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Wednesday, May 5, 2010


I remember when it started with my family, it was March 10th, 1981. That was the day my step grandfather Jake, passed away from cancer and the day I was fired from my job of five years at the Cadillac dealership. I was so devastated and in shock that I couldn’t even attend his funeral. I remember when I found out that morning that Jake had died a co worker told me, “Don’t worry about this damned job, it won’t matter in ten years, you need to go to your grandfather’s funeral that’s all that really matters.” I wish I’d listened to him because he was right. I was fired at closing time that day. After I went to back to work at the same dealership three years later for another three years I was fired again on March 23rd, 1988. Even though my mother’s birthday is March 16th and my Grandma Fowler’s birthday was March 7th we still dreaded when the month rolled around and I still won’t make any major purchases, or decisions in March even now. We all just wait and hold our breath until March is over.

I remember when I found out that the wife of my old boss who’d fired me had a heart attack on March 10th and died on March 23rd, 1995 at the age of sixty five. I called my mother and told her that the curse of March was over for us and it had reversed on him. She told me not to be so sure and I soon learned she was right.

When I lived in Dallas there was this guy named Brent who lived right across the pool from me. He was short with chipmunk cheeks and had this high shrill nellie voice and a maniacal laugh. He could make you laugh till you cried, but sometimes he was a real pain in the ass. Once a friend of mine and I ran into him at this gay bar with a patio behind it. We were sitting at one of the tables on the patio and every time a guy would come out of the main bar Brent would start in, “Are you tired, run-down, listless? Do you poop out at parties? Are you unpopular? Do you have a big dick? Oh....Lucy didn’t say that!” Followed by his high pitched peels of laughter. What made it so funny was that the guys would stand there looking around for a minute, pretend they didn’t hear him and walk back inside. He had us in tears we laughed so hard we thought we would die.

Another time he was out by himself he crawled up on the flat roof of another gay bar and sat “Endora” style over the entrance while making comments on the customers coming in on everything from their hair to their clothes, to their weight, calling some of them “Heifers”. Someone finally figured out where the voice was coming from and went in and told the manager. When Brent saw the manager he scrambled off the roof and started to walk nonchalantly to his Cadillac as if nothing had happened. When the manager confronted him he denied everything and pretended he didn’t have a clue as to what the guy was talking about.
The manager said,” Then why to you have tar and rocks all over your jeans?” Brent forgot he was wearing white jeans and he looked down and they were covered in tar and little tiny rocks. He was banned from the bar for a month, but he laughed like crazy when he told me about it.

After the bars closed at 2:00 AM he would often make obscene phone calls to me and if I hung up on him, or didn’t answer the phone, he would just call back. One morning right around dawn I could hear something hitting my bedroom window and laughing outside. I looked out and he was giggling like an idiot and throwing pebbles at my window on the second floor. I opened the window and screamed, “If you chip the paint on my car I’ll come down there and kill you!” because the rocks were falling back onto my car parked underneath. He stopped, but he thought it was hysterical, but I was pissed.

I asked him once why these two guys across the pool from us always had their blinds shut tight during the day. He said, “Well, cause they take a lot of them drugs and bad old Mr. Sunshine comes in their winda in the morning and wakes them up and hurts their eyes.” I laughed of course he really was a pain in the ass, but he was so funny you couldn’t help but love the guy.

At 1:50 AM on March 8th, 1996 my phone started ringing. I rolled over and looked at the clock and groaned. I was sound asleep and all I wanted to do was roll over and go back to sleep, but I knew if I didn’t pick up he would just keep calling, so it was best to get it over with. The minute I picked up the phone I could hear shrieks of laughter and I thought, “Oh hell, it’s Brent.” and I actually started to hang up, but I thought “No, if I do he’ll just call back”, as I put the phone to my ear I realized it wasn’t him, but a woman crying so hard she could hardly breathe. I kept saying, “Hello, hello?” but she just kept on crying like her heart was broken. A part of me wanted to hang up because I figured it was a drunk who’d dialed the wrong number, but something told me that as a human being I at least owed some amount of kindness to this stranger at the other end of the line. I said “Hello?” a few more times and finally she said, “Sammy.” I couldn’t believe it, I said, “Mother?” Only then, did I realize it was my mother, I asked, “What’s wrong?” and she said, “Danny’s dead.” I heard her, but I couldn’t believe it. My father was scheduled for bypass surgery later in the month, so I asked, “Daddy’s dead?” and she said, “No, Danny’s dead.” I sat up, and swung my legs off the bed and onto the floor as I turned on the bedside lamp. “How? When did it happen?” She said he was on his way home and he flipped his car and was killed. I then asked dumb questions like, “Was he alone? Did he hit something? Was he wearing his seat belt?” Why was I worried about his seat belt? I guess I was just trying to figure our how a simple one car accident could take his life.

I still just couldn’t believe it was true. I got up and began turning on lights in the apartment. They were in San Angelo and Danny and his family lived in Conroe near Houston. My sister-in-law had called them and they’d slept through the first couple of calls, so when my mother finally got to the answering machine she was crying, “Please pick up, oh, please pick up.” I went into auto pilot after that turning on my computer and checking flights out of San Angelo for them. It worked out that the earliest flights were out of Midland and they had to drive about two hours to get there. I was worried about them driving as upset as they were, but I was five hours away from them by car. Once I checked on the availability of the flights I called my friend Todd and he said if they’d come to his house he’d take them to the airport and take care of their dogs for them. I called mother back and had her write down the flight numbers and times, gave her Todd’s address and phone number and told her how to get to his place. They drove to his house in the wee hours of the morning and he made sure they got to their flight on time and picked them up when they came back. He was a great help to them and they appreciated it so much.

The next day I was in training for a new position with Southwestern Bell Yellow Pages and I knew that one of the big things was that you couldn’t miss one single day of training. I had to make a presentation in front of the class and I stood up and did it just as I’d rehearsed it. It wasn’t until break that I told two of my female classmates what had happened and they’d been with the company much longer than I, so they immediately went to the supervisors and my trainer and told them what had happened. They came to me immediately and said, “Sam, you’ve had a tragedy in your family and no one is going to hold it against you for going, so you go and do what you need to do and you can make up the training days when you get back, don’t worry about it.” I was so grateful to them because I was really worried about having to take off, so I headed home to pack.

None of us really thought about calling any of our relatives, but mother left it up to me to call Ruby. I thought if she wanted to fly down for his funeral I could pick her up at the Houston airport, but she was ninety years old and just getting from Monahans to the airport in Midland would have been a strain on her. When I finally reached her, she said, “Oh, no, Sammy you don’t mean it?” When I told her the details she said, “Bless his heart, I didn’t even get to say goodbye, your poor mother.” She was like I was it just didn’t seem real, or possible and it took a while to really sink in. She then got a pen and paper and wrote down all the details I had to give her. She said she didn’t think she’d be able to make it because she had to take a special bus from Monahans to the Midland Airport and she didn’t think there was enough notice. She also didn’t have the advantage I had of the Internet and at her age it would have been difficult for her even it the trip had been planned in advance. I again wished I still lived in Midland, so I could just drive over and pick her up and we could fly there together. Ruby was such a huge part of our lives I knew she wanted to be there with all her heart. We found out that later that day she’d gone down to the Senior Citizens Center to play cards that afternoon and tell her friends. At first I think mother was a little mad, but I reminded her how I’d gone to work that same morning just because it seemed so unreal I didn’t know what to do.

Later in the day, she called mother at Danny’s house and she sent flowers to the funeral. Her younger sister Anna and daughter Sherry came to the funeral and mother and I were glad they did it was a nice gesture. When I hugged Anna I remembered the day my Grandfather Ragsdale, her brother, had passed away and I’d hugged her and left tears on her dress when I was thirteen years old. It was twenty eight years later, but I remembered it as if it were yesterday. It’s funny how you remember such kindnesses at a time like that, but they’re always greatly appreciated. Mother still remembers the fact that they showed up to this day even though they both died years ago.

I barely remember packing to drive down to Conroe. I would go to my closet and stand there trying to remember why I was in there and then suddenly remember I’d gone for a belt, or a pair of shoes. I was like a Zombie with nothing in my brain. As well as I’d packed mother and I still had to go to a store in Conroe to buy things we’d forgotten, and needed for the funeral. It was the strangest time of my life. I'd spent Christmas 1995 at his house with my mother and father, but I had a chance to see him one more time after that. In January 1996 I called him and told him I would give him my dining room set if he would come up to Dallas to pick it up, I lived in Oak Lawn.

He and a buddy came up and he called me from a pay phone on the corner and said, "Do you know you live in the gay part of town?" I laughed, and said, "No shit?" He and his buddy came right over to my condo and he said he recognized my parking space by my white 1992 Buick Park Avenue. He told his friend, "My family has always had a thing for Buick's.”

After my brother and his friend loaded up the trailer with the furniture I took them to lunch at "Uncle Julio's" on Lemmon Avenue. My brother told me something that day that opened my eyes forever about when we lived in Germany and my parent's fought like cats and dogs. I'd always thought of my mother as the victim as she was always the one who was in the floor screaming, crying, and clawing her face. Danny said, "Do you realize if mother had just left daddy alone when he came home drunk he would have stumbled off to bed nothing would have happened?" We wouldn't have to have gone through all the hell that she started by attacking him. He was only trying to fend her off so he could go to work the next day without a black eye, or scratches on his face, he never raised a hand to her first.

I felt like I'd been punched in the stomach. He was one hundred percent correct, but I never realized it until that moment. I'd always thought my mother was the poor pitiful victim because that was the roll she'd always played.
Danny as a ten year old child realized something that I never had. He never acted like any of it bothered him at all and he could have cared less about either one of our parent's although he became close to my father in later years. I felt he and I had many things to discuss in the future that would reveal a lot of the hurt we'd suffered as children and that I now had a new set of eyes and ear's, to see what I saw in a different light and some how we could find a way together to heal, or at least understand our terrible childhood.

I left him at my condo that day after he asked me if I had any reading material for him to read while taking a dump. I had to get my car to the dealership for service, but I left with a feeling that we had years of catching up to do and that we were going to be closer than ever. I even allowed him to have a glass of water from my Waterford Crystal.

When we went to the funeral home to make the final arrangements, no one seemed to be able to make a decision. I overheard my sister-in-laws father lean over and whisper to her that she didn’t have to buy the most expensive coffin. It pissed me off, but I kept my mouth shut. When I noticed a beautiful wood coffin we stopped and looked at it and it was three thousand one hundred dollars. She said she liked it but we kept on looking. Everyone was just wandering around aimlessly and finally I went over to a silver coffin and pulled it out. It was twenty four hundred dollars and everyone seemed to agree that they liked it. I showed my mother the manufacturer’s name “Aurora” and she didn’t get it. I had to remind her that Danny had been born in Aurora, Colorado. I offered to pay the difference between the silver coffin and the wooden one, but my sister-in-law said no.

Then came the time to buy the plots. My sister-in-law bought two for her and my brother and my parents bought two for them and at my mother’s urging I bought one for me as well. My mother later sold my their plots to my sister-in-law, so now I guess I’ll be buried in a place I’ve only been to once. It was a time of tremendous grief and it seemed like I had to guide everyone around by the hand. We went to several florists and none of them had enough flowers on hand to place our many orders. When we finally found a florist who said he could fill our order my sister-in-law insulted him by telling him she’d heard he didn’t do the best work. He said, “What?” and stopped writing. I had to step forward and apologize for her and explain that my brother, her husband, had been killed the night before and we needed his services desperately. We just wanted everything to be perfect because a funeral was a one time thing. She was just upset that was all. He then took our orders and I must say the arrangements were some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. I told him I didn’t want any carnations in mine because I couldn’t stand them and I wanted it to be sort of abstract all white flowers and not look so “fixed” like many of them do. My sister-in-law, my mother, and father, my aunt, my grandmother, and I, all placed our orders with him and he did a fine job and almost cried when I called to thank him after the funeral.
It was a military affair since my brother was in the Army reserve and he also worked for the Army reserve. Even though mother had forgotten to call most of our relatives and friends there were still about four hundred people there. My sister-in-law had them play the long version of “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd and even my mother whispered to me through her tears, “God is this song ever going to end?” She said later she wished she’d had someone play “Danny Boy” because that’s what we always called him when he was little.

I took an old black and white photo my grandma took of us on her farm in 1962 just before we left for California and placed it in his coffin. I wrote on the back, “Danny, for all the times we moved around and all we had was each other, I’m glad you were there. I love you, Sammy.” My father put some kind of military prayer in with him. Mother said she wished she’d thought to bring something, but there was just too much grief to even think clearly.

I had joked with mother a few years earlier that since each one of us kids had been brought home from the hospital in a Buick I wanted her to make sure if I died that the funeral home had a Buick hearse, so my first car ride and my last car ride would be in a Buick. As we walked behind his coffin as it was being carried from the chapel to the hearse I looked up and the hearse was a blue Buick Roadmaster. Since he was a medic and a helicopter mechanic helicopters’ flew overhead and there was a gun salute, but I don’t remember how many guns there were.

One of the things we wanted to see was where the accident occurred. The day before the funeral we drove to the location a highway patrolman had given my father. It was a slight curve in the road with a soft dirt shoulder. The only eye witness to the accident was a man who was passing my brother because Danny was actually driving the speed limit of fifty five. He said when he looked in his rearview mirror to get back into the right lane he could see my brother’s headlights rolling as the car flipped and hit a tree. The tree wasn’t all that big, but Danny had a 1988 blue Camaro with T-tops cut in it and the car somehow flipped and landed on its roof, trapping his upper body between the metal roof and a tree stump. All the glass had broken out of the car and plastic and fiberglass parts were strewn all around the accident site. My cousins and I had been taken to the wrecking yard the night before to see the car and it actually made me feel better to see it. There was no possible way anyone could have survived. The passenger door was caved in all the way to the console and the windshield pillars were pushed down around the steering wheel. The guy there said they never found one of the rear wheels, and it was the only car he’d seen in his twenty years in the business that had to be brought in upside down on a flat bed truck because the frame was bent so badly no two wheels would touch the ground. My cousin Tammy saw the wheel about three hundred yards from the accident site in the woods the next day. They had send for a medical helicopter to get him to the nearest hospital, but his neck was broken at the second vertebrae and one of his lungs was protruding from his chest. He never had a chance, but if he’d lived he would have been a quadriplegic like Christopher Reeve and Danny could have never have lived that way. I’ve learned that there are things worse than death.

Our lives have never been the same since that day. My sister soon divorced her husband and she and her three year old son moved in with my parents. My mother has had back surgery, both knees replaced and has become dependant on pain pills, sleeping pills and tranquilizers. Sometimes she talks like the mother I used to know, but most of the time she’s forgetful and changes things that happened in the past to different locations or even different people. My father has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and they both still fight constantly. My parents haven’t seen much of my sister-in-law since his death. She received about four hundred thousand dollars of insurance money, had another man move in with her a few months later and married him about fourteen months after Danny died. The only reason my mother has stayed in touch with my nephew and twin nieces is because she’s put forth the effort, otherwise we wouldn’t know anything about them. My faith has been severely tested. I once believed in heaven, but after loosing several of my friends to AIDS in the nineties and most of my elderly family members have died I’m not so sure anymore I wonder if death is just a “dirt nap”?
After Danny's death I couldn't stand the idea of having any glass in the roof of my car and since my car had a moon roof I traded it on a new black 1996 Buick Rivera without a moon roof.

That summer of I was driving my new Buick from Dallas to my parent's home in San Angelo. It was late at night and I'd decided to take the rural roads for the scenery. The car only had eight hundred miles on it and I was bored, so I decided to open it up to see just how fast it would go.
The specs said it had a top speed of one hundred thirty five, but I could only manage one hundred and eight when something kicked the back of my seat hard. It was pitch dark and I'm a neat freak, so I don't allow any luggage, clothes, etc. in the passenger compartment. Everything must go in the trunk out of sight, or I can't stand it.
I immediately slowed down and got the creeps, I even reached behind my seat and waved my hand back and forth to see if I'd forgotten something that might've slammed against the back of my seat. There was nothing, but I stayed at the speed limit all the way to my parent's house. I’ve often wondered if that was my brother telling me to slow down.

I dream about Danny from time to time. He never says much, but then he never was much of a talker. Most of the time I’m doing something and he just happens to be there. Once I dreamed we were sleeping in the same bed just like when we were kids and there were police lights outside the window and I was trying to wake him up and tell him something was wrong. Where do loved ones go when they die? I know that there will always be a hole in our family that will never be filled. I miss you little brother.

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