Yesterday I went to a cookout. You have all been to one of these cookouts. At some time in our lives we are required by law I think to attend a family cookout. By family I mean two or three families brought together by a common link, this one being my son's late fiancee of eight years, Liz. I have written a tribute to her memory but I cannot find the right words to describe her.
My son was invited as he was going to be the cook, and he is regarded as the dad to Liz's children, most likely because he raised them, and provided for them, and loves them as his own, and always will. This day also served as Allison's*, (the youngest of the children) twelfth birthday party. Now it should be a given that the first birthday following her mother's death is going to be a difficult time at best. I mean this is something you know from the get-go. Maybe a small 'get-together' with a few of her friends, a sleep-over, might have been the way to go. But I have no say-so, and neither does the man she calls her father. As he and Liz were never married, he has no legal right to Allison. Someday, he may pursue it, but now, he's as lost in some ways as she is.
Her maternal grandmother, we'll call her Grammy, is now her legal guardian. She is a perfectionist, as was her daughter, and the decorations, the planning, the food, the gifts, the whole she-bang was so reminiscent of Liz, it was surreal. And, like her daughter, she has that innate and unique ability to keep everyone around her in a constant state of piss-off.
The event, I don't know whether to call it a party or cookout, was held at Grammy's father's house. The man has five refrigerators. Not that this has any bearing on the subject at hand, but it quite amazed me. I immediately decided that when I became rich and famous, I would invest in two more refrigerators, knowing full well that to do this I would have to build an addition to my house, but what the hell, it just blew my mind for some reason. I did get busted for taking a diet Pepsi out of one of the refrigerators by Grammy, our hostess, as "those belong to the man upstairs.." Whether she meant God, her father, or a boarder, I didn't stop to ask. You don't ask questions like that of Grammy.
I know you have met people like Grammy. That particular person who is a walking time-bomb, waiting for the most obscure flotsam of implied criticism to float there way, and then throw a full-fledged rolling-in-the-floor, beating-her-breast, and finger-pointing-screaming match, fit. These people, quite frankly, scare the shit out of me. What is even worse in this situation is that Grammy has always had a huge dislike for me. Ok, she fucking hates me. Liz and I talked about it at length one day, but neither of us could quite pin-point the reason.
So EJ's chugging bears, and cooking hot dogs and hamburgers, taking orders from the master chef, Grammy, brushing aside her barbs and pot shots, like gnats at a, well, cookout, with his happy face on. This is his daughter's birthday, and come hell or high water, he is going to keep the peace for Amber.
So far, so good. Allison is hanging out with her friends, laughing, enjoying being the star of the day. Then, her big sister comes bouncing in, a Gothic hurricane if you will. Dressed for all the world like a an S&M madam. At sixteen, she is beautiful, without the massive eye-liner, spiky hair, black fingernails, any decorations. But this is her style. We just wish that her paternal grandparents, her legal guardians, who are currently feuding with Grammy, would monitor her dress a little more. Breasts are nice, but that doesn't mean they should be on display 24/7. I especially liked the knee high biker boots. Allison and her big sister have not been getting on well, and Allison immediately went into defense mode. Her sister brought a friend, Mandy, who had two diamond studs in her lower lip, and surveyed us all like we were the lamest group she ever had to deal with. I wanted to slap her, but, due to laws and things like that, I didn't.
I met Grammy's dad's lady-friend, an 85 year old woman, named Lucille. Refined and beautiful, I placed her age at no more than 65. When she told me she was in fact 85 I replied in my own unique way, "Hell, no, girl, you're shittin' me!" She giggled beautifully, and said no, she was really 85. We had a delightful conversation, that I soon realized everyone else was listening too, as they began to venture forth questions to this remarkable woman.
Then Lucille asked me the inevitable question. "So how are you related to everyone?" "Well, actually, I'm not. You know that tall young man with the dark hair? That's my son. EJ. Liz's ex-boyfriend."
Oh, she said, vaguely, waiting for me to finish. After a few more minutes of explaining, I finally said I was a related by association. "Oh, I see. Your son is so handsome," she said. We let it drop there.
The saving grace for me was Grammy's ex-husband's parents, a wonderful gentle, straight-forward couple who have had their share of hardships. The ex-husband, their son, died not too long ago of cancer, and it was devastating for them, and for EJ as well, as they had become great friends and devoted Texas Hold-em players. This lovely couple has always made me feel good inside, and I feel it is my duty to make them laugh as much as possible.
Anyway, at one point, Liz's brother's ex-wife, Chrysal and her two boys, came by. The brother was a no show as he is feuding with his mother, Grammy, which was extremely put out. And since he was not there, the target for her frustration became Allison.
Allison disappeared and I went looking for her, finding her sitting on the side of the house with two of her friends, tears in her eyes. I asked if she was thinking about her mom, and she nodded her head, but wouldn't let me hug her. So, I did what everyone else does when Allison has a problem. I fetched EJ, and they talked, and hugged, and little by little he made her smile. Grammy, of course, was not to be so easily pacified.
Allison later stated my thoughts exactly. "Grammy's acting like such a bitch.." Hey! Allison calls me Grandma too, and grandmas get to indulge, not necessarily correct. And in this crowd, this tinderbox of old hurts, thinly masked accusations and disapproving glances, damned if I'm gonna rock the boat. (But God, (or maybe the man upstairs?), knows I wanted to.) My jaws are still sore from clamping them shut so tightly.
However, I actually had a good time. I made new friends, didn't influence any people, and was spared the agony of attending yet another memorial service for my son and his fallen comrades in Brooks Park IL. Call me callous, call me selfish, call me an uncaring evil whatever, I don't really care, but I'm so tired of "burying" my son over and over again. I'll go to the memorial in Brook Park by myself, without the crowds, and mourn in my own way.
I told Allison when she was crying that I feel Travis is with us all the time, and so is her mom, "she is with you all the time, and she loves you so very much. That's how I get through it, Allison. That's how I can bear it. Knowing they are with us in spirit."
Travis told me one time that if something ever happened to him, for me not to worry. He was "outta here". He was gone. He'd be ok, and there was no use to be all sad and "shit". I told him to hush up. Don't even talk about it.
So yesterday I remembered my youngest son, and went to a cookout with my oldest son. I imagined Travis being there, watching the whole scenario and laughing his head off, picking on his big brother, making him laugh out loud, helping him fend off all the little kids that gravitate toward both of them like a magnets. God knows, if he had been there, he would have had a blast, shooting zingers left and right, watching every one of them zoom over someones head. But, he would also, in his own way, make everyone feel more alive and joyful.
EJ does the same thing. Of course, its harder now. But he keeps the tradition. He keeps it well.