Chapter 24

(2007)

“James!” shouted Laura. “This is it! This is life. This is marriage. This is what we signed up for!”

It was the spring of 2007. We were both thirty-five-years-old. Laura had taken a break from her career as an opera singer to try to have a baby with me. We had bought a house in one of the newer additions on the north side of Norman with a family in mind; three bedrooms.

I stumbled and fell back onto the couch. I was drunk as I had been every night for the last year.

“Look at you. Don’t you think that I’m upset, too? How many years do you think I’ve dreamed of having a baby?” she said.

“We shouldn’t have waited so long,” I said. “We should have done it right away.”

“Oh, and what about my career? I go straight from college to babies?”

“I’m just saying people who wait have a harder time.”

“The doctor said it’s just as much to do with the motility of your sperm as it is my uterus. This is not my fault. This is not your fault. This. Just. IS.”

I leaned back into the couch and closed my eyes. The tears began to well up, but I willed them to stop. “This is just not how I imagined this going, ok?”

“Babe,” she said, coming to me. “Me neither. And the doctor said we can keep trying.”

“You and I both know that’s not going to do any good.”

She put her hand on her hip, sighed, and looked down at the carpeted living room floor. Then she sat down next to me and put her hand on my leg. “James, no matter what happens. We are in this together. That has always been the deal. There are other ways to have a kid, you know.”

“Like adoption?”

“Yes. Like adoption. Look, I’m taking time out of my career. We could stand to put down some roots, ya know?  Besides, your dad’s kind of on his own here. We can take care of him.”

We sat like this for a while, on the couch, her hand on my leg.

“Laura,” I said, breaking the silence. “Why do you put up with me?”

She squeezed my leg and said, “Darling, we made vows to each other. Fourteen years ago, we stood up in front of everyone we know and said we would love each other no matter what.”

“Yeah, but do you love me?”

She turned to me then demanded I return her gaze. “Listen to me, James Michael Roberts. I will always love you. I may not always like you, but I will always love you.”

“Yeah, I know I’m an asshole. I just feel like you’d be better off with somebody else.”

“Why would you say that?” she said.

“Look at me. You’re comforting me when I should be comforting you. You’ve been dreaming about this child your whole life. The furthest I got to thinking about children growing up was how not to make them.”

“Babe, I’ll be fine. Ok? God will see me through this, and he will see you through it, too. Now go to bed and sleep this off awhile. I’ll make us some mac and cheese and English peas.”

The neatly made bed was cool to the touch. Not wanting to mess it up, I laid down on top of the down comforter and turned to my side. My new job was building software for a natural gas company in the city–not as a consultant, but as an employee for the first time of my career. I was adjusting to having to maintain the code that I would write instead of leaving for the next job. It was making my code sharper, more elegant, easier to maintain. We’d saved up quite a bit of cash as we moved around the U.S. and Europe. I never lacked in my career. I rarely went more than a month or two without work, and I always had plenty to cover us. It had been a successful career. Y2K had been everything I thought it could be. I made signing bonuses of 30k and 50k. I took in rates of 150 an hour or more to do the work. And when that dried up, I learned how to cater to the rise of the dot com world. When that crashed, I began contracting with the federal government, and on and on.

Laura was hired for leads as a lyric soprano in houses like The Dallas Opera and the Chicago Lyric and was a regular at the New York City Opera where stars such as Placido Domingo had first had their success. Although she never sang at the Metropolitan Opera, she had sung at many of the biggest houses in Europe, including La Scala in the lead role of Minnie in La Fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West) to critical acclaim.

The plan was that she would have a career, and then we would have children, and then she would return to explore more dramatic roles. We never expected that she would be making as much money as she did. She was in a very elite league of singers in the world—maybe not the top tier, but a close second.

My desire to have a family had grown over the last few years. Laura was often flying all around the world for her next gig. I traveled a lot as well, following the money. We rarely spent more than ten or eleven nights a month together, but we had gotten used to it and somehow had made it work. We were both faithful even though we were so often on our own. This was our chance not just to have a family but to reunite as a couple–have some years when our heads hit the pillow on the same bed every night for a while.

My drinking had progressed, but I managed to stay professional, only drinking after hours. It had become an obsession with me, spending upwards of a thousand dollars a month on expensive scotch and cognac. I read books on it, traveled to distillers, attended tasting parties, but at the end of the night; I was never really an aficionado, just a drunk passing out in an often lonely bed.

We weren’t used to sharing so much space and time together. She was starting to get a feel for how much I was drinking. We were not used to having regular sex, only the explosive sessions of reuniting after days or weeks of travel, falling into each other’s arms without habit or thought. But this was work, trying to make a baby. The pressure of having the one orgasm that might cause my wife to conceive a child had become a burden, and I sometimes couldn’t finish. Our spontaneity and passion were dwindling steadily.

I dozed for a while dreaming of my mother. It was not fully coherent, but I felt that she was giving me one of her sex talks. Telling me to get some toys or something to spice it up. Even in my dreams, I felt embarrassed to talk with her about this.

“Babe?” said Laura quietly, somewhere close to me, “It’s time for dinner.”

Before sitting down at the table, I went to pour myself a glass of scotch, nothing too expensive, a solid everyday scotch, Glenmorangie Original, which was a ten-year single malt from the Scottish Highlands; the most popular scotch in Scotland. I was still turning my nose at blended scotches, even the big guns like Johnnie Walker.

“James,” said Laura. “Can you maybe take a break from that for dinner. You’ve had quite a bit already.”

“Look, I had a tough day at the office, just please…don’t hassle me tonight.”

“It seems like there’s always something. Rough day. Under the weather. Need a pick me up. Angry at me. Do you really think you need a reason to drink anymore? Can you just please put that away and let’s have a good meal? It’s your favorite.”

I slammed the glass down on the counter and walked back into the dining area.

“Ok, fine. But I’m not pouring that down the drain. I will drink it after dinner. Is that good enough?”

“Thank you. That’s all I’m asking.”

I sat down and put a napkin on my lap and began serving myself some food.

“Um, can we say a prayer? We need to get back in the habit of that now that we’re eating together every day.”

“I don’t need to fucking say grace. I worked my ass off for this food. You should be thanking me, not God.”

“For fuck sake, James, just say the goddam prayer, ok?”

I scooted out my chair, perhaps a little more roughly than I had intended. It made a jarring dragging sound on the oak floor.

“Dammit, James. That is a new floor. You are scratching the hell out of it.”

I didn’t respond. I walked back into the kitchen, grabbed my glass of Scotch, and downed in a few steady gulps. “There. There’s my prayer. Every time I drink this, I’m praying for you to get off my fucking back. What do you want from me?”

She began to cry, “I want you to get help, James. Can’t you see that your drinking is a problem? Do you think this is normal? Normal people do not drink this way. Normal people do not become mean after drinking alcohol. I want you to get help.”

I poured another and drank it down, this time a double. “I’m doing just fine. I’ve got a job. No DUIs. I keep in good shape. I’ve never hit you. I’m faithful to you. Do you know how many husbands cheat on their wives? I supported you when no one would hire you. Babe, I think you’re pretty lucky to have me.”

“Lucky? You think I feel lucky?” she said, getting up from the table. “I just found out that I may never carry a baby in my womb. My husband is a drunk. You can barely even get it up!”

At that, I slung by glass against the dining room wall, and it shattered, leaving a dent just feet from her head.

She crossed to the other side of the table from me. “You stay away from me, James. You stay the fuck away from me.” She grabbed her purse and headed for the front door, “I’m going to my parents. I think you need to sleep it off, and I don’t want to see you until you have sobered up. I don’t care how long that is. Take care of this shit!” She slammed the front door behind her.

I don’t remember anything else from that night other than finishing the bottle of Glenmorangie and falling into bed. The next morning, I was sick and puking. I hadn’t taken my nightly cocktail of Pepto, Alka Seltzer, and Dramamine. There would be no work that day. I called in sick and laid back down in bed, nauseated and sweating, hands shaking. I knew that the only way to stop the shaking would be a drink, so eventually, I gathered the strength to pour a whiskey and orange juice. It didn’t help my stomach, but it calmed my hands. I brewed some coffee and picked up the paper from the front porch.

I sat down with my coffee and the latest edition of the Norman Transcript. The smell of those two things brought to mind my father. I hadn’t visited him for a few weeks. He was retired and mainly puttered around the house, read books and papers, and played a little golf. I decided to give him a call. He would have probably been up for two hours already.

“Ah, yes,” he said, answering the phone, “My favorite youngest son. What’s up?”

“Hey, Dad,” I said.

“Are you ok?”

“Well, not really. Laura walked out last night…not for good, but until I get it together.”

“Oh, I see. Would you like to talk about it?” he said.

“Yeah, I guess.”

“You come over, and I’ll make you an omelet. We’ll have a good talk.”

“Ok…give me about forty-five minutes. I’m just getting up.”

“Hmmmm,” he said, “no work today?”

“Yeah. Not up to it. Anyway, I’ll see you soon”

“Okie-doke,” he said, and I touched the end call button on my phone.

“Okie-doke,” I said to myself.

When I arrived, my father greeted me at the door in blue jeans, boat shoes, and a short-sleeve button-down shirt tucked in neatly.

“Well, hello,” he said, opening the door, “come on in, let me fix you some coffee. Black?”

“Black is fine,” I said.

“Good man.”

I sat down on the living room couch, and he brought me a cup of hot black coffee in a mug that said, “Thank you for all the orgasms,” a father’s day present from my mother.

He said, “Pretty embarrassing mug, huh.”

“Yeah, but that was Mom.”

“You always knew where you stood with her. She knew how to express herself, anywhere, anytime, anyplace. She once thanked me for the previous night’s oral sex at a dinner table full of my colleagues. Said, everyone should know that physics wasn’t my only talent.” He chuckled.

When I was younger, I might have complained about this kind of sharing, but it was these stories that I liked to hear about my mother.

“So, where do you stand with Laura?” he said, sitting down with his coffee.

I sighed and said, “Well, she was pretty clear. She’s not coming back until I sober up.”

“Did you know that your great grandfather James, the man you were named after, was an alcoholic?”

“No, I don’t think you ever mentioned it.”

“Yes. He would have benders that lasted for days. One time, when I was…oh…maybe seventeen, my father and I went to find him. He was passed out in the alley behind the dive bar he frequented. We had to carry him to the car. He wasn’t a mean drunk—at first. He was very jovial. Everybody loved him—life of the party. But by the time he died—I was doing my master’s—he had become a mean and bitter man. Gone were the smiles and hardy laughs. He died of it. Passed out in his car on an ice-cold night and didn’t wake up the next morning.”

“Dad, it’s not like that—I mean, yeah, I lost my temper last night, but we’d just gotten some bad news. We’re not going to be able to have a baby.”

“Ohhh, son. That certainly is bad news. You guys must really be hurting right now.”

“I didn’t see this coming. We’d planned it all out, you know?” I said.

“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. Proverbs 16:9. Did you know that you almost had a sister?”

“You never mentioned that.”

“Yes, before you were born and Mike was about 2, your mother became pregnant. Carried it for sixth months. Oh, it was a tough pregnancy. She was sick for most of it. But then, one day, the baby stopped moving. I took her to the doctor. No heartbeat. They induced her the next day and delivered what would have been a baby girl. I never saw the child, but your mother was allowed to hold it. She told me after that she didn’t want to have another baby, but two years later, she got pregnant again with you. You were a salve for her soul.” He paused and sipped his coffee, looked out somewhere in the distance of the cosmos, perhaps, let out a deep breath, and said, “Our plans are conceived in our small brains with our very short-sighted vision. We don’t see the place we have in the Universe. Perhaps we glimpse it a few times in our lives, but really only God can see it all. We may fight with God over whose plans are better, but the sooner we let God give it a crack, the better.”

“But how do we know God’s plan?” I said.

“We don’t always get to know. I pray a very simple, and sometimes very difficult prayer every morning before I brew the coffee and fetch my paper. Four words. Thy Will Be Done. I prayed that prayer when we lost your sister, and I prayed it when I found out that your mother was dying. I found that God had use for me.”

“So you think it was God’s will for mom to die?” I said, emotions rising.

“No. I do not believe God works that way. God works with us, making good things out of bad things. I do not know what the future holds for you, James; I’m not even sure if God knows that, but I got a tiny glimpse of what you might be in the Universe when you were born. God saved your mother through you, and I don’t think it’s going to be the last time God uses you in that way.”

As we talked, I began to hear thunder in the distance. With spring in Oklahoma, comes thunderstorms, hail storms, and tornadoes. We turned on the TV to find that the networks were tracking a storm capable of tornadic activity coming into the area from the southwest. The meteorologist was getting excited; tornado season was the big time for those guys. Ratings would go up because of this. It’s as if he wanted this to happen.

“Folks,” he said, pointing to radar images, “We’re talking about possibly a very dangerous situation approaching. This is a storm that has produced two F2 tornadoes and is gaining momentum. Cleveland County, Oklahoma County, be prepared to take cover very soon. We’re talking about the potential for an F4 or maybe even an F5 tornado, folks. If you have a shelter, you need to think about heading that way. We haven’t seen it yet, but we are watching it very carefully.”

“Ok,” I said, “I think I’m gonna head home and be ready. Are you going to be ok here? Do you want to come to our shelter?”

“I’ll be fine in the bathroom; you’re welcome to stay. We can follow it on TV. Probably won’t even happen. You know how these guys get.”

“Ok. Headed out,” I said. “Dad, I really appreciate the talk. I feel a lot better.”

He gave me a hug and patted me on the back. “I have faith in you, son.”

This weather situation is the kind of thing that happened every year of my life in Oklahoma. The weather guys got freaked out, and we stayed up late, and it usually just passed, except for the Moore tornado of 1999. Just a few miles northwest of where we bought our house, an F5 tornado, sometimes referred to as Finger of God, created a mile-wide swath of destruction through Moore and half the way up the turnpike to Tulsa. Five hundred thirty-eight people were injured, and forty-one people were killed, many of them in their cars on the road to shelter.

Before leaving, I decided to text Laura to make sure she had a plan, but she never responded. It was a twenty-minute drive home, and when I set out, it was mostly quiet. There was thunder and lightening west of town, but it seemed very far away, but as I drove on, it began to close on me very rapidly. I turned on the radio to see if I could get some news about what the weather was doing. Eventually, I found a station. A histrionic man was shouting, “Folks in Norman, you need to get to a shelter RIGHT NOW. We’re looking at possibly an F5, maybe a mile across. It is on the ground, and it is gathering debris. It’s headed Northwest toward the north side of Norman. Our radar shows it moving fast in a northeasterly direction. If you’re in a car and you don’t think you can make it to your destination, you need to pull over and find a low-lying area like a ditch and get down in it. This is a very dangerous situation. We’re seeing wind speeds in the 250 mile-an-hour range. This is a dangerous storm, folks. Take cover immediately.”

At that moment, I heard the Norman sirens startup. The wind began to pick up. I did not like the idea of getting out of the car. I wanted to be in a shelter, so I gunned the engine and began to race home. Then I heard it, over the roar of my car engine, I heard something much bigger. It was like a mountain was crumbling, or a jet was pulling up behind me. I pushed the pedal all the way to the floor. It started raining hard, and visibility was very limited. Maybe thirty-five feet. To my left, the west, the sky was in turmoil  Just a wide-open field, which somehow seemed to be getting smaller. Something was making it smaller. The dark roaring thing was overtaking it quickly. I tried to keep my eye on the road, but I couldn’t help but look. It was coming my way. It was nearly upon me.

The car began to shake, and I lost control of it. I swerved off the road. I remembered what the weatherman had said about getting into a low-lying area. I scrambled out of the car and crawled down as far as I could get on the edge of the trees. The sound was deafening, but there were no low-lying spots. The car I had just exited was aloft in the wind. The tornado was above me. Pulling at me. I could hear wood wrenching and cracking. I crouched down on my knees and tucked my head under my hands like I’d been taught in so many tornado drills in elementary school.

I don’t know if I shouted it or whispered it or cried it in my head, but I said, “Lord, God! Protect me!”

At that moment, I felt a familiar sensation, something so familiar but from where I was not sure. Although my eyes were closed, I became aware that I was surrounded by light. There were sensations. A warmth or a calm or a vibration surrounding me, filling me. I felt hot, sweet breath in my right ear, and there was a sound or a feeling. It was a voice that I had heard before. It said, “James. Do not be afraid. I am with you.” Something was holding me close to herself or himself or itself. The storm seemed miles away but somehow directly around me. I could not say how long this lasted. Time and space seemed to be lesser forces, but whatever had a hold on me eventually let me go, and I was balled up in a fetal position in the wet grass and mud.

I could still hear the roar, but it was becoming fainter. I sat up. My car was sitting in the middle of the road. I got up, unscathed, and walked toward it. It also appeared to be unscathed. I got in and started it. The southward side of the road was blocked, so I started to drive north to my house. I remember nothing of how I got home, but when I did, I was relieved to see that it was untouched. I pulled into the driveway and killed the engine. It was quiet, except for some rolling thunder in the distance. I checked my phone. I’d receive a message from Laura. Three words. “I love you” at 12:45 pm. It was now 1:15. I texted back, “I love you, too. Can you please just come home now?”

But there was no reply. I called, but she did not answer. I decided to call her father. No answer. I tried her mother, but she did not answer either. I started the car again and pulled out of the drive. I started the route to their house, which was just a few miles southwest of our house. As I got closer to their neighborhood, I could see the destruction. The tornado had come through. I could not enter the neighborhood at all. What little I could see with my headlights, was utter destruction. There was no semblance of a single house.

In the days to come, rescue units and volunteers searched the rubble of the tornado’s mile-wide, seven-mile-long path for the living and eventually the dead. I received the call three days after the tornado to confirm what I already knew.

“Mr. Roberts? Is this the husband of Laura Roberts?”

“Yes, this is James Roberts.”

“This is Henry Walker. I’m from Cleveland County coroner’s office. We need you to come down. We believe we have found your wife. I’m so sorry. We need you to identify her body. Can you do that for us?”

It was as if I knew this was always going to happen. She was always going to die young. There were no tears, just a slow dawning of what was happening as I drove to the morgue. I prepared to face the moment. I thought to pray, but I wasn’t ready to have any sort of conversation with God, so I drove on to face it alone.

There was a crowd in the front lobby. There were men and women and children, crying, hugging, sitting quietly with blank looks on their faces. A woman was standing at the counter talking to the clerk, nodding. And a man came through a door and touched her lightly on the arm. “Are you Pamela Gordon?”

She nodded.

“Will you come with me, please?”

Her crying was not loud or showy. She whimpered a little and rubbed her nose with a tissue and nodded to the man. He led her through the door.

I walked up to the clerk and said, “I’m James Michael Roberts. I’m here for Laura Danielle Roberts.”

The freckle-faced woman flipped through the pages of a clipboard and said, “Yes. They’ll be back for you in just a few minutes.”

I sat down next to an old man in blue jean overalls and work boots.

He said, perhaps to me, perhaps to no one. “Never seen anything like this in my whole life.”

After about ten minutes, the man who had come before, perhaps the coroner, called my name. I stood up, and he said, “Are you James Roberts?”

I said, “Yes. I’m here for Laura.”

“Come with me, please.”

It was like a dream. It was like I was watching someone else step through the door, down a hall, and through a heavy metal door opened by a passkey card.

It was like any morgue out of any movie and TV show I’d ever seen. A wall of metal doors. He checked a number on his clipboard and matched it to the right door.

“Mr. Roberts. We believe these to be the remains of your wife. She suffered a fatal blow to the head. There’s going to be some swelling.” He grasped the handle and turned to me again, “Are you ready?”

I nodded.

He pulled out a metal slab covered with a white sheet and pulled down the sheet enough for me to see. The right side of her head was swollen, but her face was untouched. She looked as she often did when she was taking a nap. Jaw slacked, lips nearly parted but not quite. Eyes closed.

I looked at the coroner and nodded.

He said, “This is Laura?”

“Yes,” I said, but that’s all I could say. I could not say her name. I knew that not saying it was the only thing keeping me from falling apart right then and there.

“Ok, Mr. Roberts. We’re sorry for your loss. Would you like a moment alone with her?”

Unable to look anymore, I shook my head and turned away.

Halfway home, the tears came hard and terrible. I pulled over because I could no longer see. Our lives began to stream through my mind in flashes. Our first kiss. The first time we made love. The trip to Kansas City. Celebration of her first professional gig as an opera singer. Seeing her sing her first Mimi in La Boheme. And lastly, our terrible final fight. I could feel the crystal tumbler in my hand before I smashed it into pieces against the wall. I could see the fury on her face the last time I saw her alive when she said, “Take care of this shit!”

I drove on until I saw a liquor store: The Happy Jester. I’d been in there a hundred times since we returned to Norman. I walked in and began perusing the scotches, not paying any attention to the labels: just the prices. I intended to buy the oldest, most expensive scotch in the store. I settled on the Laphroaig 25 for $325.99, not a gentle soul of a drink, something with smoke and intensity.

“Wow, that’s been on the shelf for two years. Didn’t think I’d ever sell it. Special occasion?” said the balding, muscular middle-aged man with the diamond stud earring behind the counter.

“Something like that, Doug.”

“Tell me how it turns out. Never had the pleasure.”

I handed him my credit card and made the transaction.

“Thanks for stopping in, James. You’re keeping me in business,” he said chuckling.

“Yeah,” I said, grabbing my bag. “See you around.”

I didn’t sleep in my bed that night. I couldn’t bear sleeping in it without Laura. I slept in a chair, passed out from the half bottle of scotch I had drunk with no sense of refinement or aficionado.

The next few days were a blur of mourning and drinking. I woke up every morning sober with the image of my dead wife in the morgue, her head swollen, her face still and pale, which prompted me to drink again. I kept replaying our last fight, its insidious infiltration of guilt and pain coursing through my veins. I hadn’t cleaned up the smashed tumbler, a deserved reminder of my complicity in her death.

The morning of the funeral, there was a knock at my door. I answered it and saw a face I hadn’t seen in many years.

“James,” he said.

“Zach,” I said, and he took me into a brotherly embrace punctuated by a slap on the back.

“Man, I’m so sorry,” he said.

“How did you find out?” I said.

“Facebook.”

“I’m more of a MySpace guy.”

“Get with the times, brotha,” he said.

I pulled out two glasses and poured us each a double neat with a few drops of water.

“How are you feeling about the funeral?” he said, leaning forward in his chair.

“If I could skip it, I would. All those people. I just don’t know if I can bear it. I know they will all mean well, but I just don’t think anyone can really understand what I’m going through. I’m on my own, buddy.”

“You don’t think anyone else has lost a loved one? What about your dad? He lost his wife pretty young, too?”

He was right about that. I’d been shutting my father out. He’d reached out several times, but the idea of getting any kind of comfort from anyone was abhorrent to me. I didn’t deserve to be comforted. “That’s true, but this is different. I should be dead right now.”

“Why should you be dead, James?”

“It’s complicated. And if I hadn’t been such a drunken ass, this never would have happened. We’d have been home and safe the whole evening.”

“Dude,” he said. “This is not your fault.”

“Try telling that to my dead wife…not to mention her father.”

“Is her father upset with you?”

“He should be.”

“But is he?”

I sat back in my chair and looked at the bookcase behind Zach and said, “I have no idea. Probably not.”

I swigged my scotch and got up to pour another. “Do you need another?” I asked.

He put his hand over his untouched glass and said, “No, I’m good.”

“So what have you been up to?” I said.

“Well, my partner and I live in Vermont–only two black dudes in the state.”

“Hey, that’s great. How long have you guys been together?”

“Four years. We’re hoping that Vermont will legalize same-sex marriage soon. Looks like a strong possibility.”

“No kidding? That’s great.”

“So, what are you gonna do?” he asked.

“About what?”

“About life, James.”

“I just don’t know if I can be here in this house, in this city–maybe not even in this state. Recruiters have been calling from San Francisco. Thinking about selling the house and going out there. Like right after the funeral.”

“You’re just going to run away then? “

“Do you have a better plan?”

“You think leaving town is going to make this better?”

“Zach! You don’t understand!” I said, getting up. “My wife is fucking dead. I’m not even sure I want to be alive right now. I have got to get out of here. Get away from this! This was not supposed to happen. In fact,” I said, “Fuck this! I’m getting out of here!”

Zach stood up and put up his hands, “Ok, man. I realize you’re upset, but this is not the way to go. You’re going to miss your wife’s funeral?”

“You don’t understand. It should have been me, man! It should have been me. I was a dead man. I was lying on the ground with a fucking tornado on top of me, but I survived. I survived, and she’s fucking dead. She should have been in our shelter, safe and sound. It is my fault that she even left the house. I’m the one who should have left!”

“Now hold on here,” he said, blocking me from running into the bedroom to pack a bag. “You can’t think that way. This is nobody’s fault. People die, and people survive. That’s life. You cannot put this on yourself. Now you’re going to stay for the funeral, and I’m going to be there with you. Got it?”

#

The bad weather had moved off, and it was a warm, sunny day. I sat between my father and Zach. A new minister of the church presided over the ceremony. There was no coffin. She had told me a few years before that she wanted to be cremated. We called it a memorial service.

I tuned out the preacher, and I had declined to speak. What I remember, though, is her voice. After the eulogies and scriptures, they played a recording of Laura singing “Mi chiamamo Mimi” from La Boheme. I’d heard her sing it a hundred times. And when I would leave Oklahoma the next day, opera was the only part of her I would take with me.

After the service, the reception line began to form. I said I was going to get a quick smoke, but I never returned. I got in my car, drove home, packed a bag, and my crystal decanter, and drove to the airport without saying goodbye.

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