Tim cried the next Tuesday on the way to yoga when I told him of my leaving at Mardi Gras.
“I need to do this, and the sooner the better. You know that. And I don’t need to be a burr between you and Brad. I can’t believe Brad didn’t tell you this.”
“I told him at the party and then I said to call you.”
“You are so sweet.”
“He has been the best since the party. The fact that he called to make up that night. He doesn’t bitch about yoga. He’s been really attentive. It’s all because of…”
“…me leaving. I know, I want things to be right. I just don’t want them to be whatever I want on a whim.”
“That is not what I was going to say, dammit. Pete, straight out, I love you more than I could ever love Brad. And I feel deep in my heart that you love me too. You realize better than I that the timing of this is just too fucked up. We would doom ourselves if we did this now. Right? So you helped Brad and me to get back together. You want us to stay together. Shit, this just makes me love you more.”
“That’s why I gotta walk away. I hafta let go of a lotta things and hold on tight to myself right now. Someday I’ll be whole again and then, maybe, Brad better look out.”
“Well, until you leave I’m gonna make it tough on you to let go. OK! I’m with you to help you move up to New York and I’m comin’ with you to go get Sammy!” He paused and turned his eyes away from the road to look at my face. “If that’s OK with you,” he said softly.
“Pull over.” He did. I pulled him to me and kissed him, “Son of a bitch, I love you!”
Tim left work early that Friday. I bought two tickets to Houston. Steve moaned the whole way out to the airport because we were stuck in early rush hour traffic.
“I told you to take the back way down Airline Highway, but Nooooooo. So just quit yer bitchin.”
“Piss off, Langer! I told you to take the earlier flight too, you shit.”
“Steve, come on,” said Tim.
“Look, Welker, you can piss off too, you get to go on this joy ride!”
I put my hands flat onto the seat and turned to Steve. “Oh my god! You’re jealous. Oh fuck, Steve. I’m sorry, I didn’t realize. I’ll buy another ticket, that’s no big deal. The back seat’s a little small but we’ll make it.” I started to laugh. “I should have looked to make this fun instead of looking at it like an emotional chore. It would be fun. The three of us. Come on! Steve?”
“No, I got too much school and Katie and I planned some things for this weekend…but I guess you’re right, I did get jealous.”
“Well the three of us, and Katie if we can get her to even imagine stepping foot in New York City, will be having a good road trip together. It’ll be a lot of fun, except the moving part of it.”
We all nodded in agreement and were silent for most of the rest of the stop and go trip. When we were less than a half mile from the airport exit I said, “Look, the drive back will be a breeze,” as I glanced over at the nearly empty east bound lanes. Then I looked up ahead to see flashing red lights. Our traffic had been caused by the rubbernecking of people at a bad wreck on the other side of the median. As we slowly passed by my heart began to beat faster. My breathing became labored and strong. I could see a black car and police officers hold a sheet up to block the view. I began screaming. Tim reached over from the back seat and held me around my chest. I could see blood on the car and then screamed as loud as I could. I remembered! I passed out.
My eyes bolted open. I was looking up at Steve. My head was in his lap. Tim had his head between the seats. Steve was stroking my hair. We were in the airport parking lot.
“Pete, it’s alright, you are all right.”
I started to gag and spit, then I rolled over and threw up between Steve’s legs. I was sweating profusely.
“We need to take him to the hospital,” Tim said frantically.
“No, no, he’s OK. He just remembers now.”
I was coughing and spitting and crying.
“Hand me that jug of water back there.” He kept saying to me, “You’ll be OK.” He poured water into his hand and had me sip at it. He washed my face with his wet hand. I was whimpering now. “Hand me that old rag too.” He covered the mess on the floor so the sight of it wouldn’t make me sick again. He was absolute calm in the middle of this insanity. He stuck his finger in my mouth to make sure it was clear and then rolled me on to my back. “You’re OK, you’re safe,” he kept saying. “Talk to me. Tell me what happened. Let it go.”
I stuttered for a minute or so trying to make sense of the images in my head. Then I said, almost inaudibly, “I saw a flash of silver-white light. Dan was smiling and looking at me. He exploded in blood. I remember Jason screaming and trying to help me. He kept yelling “Pete, I love you, live dammit live! Please, God, let him live.” I remember gagging and his fingers in my mouth…he took bloody stuff out of my mouth. Other people came. It took so long to get me out of the car. I saw it. My God. Dan! Jason! Oh My God…Then it all went gray; then silent.”
Tears flowed down the sides of my face and dripped into my ears. I sat up slowly. “No wonder, it was all too much for Jason. No wonder.” I hung my head. I grabbed the jug of water and dumped a couple of big splashes on my face, letting it run down the front of me. “Oh My God!…I would have thrown myself off of the roof New Year’s Eve had I remembered this before.”
“WHAT?” the two of them screamed in unison.
“I wanted to die that night. I don’t want to any longer.” Turning to Tim, I said, “We’ve got a plane to catch.” Then I looked at my watch. “Well, the next one.”
“Pete, you can’t be serious,” Steve said, quite frankly.
“Now I know why y’all kept it from me. That’s cool, but I have got to live with it. Yes, I’m being a little cold about it. So what, I’ll get over that too. I’ll have my mental breakdown over the whole thing someday. Just not today.” I took a huge sigh. “Tim, you still up for it?”
He nodded; he was as freaked about the whole thing as I was. Nobody had told him anything either. I got out of that champagne colored Audi 5000 and put my jacket on. I patted it on the roof. I loved that car. I got my knapsack and flung it over my shoulder. I walked around to the driver’s side. Steve was getting out.
“Sorry about the mess, I can’t believe I did that.”
“Don’t you worry, a small price to pay for love.” He patted the front of my wet shirt, “I’ve got a dry one in the trunk.”
“Sure, thanks.” Tim came up next to me. I kissed him on the forehead. “You’ll be OK, Steve?” I asked.
“Will I be OK?” he asked incredulously. “Pete Langer, you amaze me.”
I scuffed at the ground with my toe and then walked to the trunk to change my shirt. “I gotta keep surprising myself. See you on Sunday afternoon before dark. Leave a good spot for me to park Sammy, OK. I’ll tell Mom and Dad ‘Hi’ for you and Katie…Oh, and don’t call them and beat me to the punch that I now know. OK?”
Steve looked at me with a bit of surprise. He had thought about it. I tucked in my shirt and then gave him a huge hug and a kiss.
“I love you,” we said to each other in unison. We laughed.
I put my arm around Tim’s waist, “Ready?”
“Set, Go,” he replied. We smiled at Steve and walked toward the terminal. I turned back before we crossed the access road. All I could see was his butt. He was on his knees cleaning up my mess.
I called Mom and Dad and said we’d be an hour late, that we had missed the flight due to traffic. I couldn’t wait to see them. I slept the hour of the flight holding Tim’s hand. I did not have a nightmare.
At the airport I hugged Mom and Dad as hard as I could. Dad said, “Whoa, got your strength back, or what?”
“I remembered the accident,” I said quietly, “It’s OK. Scary, but OK. That’s why we missed the flight….Oh, I’m sorry. You remember Tim Welker? Mom and Dad, this is Tim. He’s just been a lifesaver over the last few months.”
“Glad to see you again, Tim. We’ve heard so much about you and your nursing capabilities,” Dad said with a sly grin as he stuck out his hand.
“Nice to see you again, sir.”
“Call me Tom, please, and this is Thelma.” Mom gave him a kiss on the cheek.
“You’ve been hangin’ out with my dad too much, Tom,” I said with my own sly smile. Dad smirked.
We had a quiet dinner with good conversation. It was all very normal. I called Bill and he said he would be over first thing in the morning to help prep Sammy. I was ready for bed by ten. I told Dad in a private moment that I wanted Tim to sleep with me. I didn’t want to sleep alone. I explained that Tim and I had dated for a short time before Dan and I had met. He said he remembered that fact from the streetcar confessional and that no explanations were needed.
He turned to me at the end of the conversation and said, “Though if you did say that you and he were dating I would very much approve. He’s a very fine young man.”
I just smiled and then said, “Too soon…way too soon.”
Dad kissed me on the forehead, “I just want you to know it’s OK whenever you decide.”
I then asked Tim if he would sleep with me. He smiled at me. We bid them goodnight. I wanted to get up early and go over Sammy with a fine tooth comb to make sure he was ready to go. I loved that car. I climbed into bed with Tim. I said a prayer for Dan and Jason.
Bill was there by eight. Working had taught him that there was life before noon. He had been there through almost every step of the rebuilding that Dan had done on Sammy. He showed me every little idiosyncrasy that he could think of. There was an easy conversation between the three of us. Bill had met Tim many times when we were dating, although Bill had no idea at the time. I confessed to the relationship now. Bill wondered how he could have been blind to it. I told him he was blind to his own sexuality then. He gave me the finger. He also tried to put the move on Tim too. Tim politely rebuffed him. I told Bill he had to get in line behind me if Tim ever left his boyfriend. At that point Bill left to go see his boyfriend.
“I’m can’t believe that you don’t have two boyfriends by now,” I said, digging my elbow into his rib.
He gave me the finger, again.
We hugged for the longest time. We knew that we would rarely see each other from now on.
He rubbed his hand on the fender of Sammy, “Take care of him would you.”
By the middle of the afternoon, Tim and I took Sammy out for a spin around town. I got lost twice and had to call home to find my way back the second time. I was embarrassed to say the least.
Dad said with a chuckle, “You mean Sammy doesn’t have auto-pilot like Dan said he did?”
He told me how to get home. We spent the evening quietly watching TV. The four of us did not want to bring up the fact that I would be leaving soon to move to New York. They were afraid I would forget about them. Then Tim brought up the scholarship. We excitedly discussed all of the options for an hour before and all through dinner. We laid out all the basics. Tim took laborious notes that Dad could give to his lawyer. I brought up Jason. Dad said to put it in both of their names; he thought that it was a perfect idea.
After dinner, I showed them my design for Dan’s headstone. Actually, it’s a bench, a rectangular slab five and two thirds inches thick by a tad under twenty-four inches wide, and thirty-eight and three quarters inches long. It would sit on a block fourteen point four inches wide by eighteen and a third inches high, and just shy of twenty-four inches long. The slab would be made out of polished granite of an orange hue with flecks of white, gray and black. The base would be absolute black granite with a flamed finish giving it a rough matte texture. His name would be in three lines, justified so that it made a fourteen point four inch square, centered in the middle of the seat. Along the front edge of the seat would be the dates: October 5, 1958 – September 21, 1982. On the back edge it would say: Husband of Peter and Jason. On each end would be three interlocking rings each an inch and a half in diameter. On the backside of the base would be Jason’s and my full names with the date of our births and the date of his death. The font of the text would be Garamond.
I looked at Mom and Dad. They were silent for the longest time.
Dad looked at Mom, she nodded, and then said, “Do it.”
Mom smiled, “A bench, that’s beautiful. Did you know I take a chair out there to sit?”
“Nope, I just still have those mud stained pants hanging in the closet, Mom,” I laughed.
We talked till midnight then headed for bed. I wanted to drive to the grave first thing in the morning and leave from there.
“Thank you for bringing up the scholarship. I had forgotten all about it,” I said to Tim. I kissed him.
“Thank you,” he said.
“Being a wonderful husband to Dan and son his parents.”
I looked at him and sighed.
I awoke in the middle of the night to Tim having a violent nightmare. The episode in the car and my telling of the accident had come back to haunt him. It was nearly dawn anyway so we sat up in bed and talked through what happened that first day of Fall. I’ve never needed to talk about it again, nor wanted to.
We tossed our knapsacks into the back of Sammy. I gave Mom and Dad a hug and a kiss. I told them I would have the bench made and shipped. I would be there for its installation and then we could have the memorial, hopefully before I left for New York.
Dad handed me directions to the cemetery. “Just in case.”
“I love you, Dad.”
I waved and we zoomed off and felt guilty at leaving them although I knew in my heart that I would never truly leave them. At the cemetery I saw that the mound had settled about six inches and grass had begun to cover it’s surface. I said a few silent thoughts to Dan and Jason. I expressed out loud the horror I saw. Then I took out four brand new blue Staedtler Mars “H” pencils from my knapsack and marked the corners where the base of the bench should go and tied them together with a string outline.
“I love you Daniel Boone Elliot,” and slapped the mound, “I always will. You take care of Jason…or maybe he’s takin’ care of you.” Smiling I tried not to cry. “I love you, Jason Christian Godcheaux.” Now I began to cry. “Let’s go Tim.”
We got in the car. I started it and revved the engine gently, then blew the horn three times.
The front of the light blue house on Upperline was bathed in orange light when we drove up. I got out and stretched and did a couple of yoga poses, so did Tim. Mrs. Robinson just smiled.
I looked over at Jason’s Buick, “Damn, I thought they were going to come get that thing.” I got a knot in my stomach. “I’ll have to call them again,” I thought to myself. Steve ambled, as always, down the steps and gave me a hug and then one for Tim too.
The next six weeks consisted of yoga, learning to cook for myself from the master, Katie, reading, and going through the grid of boxes to pare down and purge what was no longer necessary, a process that tore at my heart with every lid I opened, every object I gave or threw away and with every memory that flowed from it all. When I came across the model of Jason’s car, I had to stop. The memories of laughter and joy that the three of us had in putting it together were too much for me. It wasn’t until late the next day that I packed it up again and could continue the cleaning out of my life.
Steve called Jason’s parents. He lied and said he was Jason’s lawyer. He asked politely to please come get his car and a couple of boxes of his belongings. They said they would. They also told him that although they could not revive him the paramedics had kept their efforts up long enough so that they could donate his organs. He was cremated and his ashes spread at the family farm in Virginia, his favorite place; where he had just been when Dan and I met him in Gadsden.
His parents arrived on a Saturday. I waited for them on the front steps. I introduced myself, handed them Jason’s keys and showed them the four boxes and neatly packed suitcase of his belongings. Tim had pulled a few strings and I gave them the check that closed out his bank account. They couldn’t believe he had over five thousand dollars. I gave them everything he had except for a few photos of him when he was younger, a couple of his shirts, his favorite shorts and a pair of underwear. He had stopped wearing underwear the minute he found out I never wore any. This was the pair of white briefs he took off in front of me and threw in my face with glee, never to put any on again, except for the boxers he wore around the house. I also kept that original pair of Dan’s boxers that he wore; the ratty ones he called his “Biddies.” I’ll never know why. They shook my hand, and said they were sorry. I don’t know for what.
They turned to leave and I said, “I love your son more than you will probably ever realize. He saved my life on the day of the accident. I will think of him every day for the rest of my life.” I turned and walked up the stairs and into the house. I never looked back.
The bench was shipped to Houston on the second Friday in February after Katie, Steve, Tim and I had inspected it. It, and I, arrived on Saturday. I dug and poured the foundation myself that afternoon. I set it up with the help of a cemetery worker on Sunday. I enjoyed the sunset, sitting with Mom and Dad and then flew home that night. It has become one of my favorite places to meditate in the whole world.
That Thursday Steve, Tim, Katie and I packed the truck. I don’t know why I ordered the same size truck. I had only half as much to take. My life felt as empty as that truck looked.
I locked up the truck and we all went to the Krewe of Babylon parade. I watched the parade in awe, as if I were seeing one for the first time but I didn’t go after any cups or beads just catching them if they came right to me. I stayed until the streetsweepers went by, and then walked back to the Milan. I said good-bye to Janet and Ben, the owner Dave, and a few of the regulars I had come to know. I also said good-bye to Daffy who had come to see me off. He shook my hand and then gave me a hug. I gave him a kiss on the cheek and said that was from Jason. He blushed. He truly loved Jason. I kissed Daf’s girlfriend and said, “Don’t waste time, marry him, now!” They didn’t know it yet but she was pregnant with their first child.
We had convinced Katie to come with us to New York, quite easily it turned out. I couldn’t believe it and was elated when she agreed. We left just before noon on Friday. I got our little parade on the road when I turned on St. Charles toward downtown. It would be my last voyage down that picturesque street for a while. The intoxicating, hauntingly beautiful smell of the sweet olive tree taunted me not to leave this city. I listened to the rumble and clang of a streetcar passing by. Then I began to hear a clickity-clack from Sammy. I got nervous that maybe he didn’t want to leave the South. I pulled over. There was a set of Mardi Gras beads caught in his treads. I doubled over with laughter, slapped his fender and then yanked them out. I waved the set of beads for the others to see and then tossed them to Tim. Fitz was silently laughing and clapping from the cab of the truck. Ten minutes later I watched the Superdome, Plaza Tower and One Shell Square slowly sink into the past in my rear view mirror. We drove straight through the night and drove up the driveway of my old home about eleven the next morning. Mom was again shocked that I was home a day early.