I’m going to a family reunion soon—kind of. You see, I’m dying. The doctor said six months. Right around my sixty-fifth birthday. Bad liver, just like my Pa. Same cause too. We’re both drunks, but I didn’t go around beating up on women and children.
In the meantime, I’m staying with my daughter, Cathy. The two grandkids are in college so there’s a bedroom available. I’m hoping to meet them before…well, you know. Cathy asked my doctor about a transplant. Doc said even if they found a donor match in time, my heart most likely couldn’t stand the stress.
I spend a lot of my time on her back porch. The smell of the woods is therapeutic according to Cathy. At this moment, two blue jays are having a tussle near the tire swing. The squawking and flapping remind me of my family, at least the way it was before I ran away.
I thought about going back a couple of times; but even after I’d sobered up, the drunk in my head convinced me it was a bad idea. No one would want me around after being gone for thirty-some years. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t be back now if I were strong enough to take care of myself.
Cathy is inside preparing me a cup of tea with something in it she found on the internet that will cure me. The odor and taste make me scrunch my nose. She’s always giving me some dang concoction that’s supposed to help. I gave up trying to tell her it wouldn’t. Now I just drink or eat whatever she says. Of course, that doesn’t include booze. I tried explaining it couldn’t make me any worse than it already has. She wouldn’t hear of it.
Her mother left me. Couldn’t take the drinking, even though I didn’t yell at her, or threaten her, or nothing like that. I miss Martha the most and can’t wait to tell her so.
After the diagnosis—and a period of denial when I drank myself numb every chance I got—I began making a list of people I’d meet in heaven and what I might say to them.
Besides Martha, there’s Ma, of course. I hated her for a long time, blaming her for not keeping Pa from hurting us. Blamed her for the booze, too. Sometimes she took my beating for me. Other times she was too weak, or sore or, on Pa’s really bad days, afraid to say anything. I told her many times we needed to leave. She said it wouldn’t matter. He’d find us. I suggested she call the police. She said that would only make things worse. Years later, I learned these are common reasons why woman stay in such relationships. I wish I’d known this back then. Maybe I could have thought of something to do.
At some point, Ma died on the inside, then her heart had had enough. Next Thursday is the twenty-fifth anniversary of her death. That would be a good day for me to join her. I want to hold her and tell her I love her and forgive her.
Uncle Billy made the list. He was Pa’s younger brother. He drank but wasn’t a drunk. I wish I’d inherited his genes instead of Pa’s. Uncle Billy took me in a few times and didn’t tell Pa where I was. He taught me two things: how to fix cars and how to swear like a disenfranchised Mormon. I never thanked Uncle Billy for helping me. I want to shake his hand and tell him how much I appreciated what he did.
Cousin Rachel was the closest I had to a sister. She was the first girl I kissed, and the first girl I saw mostly naked. We were ten. I never told her how pretty she was. I don’t know if she cared or not, but I want to tell her anyway.
There are others who probably should be on the list, maybe even a few who aren’t family. It’s funny how being sober—and dying—makes you more organized. So, I’ll make sure everyone gets on the list before I go.
Of course, the one person I don’t want to see is Pa. That shouldn’t be a problem. He should’ve gone straight to Hell.