Until the End of the World

Remo and I had another talk with the hospice counselor. This one was a woman. We were sitting in the hospital cafeteria for this one. None of my sisters were present at the time, because the two older ones were having a fight somewhere and the younger one was with our mother.

There were two gists in the conversation that I grasped. One was she kept telling us that a big part of her job was supporting not just the terminal patient but the family. I couldn’t imaging needing anything but to be left alone, you know? But they were offering therapy and stuff. I appreciated the offer even if I wasn’t planning to use it myself. The other thing was she was trying to get us to focus on was how some people, when they’re dying, aren’t very good at specifying their needs.

This didn’t seem that relevant to me, since I felt Claire was very clear about her demands. She’d planned her funeral right down to what psalms should be read and what she would be wearing for the viewing (and then she wanted to be cremated instead of buried). She’d also had no trouble banishing Lilibeth and Janine from her room when they were sniping at each other.

That didn’t mean, of course, that we shouldn’t be on the lookout for unspoken cues. Claire could of course say one thing but mean something else, and she would often give unspoken cues and be angry when they weren’t properly interpreted.

I’d gotten pretty good at interpreting them, though, in the months we’d been in the hotel and then the bungalow.

I’ll be honest: I don’t think I really remember the counselor at all. My brain fills in the image of the blond nurse in Florida whose daughter wanted my and Ziggy’s autographs. Maybe they looked similar enough that they melded in my mind.

She left me and Remo sitting in the cafeteria, staring into our now-cold coffees, mine milky, his black.

My mind was on the funeral arrangements. “What are we going to do if Digger shows up? Can’t exactly have him thrown out of a church.”

Remo swirled his coffee by moving the mug in a circle. “Eh. He’s allowed. She just doesn’t want to see him. If he shows up after the fact?” He shrugged and took a sip. “By the way, the priest doesn’t feel it would be appropriate for me to speak after communion in mass. So Claire wants you to do it.”

“Me? What do you mean, speaker? I thought I was supposed to sing a song.”

“You are. The songs and stuff, that’s mostly at the viewing, which is the night before the mass.”

“Ah.”

“The mass itself usually leads to the burial, except there’ll be no burial, of course.” he said, as if I’d been to a lot of funerals before. I had been to none. “Anyway, me being the temptation of the devil or something, I’m not a good choice, so it has to be you.”

“Why me and not Courtney?”

“Well, your sister would say it’s because of the patriarchy, but it’s what Claire wants.”

Shit. “Okay.” Apparently the kind of sinner I was was less objectionable to Father Good-Looking than the kind Remo was. It wasn’t like I was about to get up there and shout “Homosexual liberation!” or something.

We retreated into our own thoughts for a while. My cup was empty when he said, “You know that was the first time I heard her singing voice since she got pregnant with Lilibeth.”

“What was?”

“In church. You were there, too.”

Right. “You know, the only times I ever heard her sing were in church. She didn’t even really sing along with the car radio.”

Remo bowed his head. “From the moment she found out she was having a baby. She changed.”

I kept silent, figuring he was about to answer the questions I’d ask.

He was. “She went from being a bubbly, bright, precocious girl, a firecracker who was fearless once she got in front of an audience, once the lights came up…” He looked upward, eyes shining with emotion. “To someone I hardly even recognized.”

He didn’t have to describe what she was like after: I knew. A bitter, thwarted narcissist, a capricious control freak with a loose grip on reality.

“You know what?” He wiped his eye and sniffed. “I mourned the loss of that gal twice already. It hardly seems fair I have to do it a third time.”

“Yeah.” I thought about that, though. “But, wait, if you were in love with her that far back, what was going on with you and her when I was born?”

“I thought you didn’t want to know the details.” He looked at me slightly askance.

“I mean, you don’t have to get graphic about it. I just want to understand, I guess.”

“In hindsight,” he said with a heavy sigh, “what was going on was that your mother liked flirting with danger more than she liked flirting with me. I dunno. I thought for a while that when she was with me she could get back to being her old self, remember what it was like to be that person. I had grand fantasies of helping her to be that person again, whether actually helping her get her career back or just letting her be herself when she was with me… who knows. Of course remember at the time I was a nobody.”

“Playing bar gigs at the Jersey Shore. I remember.”

“But like you said. She wouldn’t even sing along with me to the car radio. She was committed to staying with your dad, even if she cheated on him.” He sing-songed his way through a Nomad song lyric I knew well: “Cheating’s a kind of fidelity, when you say you love him while you’re loving me…

“Yeah, okay.” I’d suddenly heard enough. I stood up, but just as suddenly I had to ask one more question. “And you and Digger stayed friends through all that?”

Remo shook his head. “In the end, your dad didn’t have any friends. I tried. I really did.”

“I know.” They’d stayed friends at least in name after Remo’d fled across the country, but that ended because of me. Because Remo and I were more like family than my actual family. “You’re really okay with him showing up, if he does?”

“I wouldn’t dare raise a hand to him in a house of God,” Remo said, putting his hand over his heart like he was taking the Pledge of Allegiance. “But there’s no telling what I might do to him in the parking lot.”

I picked up his empty coffee cup to take it to the dish bin. “And if I asked you not to?”

“Then I wouldn’t.” He hadn’t moved from his seat. “Are you asking me not to?”

“I don’t like telling people what not to do.” I dumped the cups in the bin and they clinked together when they touched. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that everyone’s got to make their own choices.”


(Maybe it’s me, but I love this era of U2 where Bono’s vocals are almost understated and the live mix is basically ALL GUITAR… -d)

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