Last One Standing

(After reading this, the retired man I live with reminded me that October 31-November 2 is the Day of the Dead [more information] celebration in Mexican culture. Today is November 2, 2019.)

I drove past my sister’s cemetery in Raleigh earlier today. She died when she was almost 19. Her parachute didn’t open. Neither did the reserve chute.

It was June 10, 1972. She had just finished her freshman year at UNC. I was 20 and had just finished my sophomore year. Our brother was 16 and had just finished his sophomore year in high school. We lived in North Hills in Raleigh.

I never know what to say when people ask if my sister and I were close. We were 16 months apart in age, We moved a lot growing up. 4 elementary schools, 1 junior high, and 2 high schools for me; 3 elementary schools, a junior high, a middle school and 1 high school for her. Each time we moved, we only knew each other so we had to stick together, at least until we made new friends. We loved each other and stuck up for each other, but, boy, could we bicker and argue.

We were very different. The older we got, the more different we got.

She had (natural) fiery red hair. Mine was somewhere between dirty blond and brown. In high school, I was in the Honor Society and a senior class officer. She acted in a play at NC State University about the Marquis de Sade, known as the father of written eroticism.(click here for more information) I went to her play, was uncomfortable and slightly embarrassed and couldn’t understand what it was about. I don’t think she understood most of my my choices, either. Like having a thing for football players at Carolina.

She was a risk-taker. I was a play-it-safe rule-follower. She tried LSD in high school and told me I shouldn’t. I never did and didn’t drink until I was legal.

When she was 17, she asked our parents to sign a permission form  so she could legally try parachuting with her college-age boyfriend.  They told me later they signed because they knew she’d do it either way (she would have) and they wanted to know what she was planning.

She LOVED it.

She invited me to go with them. I thought she was nuts and said so. My stomach would flip every time I thought about it. Still does.

The day she died, I remember the retired man I live with now picking me up early from my shift in the fabric department at Sears. He had met my parents for the first time that afternoon (we’d been together a couple of months). He was at our house when my parents found out she’d died and he came to get me. He wouldn’t tell me why, just that I had to come home.

I remember Mom and Dad meeting me at the front door. I remember screaming “Nooooo!” I remember my dad crying. I remember waiting a couple of hours for my brother to get home from an away baseball game. I don’t think we ever ate dinner.

I remember my brother and I went with Mom and Dad the next day to pick a grave site. I remember laughing at some things my dad said. Better to make silly (probably inappropriate) jokes rather than cry, I guess. I remember wondering what the cemetery guy thought of us.

We picked a quiet spot on a hillside overlooking a pond. Over the years, the pond disappeared and became a road. I suppose it doesn’t really matter.

My parents and my brother have all died now.  My sister is in Raleigh, my parents are buried together in a cemetery in Greensboro, where I live. Part of my brother’s ashes went in a creek in the NC mountains and my daughters and I took the rest of his ashes to the ocean on the NC coast.

I don’t visit the cemeteries. I never really have. I didn’t stop when I drove past my sister’s today. She’s not there. And Mom and Dad aren’t in the one in my town, either. I do think about all of them. I have conversations sometimes.

I wonder what my sister would have been like at 66–impossible to imagine!–and I wonder what she’d think of my life at 67.

I often hear my brother say, in his deep southern drawl, “It is what it is, Rob.”

I am the last one standing.

I miss them all.

 

 

 

 

Published in: on November 2, 2019 at 5:26 pm  Comments (12)  
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