Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Viewing

There is a heap of clothing on my bed; it's difficult to know what to wear to a viewing. Jeans are inappropriate. But what if they're nice black jeans? No-- forget that idea. It's ridiculous. My Mom didn't raise me in a barn. A skirt? No-- I don't have the correct underthings for that particular skirt. Finally I decided to dress just for Doris, Mikey's Mom, the original steel magnolia.

Driving over to the chapel, I checked my purse over and over again for the cards for Doris and Mikey's children, Brittany and Brandon. There was a third envelope in my purse; a letter to Mikey I wrote this afternoon. I picked some wildflowers, fashioned a miniature bouquet and placed them in the envelope with this letter. I thought he'd like to have some wildflowers taken from the dirt of The Hamlet to accompany him into eternity.

What did the letter say? It's too personal to share word for word, but I will say that I told Mikey about the memorial service last night and all the weird things that happened there, all the women that are crawling out of the woodwork and claiming him for their own, how angry I am with him for leaving. I mentioned old friends that are gone and how lucky he was to get to see them again, and how I too would see him again one day, hopefully many, many years from now. Most of all, I told Mikey how much I was going to miss him and just how much I love him.

At the chapel I was happy to see only a handful of people had arrived, as it was still early. I didn't relish the idea of standing in line to visit with Mikey for the last time.

While signing the guestbook, I heard the music from the chapel-- Irish folksongs. Oh, God.

I walked in, terrified.

Up front was the casket, open. I glimpsed his profile against the velvet. "Not ready. Not ready," I said to myself. With relief I noticed a board set up on an easel, covered with photographs of Mikey. I walked over, curious and very, very afraid.

There he is, a baby-faced Army infantryman, helmet on, rifle in hand. Smiling, holding baby Brandon. A studio portrait of short-haired Mikey and the kids, with their golden curls and Sunday best. Mikey with a really bad perm, peeking out from behind his drum kit, grinning. Mikey and his relatives, in front of a white clapboard church somewhere in Mississippi. Mikey in front of the Christmas tree, holding up a brand-new cymbal. A recent photo of Mikey behind his new kit, playing his ass off. Mikey and Sledje, relaxing after rehearsal.

I could have stood there for hours, gazing at those pictures.

I turned and saw Doris sitting in the front pew, speaking softly to the preacher about the service tomorrow, with Brandon and Brittany interjecting occasional comments. A couple stood up at the casket, looking down at Mike.

I sunk into a pew and waited.

After about five minutes, the couple turned and left the chapel. I stood and walked up to Doris.

"T-Bone, how are you?"

"I'm fine, Doris. I'm wondering how you are." I held her hand and chafed it. "Your little hand is cold!" I commented.

"Ah know," she said, glancing at the casket. Doris looked up at me and said, "This is so hard. So hard!" I hugged her.

I gave her the card, and walked over to Sonia, who hugged me. "Would you please give this to Brittany and Brandon?" I asked her, handing her the card. "Yes, of course. I will," said Sonia. I looked at Doris and held up Mikey's envelope. "Doris, may I put this letter in with Mikey?"

She raised her eyebrows and looked over at Sonia. "Well, ah don't know! Is that alright, Sonia?"

"Oh sure. Definitely," said Sonia.

"Thank you so much," I said. I turned to walk over to Mikey.

Mikey was dressed, of course, in a black shirt and jeans, his sticks in his hands. His skin was so pale. Reaching into the casket, I placed the letter next to his hip, then I held his hand, carefully curling my fingers around his. I wasn't thinking at all, of anything.

Finally, a coherent thought: "Well, I can't stand here all fucking day." I turned and said my goodbyes to Doris and Sonia, telling them I would see them tomorrow. I started down the aisle.

A dark-haired lady, dressed very conservatively, stood in the aisle and said hello. "What's your name?" she asked.

"I'm T-Bone Jones," I said, shaking her hand. "What's your name?"

"I'm Leslie," she said simply.

We reached out, held each other and cried.

"Come and sit down, T-Bone. I've heard so much about you. I want to talk to you," she said quietly. "Mike's told me so much about you. I'm so happy to meet you-- finally."

"And I'm happy to meet you, Leslie."

As I talked to Mikey's ex-fiance', I found myself transfixed by her. She was so adult, so eloquent, so classy. The cross on her necklace gleamed. This was not how I had envisioned Leslie; I was so happy she was this way.

After a bit of small-talk, she said to me, "T-Bone, I just want to warn you. Tomorrow is going to be standing room only in this chapel. There are going to be lots of girls."

"Well," I said with a smile, "That's not a big surprise."

"Do you know that these girls are still calling Mike's cell phone? Honestly. I had two calls on his phone today."

"Who? What on earth..." I said, confused. "Don't they know...?"

"Oh, they know," she said smiling gently. "They don't know what to do when I pick up the phone, though!"

I giggled. "What do they say?"

"Well, I answer the phone 'Hello'. Then they ask, 'Who's this?' and I say, 'No. Who's this?' Today one of them was a girl named Jamie."

"Jamie? Who's Jamie?"

"I have no clue," said Leslie. "But then she says to me, 'I'm Mike's girlfriend.' Well," said Leslie with a wry smile, "I told her: 'Get in line.' Then I hung up."

I snickered.

"So I wanted you to know, T-Bone, so you could be ready tomorrow," Leslie said. Then: "We, meaning the family and I-- I'm staying with Doris until the smoke clears. I'm really worried about her. But I also have been wanting to meet you for a long time. I've heard so much about you from Mike." Here she looked at me. "We know who the people are that really mattered to him, and you're one of them."

I looked at Leslie, amazed. Then tears. We held each other, there in the pew.

"Oh, Leslie," I snuffled, "Thank you so much for telling me."

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