Driving home from Sacramento, I have The Beta Band’s The Three EP’s playing as loud as I can stand it. It’s late at night and the weather is unusually warm for March.
This is the definition of my life | Lying in bed in the sunlight | Choking on the vitamin tablet | The doctor gave in the hope of saving me | In the hope of saving me
My husband and I pull into the small lot and I wonder aloud how everyone will find parking. I recognize a few people, but I don’t want to go in yet. My dad isn’t here yet. I’m on the phone to southern California with my not-nephew. My brother calls. They are here. I walk towards the historical landmark building and see him through the openings of several doorways on the other side of the structure. I wave. I click back to SoCal.
“Jeff, I have to go. Ok. Ok, I will. Ok. I gotta go, it’s starting…”
My husband and I walk in quietly. I’m searching for my dad and brother. I also look for two cousins I know to be here. Blood kin. My stepsisters are speaking. My dad wobbles out of the line of people and we make our way towards him. I give him a big hug and kiss. His face is wet. I spot my brother in the back and make a beeline for him. My husband stands in the back of the room.
I asked him time again | Take me in and dry the rain | Take me in and dry the rain
I wrap my arms around my impossibly tall brother and rest my head on his chest. His heart flutters and his breathing is shallow. Stress. I inquire about his allergies and he assures me he’s ok. I hold him tighter.
When the microphone gets passed around the room, and other people start telling stories about my stepmother, I go to my father. For the time, he is standing without the support of another. I wrap my arm around his waist and refuse to let go until I must.
Later, in the kitchen, five of us stand in a circle. We are the last of our kind – the last of the Harveys. This branch at least. My two cousins, my brother, my father, and myself. We are a little bubble of familiarity despite the years between now and the last time we saw each other – almost two decades. My husband and others hover outside our little circle. Strange how we can pick up like we just saw each other last month. Lots of hugs. Only, our stories are bigger. No small talk. We fill in gaping holes with broad strokes. There is no time for details.
Last night it was so good | I felt like crying, I felt like crying | Last night though you looked so cold | I felt like smiling, smiling while I’m dying
But then the crush of people: these are all in-laws, adopted family and close friends who demand the attention of my father and we disperse.
Hours stretch on. I share a cup of iced tea with my cousin. I’m really thirsty. My dad cracks open a 50 year old bottle of bourbon. It smells so sweet, it reminds me of madeira. Its taste is smooth. I share a small glass with my husband and cousins. A shared libation – both a toast to my dead stepmother and to the few blood relatives I’m able to share this moment with. A small package of photos is handed to me. The family doberman. My 15th birthday party. My dad’s prized cars: a 32′ Ford, a 48′ Merc. A svelte me in a bathing suit. A very fat me at my master’s degree graduation (Gods Almighty, did I really have like four chins?) My grandparents. My cousin’s father (my father’s brother).
Needles in my eyes won’t cripple me tonight alright | Twisting up my mind please pull me through the light alright
Much later, I steal a moment alone with my father. We stand forehead to forehead. My father tells me he’s lost his partner, someone who also loved me. We both burst into tears. I tell him how unfair it is. I grip his shoulders and tell him I don’t want him to be lonely.
Last night I dropped my heart | and I never want to see it again | Getting tighter with you all the time | I think I’m gonna buckle my spine
After seeing my father off, my husband and I stop in midtown for Indian. We dined at this place some time ago with my best friend. I’m exhausted and sticky and starving – I haven’t eaten all day. I’m relieved to find something familiar. I hear all about the crazy conversations had and overheard. I hear about all the drunk and grief-stricken people. I hear all the observations. I also hear that no less than three people told my husband in so many words ‘Good luck with your new wife, she’s a handful!’
I crept in and I stole your mind | I think I’m having trouble with mine
In this moment I can’t bear to hear another word. I’ve heard enough. I’ve hit my limit. Too many conflicting emotions. Too many stories. Too many people.
So now I’m driving home from Sacramento with The Beta Band’s The Three EP’s as loud as I can stand it, effectively ending the conversation. The weather is unseasonably warm and I grip my black steering wheel harder than I need to. I push my little car’s accelerator further than normal and carefully mind the taillights through bug smeared windshield.
I feel the old pull to drive to the ocean. I’m tempted to continue on 80 West, through San Francisco so that I can go see the water and collect myself. But then, just as suddenly, I just want to be home and to see or hear from no one for as long as I can manage.
If there’s something inside that you want to say | Say it out loud it’ll be okay | I’ll be your light
I hope that The Beta Band is telling the truth, but right now, I’m pretty fucking far from okay.