I didn’t feel sad. I didn’t cry. I didn’t feel anything. The only thing I remember about the actual funeral service was my Uncle Tom becoming so distraught during the open casket that he tried to physically pull my dad’s body out of the coffin. If it hadn’t been for my uncle’s emotional outburst, I would have no memory from that part of the day.
My dad was Uncle Tom’s only brother and they were as close to each other as Anna and I. They had survived WWII, famine and coming to a new country to build lives for themselves. Now he was brotherless.
Everyone returned to the house after the funeral to visit, eat and console each other. I felt compelled to go into my dad’s bedroom. I wanted to see his bed to make sure that he wasn’t in it, even though I knew he was lying in a coffin on the other side of town.
His bed hadn’t been made since the paramedics removed his body. His shoes were on the floor, pants draped over a chair and family photos delicately placed on his dresser.
The pictures consisted of Anna and me, a family photo from Greece and a wedding picture of him and my Mom.
I walked into Dad’s bathroom and saw his personal items waiting for him; toothbrush, Lava soap, razor and towels in the exact positions in which he had left them.
I picked up his bottle of cologne, and put some of it on my wrist, hoping it would move me a little closer to him. The bottle read, “Devil–For The Devilish Man Inside You”, and then it hit me. I was never going to see or speak to him again.
The combination of his cologne and the distant echoes of crying relatives saturated me with the realization that he was gone for good.
I looked at myself in the mirror and didn’t see the person I was before losing my father. I was different somehow, but I didn’t know what the difference was other than asking myself questions that I had never asked myself before. Questions such as, who or what decided when a human heart took its first magical beat and who or what decided which beat would be its very last?
Where do we go when we die? Is there a God? What was the voice that whispered “Dad” to me 12 weeks prior to him dying in his sleep? I thought if there was a God, that he must not have liked me very much. Even though I did feel lucky that Anna, Dad and I got to share our birthdays together.
Three birthdays and a funeral in three months spoke to carrying life and death in the same hand. There was nothing I could do to bring my Dad back and understood that what claimed him was the impermanence of life.
Continuing to look at myself through my Father’s bathroom mirror, I spontaneously accepted impermanence as my theme for life. Death merely offered a new perspective on a word that I had without consent already grown very familiar with.
I took one last look at Dad’s room, pictures and belongings before quietly walking out and closing the door firmly behind me.
I avoided going back into the living room, I didn’t want to talk, console or be consoled. I looked for my siblings and thought to myself how I had pined for the day the four of us would be back together again, but not like this.
I found Anna and my two brothers sitting in Anna’s bedroom, while she enjoyed her last few hours with her rainbow sheets and the rainbow clouds that Dad painted on her ceiling, which still had a fresh paint smell. I sat down and joined their circle on Anna’s bed.
Justin and Donny were not very happy with my Mom after the earfull they got from Anna. My brothers had been living in San Francisco together working and going to school. They were busy making their way in the world and had been out of the loop for the last year and a half, except for infrequent phone calls.
Justin immediately asked “Why didn’t you or Anna call us and tell us what was going on?”
I said, “ What were you two going to do about it?” Justin logically responded saying, “For one I would have threatened to report her.”
Feeling frustrated, I said “To who, the cops?! Anna already called the cops on her for beating me senseless with a wooden spoon. The cop told me that he couldn’t arrest her unless she broke my head open or broke a bone. His solution was to leave Mom to cool off, send Anna to the neighbors and take me on a 45 minute ride into the desert asking me stupid questions about school and if I had a boyfriend, as a way to cover for staring at my breast and hair the entire time.
“He tried stretching-out our time together by asking if he could buy me a donut or take me to lunch. All I could think of was grabbing his police radio and screaming into it for someone to save me!! Save me from this creepy cop, save me from my mom, from Chris, the lies, the moves, the poverty, the beatings, the hiding, the fear, the violence, and violence and violence…!”
“The officer that was suppose to protect me gave me his card and told me I had to call him everyday for several weeks, which made me petrified, because every time I called him to check in he kept asking to take me out. You want to call the cops? Go ahead call the cops! Neither one of you know how bad it’s been. If she doesn’t kill us then the creepy people and places she exposes us to eventually will.”
Justin and Donny sat silently with tears in their eyes as I let loose the pain that resided in the pit of my stomach. Anna already lived through it all with me, so it wasn’t news to her.
I started sobbing, but insisted on finishing what I had to say, “It’s been nothing short of a damn miracle that we haven’t been raped or molested. She has no fear for our safety and I can’t live like this anymore.”
I pleaded with both Donny and Justin not to leave us. I said “Mom is going to be mad at us for the time we spent with our Dad and on top of that, I know she’s seeing Chris again.” Anna’s eyes widened and filled with fear.
I continued pleading, “Can’t you guys come home? We’ll be safer if you’re with us, she won’t treat us badly if the two of you are there, because she knows she won’t be able to get away with it.”
Donny interrupted me and said “That’s not true; she didn’t want us around anymore and kicked us out before we had anywhere to go. Anna started crying and said, “It’s going to be really bad for us after we leave here.”
They both looked at each other sweating over what they were going to do to help us, Donny said, “Look, neither Justin nor I want to live with her, but we’re not going to abandon you guys, not after everything you’ve shared. Justin will go back to Palm Springs and stay as long as he can, but he’s been accepted into a Repertory Theatre for actors and will be moving to L.A. at the end of August.”
Anna and I were excited and proud of him, “Really Justin? Are you going to be an actor?” He smiled and said “Yes, I am, I’ve wanted to do this for a long time. It’s a hard company to get into, they only take a handful of people every year, but I’ve been invited to join after several auditions. I have to move to L.A get a job and be ready for the fall start date.
As Justin was sharing his good news an overwhelming feeling came up through my center and washed over me without thinking I said, “Take me with you.” Anna said, “Mom is never going to let you go to L.A. and what about me…?”
Justin cut Anna off and said, “Elena, I’m going to be living in Hollywood, I’m broke and it’s not a place for 13 and 14 year old girls.”
“We can take care of ourselves, we have been for a long time now. We know how to stay safe and I promise, I’ll watch Anna, we’ll sleep on the floor and we won’t give you any problems. I’ll get a job and help pay for food and rent and do all the cleaning. You’re 19 a legal adult, you can take us.” I said.
Justin looked conflicted and I was fearful that he was going to say “No.” Begging I said, “Please Justin, please take us with you, I have to move there with you.”
Feeling torn and pressured he said, “Now all of the sudden you HAVE to move to L.A.? Has the idea ever crossed your mind before?” “No, but now that I’m hearing you say it, I can’t explain, it, I just know I’m supposed to be there too.” Relentlessly, I pleaded, “Please Justin, please, I’ll do anything, please take us with you.”
Donny’s eyes welled up with tears at my desperation–looking down at the floor searching for a solution, he said, “It’s clear that you guys can’t go back to living with Mom unsupervised.”
He paused, looking down again grappling with his thoughts and slowly continued by saying, “I guess I’ll tell you both now, that I was going to join the Navy when Justin moved to L.A. I’d be in for two years. It’s been a dream of mine for a long time.”
Justin already knew about Donny’s plans, but Anna and I were taken aback hearing that by moving to L.A he was putting his dream on hold for us.
Stepping up to the call at hand Donny turned to Justin and flatly stated, “Both of us will move to L.A. and stay with the girls until they can get out on their own–away from Mom.”
He then turned to Anna and me took our hands and gently reassured us by saying “Justin and I will do whatever we have to do to keep you both safe—starting with Justin escorting you back to Palm Springs.”
Justin anxiously reiterated, “I just want to make sure I stay on track with my plans. I’ll travel back to Palm Springs with you two and Mom, but I don’t want to get stuck there.”
Donny looking at all of us said, “This is the plan. I’ll come down, we’ll rent a U-Hall, pack it up and all drive to L.A. Don’t you girls forget that Justin and I have packed up and moved as many times, if not more than you two. We know the drill.”
Anna asked, “Is Mom allowed to come?” Donny said, “As long as she doesn’t pull any crap, she can come. But, I’m not putting up with any BS from her; I’m doing this for you guys and by my rules.”
Anna and I hugged our brothers and said thank you and I love you repeatedly. I felt like the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders. It was going to be the way it was back when Anna and I were younger—Donny took care of us and made sure everything was okay. I was beyond relieved and grateful to be in the company of my brothers again and knew Mom would have a harder time pushing them around now that they were older.
We all walked back into the living room Justin holding my hand and Donny holding Anna’s. The three of us sat on the couch and watched Donny walk across the room to Mom and proceed to take her outside to talk.