The Cool One

My father stands by his brother’s hospice bed. Up until this point, my uncle has been asleep. His wife, more coherent than anyone could have expected, has caught us up on the past week’s activities. This may be sudden for us, but it isn’t for her.

My uncle has woken up, and is moaning in pain. His wife runs for a nurse, then returns to reassure and calm her husband of more than 40 years. While his brother is still conscious, my father takes his hand, his voice cracking with tears. “I love you, man,” he says.

My uncle Mike will be the first of the three brothers to leave us. I suppose it’s only right as he’s the oldest, but seeing him and my dad together as old men? It broke me.

I came home and immediately put in the movie Goodfellas. Released when I was still in high school, it will always be my sentimental favorite among Scorsese’s films. I know those guys, the personalities if not the actual men.

I’ve always associated the head of the crew, Paulie, with my uncle Mike. He’s quiet, often content to sit in a corner and observe the rest of the room. Despite the deep well of kindness inside him, his face is hard if he’s not smiling. He looks dangerous. When my parents got married, in Texas, one of my dad’s college friends asked about the mysterious looking man off to the side.

“That’s my brother, Mike,” Dad told him.

“What does he do?” the friend asked.

“He’s a truck driver,” Dad answered.

His friend paused, glanced back at the unmoving man, and said, “But what does he really do?”

And thus a legend was born. The family joke for my entire life is that we’re not sure what Uncle Mike does for a living. He really did retire as a truck driver, by the way.

Grandma liked to laud Mike for his generosity and it was true. He had a big heart and, like my dad, would do anything for his family. Her favorite story was that of the time he brought all those shirts home for his brother. She had no idea he’d gotten them cheap off the back of a truck.

My thoughts are admittedly disjoined right now. Alone, curled up on the couch, with a film that feels as comfortable as an old friend, I let the tears and memories flow. For the next several days, I will jump every time my phone buzzes, just in case. That Call is coming.

As we left that hospice room, I could hear my aunt repeating the words, “It’s okay. It’s going to be okay.” Ostensibly, she was speaking to the freshly medicated man at her side. But I think we all knew better. She was speaking to herself, and to all of us.

May she truly believe those words.

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