary as the inside has many steps.
There were times that I actually thought that the casket would tip over and Alex's body would fall out and roll down the hill. Much like the beginning of a Benny Hill chase scene, minus a nurse in lingerie and replacing Benny Hill with my Pops. But that didn't happen.
We did manage to have the Oldest Man In the World as the driver of the herse. This man was old. Really fucking old. He insisted on helping with the maneuver of the casket to the back of his job mobile. My final memory of the visitation is watching the Oldest Man in The World give the final push of my brother's 14-year-old body into the back of his herse. Ironic, don't you think, Alanis?
Afterwards I went out with my step-sister, her husband, Lipman and Doobird and her beaux for beers. I don't remember what we talked about but I do recall a bit of bonding occuring during a conversation about Sex. Ah, Sex. You bring so many closer together. Thank you Sex.
Then I went home and went through Alex's entire CD collection to make a music compilation needed for his memorial service and reception. I stayed up until about 3AM, laughing at some points, crying at others.
So that was the visitation.
I was tired and a tad hungover the morning of Alex's memorial. Hungover emotionally and also in the usual "Beer Before Liquor, Never Sicker" sorta way.
Woke up. Showered. Got dressed. Ate a biscuit and drank a glass of water. Brushed my teeth. Got in Lipman's car.
Still had no idea what I was going to say for the final Eulogy. I had grabbed a couple of index cards and a pen to make notes if anything came to me in the car ride to the church.
When we arrived, I had the following scribbled on a note card:
- Bacon Bits and Ham Cubes
-Laundry Basket Racing (Monster)
-Windbreaker as 2nd Skin
- Cursive name on everything
- Tornado Poem
- Family Feud
The service was great. There were tons of people there and members of my Old School Gang even showed up. There were tears and laughter. The music went fine.
There was a moth flying in the sun beams the entire time. It flittered and plittered in front of me and my family. At times it would rest on someone's hand, or ram itself numerous times into the knee of another. "It's Alex," I heard someone whisper. I watched as the moth landed on the floral piece in front of the family and basked in the dust filled sun.
Then it was time for the eulogies. Doobird went up first and said things that can't be repeated now as the sincerity would be messed up by my trying to get it correct.
Alex's grandmother told a story about playing cards with Alex. A boy from Alex's baseball team got up and told a story about how Alex broke the boy's arm when they were 5. A Family friend spoke about the time Alex performed a solo at my college graduation reception and was so excited about getting rave reviews that he continued to play his entire band book following his solo. (I had never heard "Hot Cross Buns" in so many variations before.) Lipman got up and told the congregation about the time he tried to teach Alex how to check out women's butts. (My father said that it was "Nice to know.") Another boy who had known Alex got up and told the story how Alex had convinced a forest ranger to drive the boy and Alex back to a campsite in order to win a scavenger hunt. "I was so impressed that Alex could squeeze a ride from this guy. It was one of the coolest things I'd every seen."
Then it was my turn. Knotty McKnot Knot took its place in my throat.
This is how it generally went:
Hi there. I'm Alex's sister Lee. Um. I've been thinking about what kind of stories I've wanted to share with you and have run into the problem of actually being able to compose a linear way to express the way it was to be with Alex. My brain is only producing images and moments, like smiles and glimpses of him growing up. So, I'm going to share some instances of Alex. Some moments, if you will, because that's what I have of him. I have moments in my mind.
Alex ate bacon bits like they were an entree. Western Sizzler was like a haven for him. He would get a plate filled with bacon bits and ham cubes and would have a small pile of shredded cheese purely to appease a parental figure. I've never seen someone eat that many Bacon Bits and Ham Cubes before.
There are images of pushing Alex around in a laundry basket across the family room. Doobird and I each switching off to take turns being the one who pushed. Alex loved that. Playing "Monster" was also a favorite for him, although I think Doobird may have been psychologically affected from having to play the role of "Monster" all the time. But Alex really liked running and hiding and screaming. That was fun.
He wore this one jacket all the time. This blue and purple windbreaker. It was like his second skin. I think I have about three different school picutres of him in that jacket and you can only tell them apart because Alex's teeth get bigger.. I have images of him in that jacket.
And he wrote his name in cursive on everything. Everything. I think almost everyone in the family has a birthday card on it or something that says "I love you. Signed, Alex (Last Name)." It could be his own Mom getting this card, and he'd still write Alex Last Name in cursive on it... just in case we might get him confused with some other Alex Last Name that we might have around.
I kind of started to cry a little bit at this part.
And I really miss touching him. I really miss being able to hold him and give him a hug. I miss being able to have the ciruclation in my legs get shut off because his boney butt would be digging in as he sits on my lap. I miss that feeling. I miss that boney butt... sorry Alex if that embarassed you.
This is the part where I realized that throughout all of this, my hand had been settled on the edge of the podium, the meat of my palm an inch directly above a lit candle.
Oh man. I just burnt my hand. Ow. Dang that hurts.
Sorry. I just had my hand up above this candle here and didn't realize it until I was like "Hey, that's hot." Let me check to make sure that my skin isn't falling off.
Check it. It's all clear.
Anyway. Um. My last verbal conversation with Alex. I mean, before he went under sedation... I remember I was really concerned about his mentality. I mean, he'd been in and out of the hospital a couple of times and I was just wondering how he was holding up.. you know, in the mental sense. So I asked, "Hey dude... how are you doing."
And he said, "I'm doing okay."
And I said, "No, man. I mean really. How are you doing mentally? Are you dpressed; are you bummed out; how're you doing?"
And he said to me plainly, "I'm just tired of being sick."
And that got to me because it was the very first time I had heard him say anything somewhat negative about his experience in the hospital. Not once had I heard him complain about having to go through all of this or whine outloud about life being unfair or whatever.
I was kind of stunned to hear that and I got real quiet and I heard that Family Feud was on in the background and I sorta changed the subject and asked, "So Alex, what's the question?"
"Name a way that your wife shows you that she's angry."
I asked, "Hm. That's a toughy. What do you think the number one answer is?"
And he said, "It's screaming."
"How do you know?"
"Because I've seen this one before."
People laugh. My family is crying a bit more as I'd only shared this story with a couple of them.
And one thing Alex loved was knowing more than you did. And he knew the number one answer was "Screaming" and now he knows something that none of us know.
He knows more than each of us now. And I bet you he loves that. He's probably all like "Ha-ha."
And I know that Alex isn't here in the physical sense. But I do know that he's here in the spiritual sense because I can feel the his love. I can feel the love that's in this room for him. And he's here because of that.
So that's it. That's all."
And I sat down and I cried. Pops put his arm around me and said, "That was brilliant. Just brilliant. Good job."
The service had a closing hymn, final words for the Family and we walked out through the Sanctuary-- faces looking at us on the way out. Tears, weak smiles. It was obvious that some of the people there just wanted to give us a hug as we passed, but didn't because no one else had.
So that's how the memorial service went.
His 15th birthday was the day after his funeral.
Someone had given me $100 to go and blow on fireworks as that had been Alex's birthday present for the last couple of years- $100 worth of explosives. We spent about two hours lighting fireworks and drinking alcohol and saying things like, "Alex woulda loved this one." At the end of the night the entire driveway was filled with spent firework casings and I had a craving for meat pies. I sang happy birthday to a star I noticed as we drove to a local bar to continue the birthday celebration.
Christmas was nice. A present inventory will not be necessary as I can't exactly recall was I got. There were moments of sadness and there were one or two presents that were left under the tree as they were bought for Alex before he passed.
My last day in Shreveport I made my rounds to all of the family. On my stop at Spic N' Spans house I said good bye to Alex's room. Smelled his pillows, touched his collection of rocks, marveled at the massive amount of Magic cards he had. Left the room and went to sit with Spic N' Span by the Christmas tree. Noticed a plain white box underneath. "What's that box?," I asked.
"That's Alex." she said. "That's his ashes."
"His ashes are in that box?"
"Yep. We figured he'd like it under the Christmas tree. Haven't decided what to do with them yet, so we thought we'd just let them have an under the tree view."
"You should put a bow on it or something to get his ashes in the spirit."
"We should have. Oh well.," and then, "You want to see them?"
I did. I was curious to see them. She struggled opening the plastic container that encased a large Zip Loc storage bag and pulled the bag out.
"Wow. That's all of him?" I asked.
"Well they sift out the bigger parts, like teeth and metal object left by the casket, but yeah... that's all of him."
The ashes weren't all grey and black like I thought they'd be. There were more of a sandy looking color. Like finely ground oat meal with small marshmellow white bits. I held the bag. It was weighty.
"I don't know why, but I think it's just.. you know.. I think it's just kinda neat. I mean, that's it. Ashes to ashes and all of that stuff, you know. It's kinda neat in a weird way."
And I don't know if Spic N' Span understood or what phase of grief she was in. I do know that she gently put the ashes back into the box, closed the lid, and hugged me.
"You were such a good sister to him. I can't thank you enough for the love you gave to him and all the times you made him laugh. You were one of his special angels."
And I cried. And I hugged her and said, "Thank you for being there with him every day. I know that he loved his Mom and was thankful to have you with him there. I'm thankful you were there. I love you."
"I love you too."
And I said good-bye to her. I said good-bye to Alex's step-dad. I picked up Alex's little brother and said, "I love you kiddo. I'll see you soon."
And he tried to punch me in the crotch as I put him down. I think he may be acting out by doing that- punching people in their crotches. Poor kid.
Then I went to my car and I drove away. That was my last contact in the physical sense with him- holding his ashes in a plastic bag and wondering to myself if the morgue has a contract with Zip Loc.
So that's it. I'm back in Austin now and I'm looking forward to what's next.
What the fuck is next, 2003?