Sunday, April 20, 2014

Out to Albion

Little has changed on the road to Albion. It felt awfully strange to be driving that way again, for the first time in more than three years, on a length of road that I used to drive nearly every day, that I drove thousands of times over the years.

I did not drive past the old house. It was bad enough being out there in the same area, just down the road and around the corner. I know that things have changed out there: all the trees and bushes enclosing the yard have been cut down. My father has told me this. I didn’t want to see it.

I listened to Spy music all the way out. Mostly James Bond theme songs, to stoke myself up for the battle. I hadn’t seen or spoken to my sister in three and a half years, and would not have been going out to her place even now except to honor the memory of her son, killed in February on a snowbound road.

It was encouraging to see a large number of cars in the yard. The turnout to remember my nephew was very respectable indeed. More than eighty of his frat brothers turned up; a large group of them were leaving as I walked in, piling four and five into their cars. 

Unsure of where I was supposed to go, I headed around the house in the direction that the frat boys had come from. Things had changed considerably there, as well. 

Three and a half years ago, they had just been put out of their house and my brother-in-law had started building a new structure for them to live in, on the very edge of the property. Three and a half years ago, it was a shack. In the time since I was out there last, T____ has done a huge amount of work, all by himself (and he’s not a young man anymore), and what they have now is almost like a compound. Interesting from the outside, but really nice on the inside, with a lot of character. Although we have never been close, my brother-in-law is a man of many talents.

There was still a respectable crowd, mostly young people that I did not know, filling “the little house” where my nephew lived with his girlfriend and spilling out into the yard. My niece spotted me right away, and welcomed me with a hug. She introduced me to her boyfriend, and took me around the affair.

It was nice. The entire outside wall of the little house had been covered over with pictures of my nephew. There was tons of food, although I had no appetite. There was a book to write memories in, and a pile of smooth stones to write tributes upon, to be set out around a tree they plan to plant in his memory. The whole affair, I learned later, had been planned and set up by my niece. Her mother, my sister, had nothing to do with any of it. Nor was there any sign of her in the yard.

The Postmaster for the town of China was there, to my surprise. I was able to talk with her for a little bit. Cost-cutting measures within the USPS have hit her office, and she is going to have to serve out her final months before retirement in an as-yet-undetermined branch office.

My niece steered me into the main house. I didn’t know what to expect. I shook my brother-in-law’s hand and told him what a great job I thought he’d done with the place.

He was clearly hurting. But my sister was her usual phony-ebullient self. She had not even dressed for the occasion: she was wearing a pair stretch pants and a crummy tee-shirt. From the moment that she saw me, she was all over me like fly-paper, which I was not comfortable with from the get-go. I tried to offer my condolences, but she would not let me get a word in edgewise. Instead, she started yammering at me about my book — oh, it was so good, oh she didn’t want it to end, oh she was going to send my comics to someone that she knew, yammer-yammer-yammer, just applying meaningless flattery with a trowel, and it made me absolutely furious because I WAS NOT THERE TO TALK ABOUT MY STUPID BOOK. 

I was there to pay my respects over the death of her son, and she could not be bothered with her son any more than she could be bothered with our mother four years ago. 

When our mother died she would not even help me plan a memorial service. I had to work out all the details myself, and I don’t know how to do these things. On the day of the event, she arrived late, left early, and told a completely bullshit, made-up story out of her imagination that never happened through a flood of the phoniest, fake crocodile tears.

All the while, she was breaking into my house and stealing things.

Yesterday she tried to apologize to me… but she did so in a manner that indicated she did not even know what she was apologizing for, and again the fake tears that I have seen so often from her that I know them by heart started to come. Started, and immediately swept away. It was the only emotion I saw from her the whole time I was there, and it was strictly a performance for effect.

She started dragging me around her house, showing me their whole set-up… and the whole time that she was showing me the place, she was apologizing for it. Again I was furious, this time for the sake of her husband, to hear her talk in such a demeaning way about all of his hard, good work and the wonderful house that he built for her.

At last two things happened. 

The large number of people in attendance had taken its toll on the bathroom, and a minor crisis came up that needed attending to. 

At the same time, my father and his wife, M__, arrived. M__ came inside right away,  and seemed in a very emotional state. I was able to hug her hello and then pass again out into the yard.

My father has already, as of last year, developed that “old-man walk” that his father had late in life. It has since been made worse by a fall that tore a ligament in his knee and required surgery and months of rehab. He now walks with a cane and seems even more fragile than when I saw him last. 

I found him writing in my nephew’s book. And he was so emotional that he was trembling all over and could barely write. I gave him a squeeze and stuck close to him the rest of the time that I was there. 

Then he took my nephew’s girlfriend aside. She was the only witness to T___’s death; she was in the car beside him during the accident. I knew that my father wanted to find out what had happened. He tried to guide her inside the house, but she did not seem to notice that he was wobbly and needed to sit down. Eventually he got the message through to her. At the same time, quite suddenly, people began to disappear out of the yard my niece and her cousin began to focus on shutting the affair down.

For the first time, and thankfully, nobody’s attention was focussed on me. I used the opportunity to make my escape.

Driving back into town, back to what is now more than ever my Home, I nearly missed the turn onto the “new” bridge. In the three years since I’ve been out that way, a significant amount of brush has transformed the spot. That, at least, is something that’s changed along the road to Albion.

-- Freder.

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