“This is it. Now we’re gonna be orphans,” she said to her brother, lighting up a cigarette. She was referring to the death of their father, which was taking place as they spoke. She ran into her brother while leaving the hospice wing of the Good Samaritan Hospital, where he was sitting on a curb in the parking lot. They had parked right next to each other without realizing it.
“I know,” he said. “Now the last person on earth that loves me unconditionally, no matter how big of an asshole I am, is gone.” He sat there with his arms resting on his knees and his blue, grief-stricken eyes peering down at the asphalt through his furrowed brow. At the moment, he wasn’t thinking about his strained relationship with his sister. Not holding all of her mistakes against her or keeping himself at a safe distance, as if desperation were contagious. He wasn’t showing his disapproval by silently removing himself from her life and the lives of her children. His wife wasn’t there to speak for him, and even if she were, he probably would not have let her. No, in this moment, he was just there. A man nearing the end of his middle age, his mother dead and his father dying and the burden of a complicated, conflict-ridden family weighing heavily on his skinny shoulders; he was a truly lost soul.
“Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that, too,” she replied. She was moving back and forth and waving her hands around like she was telling the most interesting story in the world. That’s how she always talked. Every conversation was lively with emotion, and every altercation was like a furious tempest sent by Mother Nature to punish the evildoer. This exchange, though, was neither of those things. “But you know I love you. And I know you love me, too,” – she was telling, not asking – “I know we haven’t really been talking, but I do love you unconditionally. I mean, we know each other like books,” as she put her hands together and then opened them, like a book, “and we know that we love each other, no matter what.” Her tone sounded more wishful than confident. She was completely beside herself and was talking at about a million miles an hour to keep the tears from catching up with her. “So if you ever find yourself without anyone left because of what an asshole you’ve been, just give me a call.”
“You mean that?”
“Yeah, I do.”
“Can we make a pact?”
“Here, let’s shake on it. I love you, ok?” she said, reaching out her left hand and pulling him into a strong embrace. They hugged each other as if they were the only two people on earth that could really understand, having come from exactly the same place. To hold one another was a relief for both of them; there was still so much left to worry about. What about Mom’s ashes? What if Dad dies and his wife doesn’t call us? Will we even be invited to the funeral? Tomorrow’s problems. For now, the two of them simply existed in each other’s presence, assured that they would be assholes in the future – and that they would be there for one another. Assurance, if for only a second. Just for one split second.