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Just Me

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I knew this day would finally come. Although it's sad to say goodbye, I'm thankful that dad lived for eighty-two years. Thank God, he lived to see his birthday last month.

As I look down at the casket, I see him peacefully lying there in his eternal slumber. He died in probably the best way possible – in his sleep. His doctor didn't know exactly how he died, so they ended up summing it up as 'natural causes.'

It doesn't matter he wasn't my biological dad, nor does it matter that he's white. He will always be my dad, and I consider myself fortunate enough to have had two great dads in my life.

He was very much loved by everybody, as I see the entire St. Patrick's Cathedral packed with grievers. There were hundreds of people who came to the funeral to pay their final respects to my dad. Sam was by my side and everybody who worked with my dad at Trans Alliance Inc., was there giving their final goodbyes to him. Some of our penthouse neighbors were there as well, such as Mr. Hanlon who was now in his 80s. My dad's 95-year-old sister, Sophia, also came. She was not in the best of shape, considering she was confined to a wheelchair, but she made it, nonetheless. This shows just how much he meant to everyone.

Also in attendance were all his former housekeepers, including Mrs. Garrett and Mrs. Gallagher. Even Ruthie and Diane brought their families to pay their respects. Ruthie and Diane were the daughters of dad's good friend from Oregon, Larry Alder. Larry had passed away as well, but his daughters attended dad's funeral in his honor.

I shouldn't be surprised, but some of the girls from Kimberly's old high school were there, too. There was Blair, Jo, Natalie, Dorothy – better known as "Tootie," – Cindy, Sue Ann, Molly, and Nancy. All of them came along with their families. Kimberly's old friend, Michelle, was there as well. She and dad had their differences, but after Kimberly's death, they put them aside and became more cordial to each other. Arnold's best friend, Dudley, was also there. He had his wife and kids with him. I can't stop thinking about that incident with the male bicycle predator whenever I see him. I'm just glad that nothing happened to Dudley.

I took a seat as the pastor was ready to begin his service. As he was talking, I couldn't help but think about all the people who were closest to me who had passed on.

First, I thought of my biological father who died in 1975. That was the first time I ever really dealt with death. It affected me so much that, at one point, I couldn't remember anything that happened during that year. Then, my mother died two years later. She was the one who made it possible for me and Arnold to move in with dad.

The 80s and the early 90s were good to me, as no one close to me died; however, that changed in 1993 when my distant cousin died in a car accident. She was the only remaining family member left, and the sad thing was I only found out about her five years earlier. Although we only knew each other for a short time, we got rather close during that period. There were no other relatives because all of my grandparents and my other aunt from my dad's side died long ago.

When I thought it couldn't get any worse, I lost Kimberly. She had been battling drugs and alcohol for a very long time, spanning many decades. In fact, we both struggled with drug and alcohol addictions, but I was able to overcome it. Unfortunately, she never could. It became too much for her and she finally gave up. She committed suicide in 1999. It was really hard on me since I was basically the last person she spoke to. I remember that day very clearly, as we were on the phone for a good two hours.

"I went to the doctor today, and he couldn't find out what was causing my sleep apnea."

"What about stress?" I asked.

"He didn't think that I had enough stress in my life for it to cause sleep apnea." I was about to say something, but then she sighed and continued, "I don't know how long I can take this. It seems that every day is like a struggle for me not to look at that bottle of whiskey or that white powder."

"Don't worry about it, Kim, you'll get through. I'm sure you will."

"I don't know, Willis. I just don't know. Because of them, my marriage was wrecked and I lost in the child custody case. How often do you hear a woman losing child custody? How much lower can you get?"

"It's rare, but you can't let that get to you. If you're worried about what people think, then you shouldn't. They're probably more messed up than you believe."

"It's more than just that. It's like, when I look at my life and compare it to daddy's, I'm totally ashamed. He's successful, was happily married 'til mom died, and is very well respected. I, on the other hand, have failed at many jobs, got divorced, and many people hate me."

"That's not true. You have a lot of friends."

"Fake friends, more like it. They're just a bunch of gossiping, snobby elitists. The only friends I got are Jack Daniels and Columbian Sugar."

"That's why I need to tell you about this rehab. They helped me get clean."

"Oh, God. Yet another rehab…"

"Listen to me, Kimberly. These guys are good. They helped me through my alcohol and drug problems."

"Do they have a branch in Los Angeles?"

"No. You will have to move back here to New York."

"Forget it. I'm not going back to that city!"

She had moved to Los Angeles after a nasty rumor circulated about her and had isolated her from the rest of the High Society Club in NYC. She felt that she could rebuild herself in LA but, in my opinion, all LA did was introduce her to people who were even worse than those in NYC. That's where she got more addicted to drugs and alcohol.

"Look, I'll even get you a plane ticket to come back here if you agree to try the rehab. I believe 100% that it will work for you. It did for me. I can get you here in the next two weeks. Is that okay?"

"Yeah, it's okay. Go ahead and get me the ticket."

After we hung up, I immediately went and purchased a one-way ticket from L.A. to New York. I sent her an email about it and she simply replied, "Thanks. See you in two weeks." Little did I know that it would be the last thing she ever said to me. I was shocked when I found out. Even though she agreed to come back to New York, now that I think of it, her promise only seemed to be half-hearted. She had probably already made her mind up to end it all.

I still remember her funeral. It was hard seeing dad cry his heart out because his only biological child was gone. He said that he recovered, but I could tell that it still bothered him to the day he died. He was never the same after Kimberly died.

About ten years later, Sam's mother died as well. She had been battling cancer for a long time. Her death really affected Sam for quite a while. It affected me as well, but nowhere near as much as it affected him. Her death eventually led to his depression. After I saw what depression did to Kimberly, I wasn't going to let Sam suffer a similar fate. I vowed to do whatever I could to help him overcome his loss. We talked about it a lot and attended several therapy sessions. The experience made our bond grow stronger than ever.

However, the procession of deaths wasn't over. The one that really made me dejected for a long time came just three years ago when Arnold passed away. I should have seen it coming considering he had kidney problems since he was a kid. Yet, I always hoped that he would overcome them. Unfortunately, that's not what happened. His kidneys failed and killed him almost instantly. I still remember that day. He; my wife, Tammy; his wife, Fiona; and I were having a few drinks near the fireplace when, all of a sudden, he collapsed to the floor. We called an ambulance, but it was too late…

For a while, I couldn't believe it. That's not how it's supposed to be. I'm the one who should've died first. Arnold shouldn't have died before me. I'm the older brother. I shouldn't have had to bury my little brother. His death was too much for me. I had to return to counseling, this time for the depression his death caused me. It was Sam's turn to be the supportive one. He helped me through everything. I couldn't thank him enough for his help.

Now here I am again, at yet another funeral. I don't care what anybody says, but unless you're a pallbearer, you never, ever get used to attending funerals. Every time I go to one, it makes me feel like I have some sort of death touch because everyone is dying around me. Seeing loved ones leave this earth is not something I enjoy.

I was listening to the pastor give dad's eulogy, when it suddenly hit me. It's just me; no one else is left. Kimberly's gone, Arnold's gone, my biological parents are gone, and now dad is gone. I'm basically all alone now. I'm left with nothing but memories of them, and that's it. Their presence will no longer be in my life. I'm beginning to feel that huge void that loss creates.


A few hours later, I was at the burial. It was damp outside, with a light drizzle. The only thing missing were some thunderstorms, which would have fit the mood even better. I was one of the pallbearers, taking the coffin out of the hearse. Sam and I were both at the front carrying either side of the coffin. Now covered in tattoos and body piercings, Sam is a totally different guy from his youth. Just like me, he faced drug and alcohol addictions, but was able to overcome them. Don't let the tattoos and piercings fool you, he's a religious man who strongly believes in Jesus and God.

I watched as my dad was being laid in the ground and remembered all the times I had with him. From the day Arnold and I first moved in and I wanted to go back to Harlem to when he helped me cope with my biological father's death to the time he punished me for joining the Tarantulas. All those memories – both wonderful and not so wonderful – came rushing back to me. I started to cry because all of them overwhelmed me. Although I'm not much of a crier, I couldn't stop. All the people I grew up with and loved were all gone. Why did I suffer so much loss at such a young age? I'm not even fifty yet.

It was hard to watch the cemetery workers filling in the hole. It felt like it wasn't the only empty, black space in the area. There was also a void in my heart. I wish it was as easy to fill the hole in my heart as it was to fill that grave, but the reality was, this hole would always remain.

Everybody was enjoying their time at the reception, or repast, or whatever you'd like to call it. Everybody, except me. How could I enjoy myself? I was all alone. The last important person from my childhood was gone. I was sitting alone at a table on the far end of the reception area, when Mrs. Garrett and Jo came up to me.

"Are you okay, Willis?" Mrs. Garrett lightly nudged my shoulder to get my attention. She did this for a short time as I looked at her and Jo, then I quickly looked back to nothing. I was not in the mood to face them.

"Not really. Having dad gone makes me realize something."

"What is it?" Jo asked.

"That I'm all alone. There's no one else left." I tried my best to keep my cool, but I started to cry. "I mean my biological parents are gone, my sister, Kimberly, is gone, my brother, Arnold, is gone, and now Mr. Drummond is gone. I'm really all alone."

"That's not true," Mrs. Garrett countered. "You still have your lovely wife, Meg, and your two beautiful daughters."

"Yeah, but they're not the ones who grew up with me. They weren't a part of my childhood."

"True, but unlike your dad and your siblings, they will be there for your future. You had your times with your father and your siblings, but now you can recreate those moments with your wife and your kids," said Mrs. Garrett. "Look, the past is gone. There's not much we can do about it, but the future is still a blank canvas, ready to be filled with new memories and experiences."

"Yeah, and you will always have those memories for the remaining years of your life, Willis," Jo told me. "Look at it this way, you get to be a part of their childhoods, just like how Mr. Drummond, Kimberly, and Arnold was part of yours."

Jo continued to say, "I understand how you feel, Willis. When Ma and Pop died, I felt the same way. But I got people like Blair, Tootie, Natalie, Mrs. G. here, and of course, you, to look forward to spending my life with. Just when one chapter ends, another one begins. That is, unless it happens to be your final chapter, if you get my drift?"

I had to think about it for a bit. What's the point of wallowing in the past, when I still have a future? What's the point when I still have loved ones to take care of? I can't let the number of losses affect me or my family. I can't let them affect my future. Like Mrs. Garrett said, the future is a blank canvas, and I'm ready to paint a new picture that will include my loved ones and my friends who are still alive.

"You're right. I do need to move on. I still have other people who care about me and to whom I can look forward to spending my life with. I still have my wife and my children, and I want to be a part of their lives, just like how Mr. Drummond was part of mine."

Mrs. Garrett and Jo smiled immediately after I finished speaking.

"Well, in that case, do you care to join us at our table?" Jo offered.

I smiled and said, "Sure."

I joined the rest of the group as we shared memories of dad. Some were funny, others were serious and thoughtful, and many were about him helping others. Regardless, they were all wonderful and positive – fitting for a man who not only talked the talk, but who walked the walk. I am very appreciative of the friends and family I still have left – Sam, Meg, my daughters, Jo, and especially Mrs. Garrett.

Kimberly, Arnold, and dad may be gone, but the memories of them will live with me forever. I consider myself very lucky to have had them in my life. Hopefully, when my time comes, people will celebrate my life the same way they did dad's.