family matters

I see a horny toad this morning on the way back from my morning dip in the ocean. Stock still in the sand dune. I watch for several minutes but she doesn’t even blink.

When my brother was little, he had a pet horny toad he wore on his shirt, over his heart. They went everywhere together.

I recently visited my father. We wound up talking about my other brother, the one who died. I mentioned that I’d gone to the cemetery before moving from LA County. It was… hard, to leave him.

His grave is in the children’s section, at the intersection of Queen of Peace Avenue and Queen of the World Drive. The name of the cemetery? Queen of Heaven.

I want to be buried with him, when the time comes. However, he is 50 miles inland from the ocean. A conundrum for this desert fish. Disinterment is a big deal, involving other mortuaries and priests and transportation. Unsettling. Sacrilegious?

While I was there, I hiked up to the mortuary office to give them my address and phone number, in case of — what — an emergency? an earthquake?

“What if the land is sold,” I said, “for re-development, or a freeway?”

“Never happen,” said the — what — grave agent? mourning specialist? “This is sacred space, consecrated land. It would take the Pope. Your brother is safe.”

Back at his headstone, I notice the graves on either side: Joseph Farone and Douglas Morrison, both about 10 years old when they died.

“Big boys!” I said. Joey and Dougie flank three-year-old Johnny, guardian-fashion.

Magical thinking? Perhaps, but I felt better leaving him there.

My father cries when we talk about John. We both do. This time, though, we talked about the guilt.

I am John’s big sister. I should’ve known how sick he was. I should’ve made my mother do something sooner. I should’ve protected him.

I was four.

While I was crying, the guilt about my living brother volcano’d out too. I should’ve known he was being molested by the neighbor down the street. I should’ve protected him.

Both my father and I feel responsible and powerless. Somehow, this is comforting.

That night, wrung out from sobbing, I was able to breeeeeeeeeeathe.
I have been drowning in grief, alone. Hard as it was, I am relieved, in all senses of the word, to express my shame and sorrow to my father. I breathe deeply afterward — full, complete breaths — which I’m not able to do very often. I am becoming aware just how deep and affecting this sorrow is, and has been.

It’s hot in the sun with the horny toad. After awhile, I walk on up the hill to my new abode. Home again, home again, jiggity jig.
horned lizard


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