The idea of getting dressed up to go to a memorial service for Ethan seemed ridiculous to me. I wanted to go in my pajamas, un-bathed, my hair all twisted up and troll-like. What did one wear to a memorial service for your dead brother, anyway? Why did I even have to think about it? It just proved my point that this was an exercise in pretense. I wanted to scream, tear the house apart and smash every mirror. But as I caught myself peripherally in the mirror above the bathroom sink, I saw that I looked plain, presentable. A calm came over me and I realized it was "okay". I hated the idea of it being okay, like when kids at school said, "it's all good," as if they knew what they were talking about. But for that day, it had to be "okay". It was necessary that I participate. Not only that, but I had agreed to make a speech. Dark gray sailor trousers and a black turtleneck were what I chose to wear. I looked plain. I had thought about going blonde the previous year when Brittney Turnhauer and all her followers were highlighting for the summer, but it didn't make sense. I was the epitome of mousey brown. If you saw me and didn't know me, you would have thought I was a sweet girl that did her math homework right after school, had cat posters in her bedroom (Hang in there!) and liked to bake brownies. I pulled the front few strands over my head and slipped them back into a fake tortoise-shell clip. The final touch—I was officially innocent.
"I'll wait outside," I shouted back toward my parents' room, and ran down the stairs and out to the front door. I hated watching my mother fuss over the house, trying to make it perfect before she left for a few hours. Yeah, there were people coming over after the service, but if they were inclined to judging dust particles televisions and mantles—which they probably were—who needed them? And people coming or not, the house always had to be immaculate when mom left it.
Outside, it was chilled and felt damp; the sky was dull, washed out wool-cap gray—flat. I felt the cold moist air enter my lungs, and as though warmed into a fog, release as dense little cloud out of my mouth. The little cloud hovered in the air for a few seconds, and then disappeared.
I saw my dad walking from the backyard to the old wreck in the driveway. The '66 Chevy Caprice needed to warm up before the two-mile drive to the high school. He didn't see me watching him. He looked down, toward his feet. I saw the shine in his shoes, his best black cashmere over a white t-shirt poked out the top of his jacket. His salt-and-pepper hair was thick and flowing, a little too long, but it made him look like a movie star. Women noticed my dad. They stopped what they were doing—in the supermarket, at the gas station. He seemed to like it, or was used to it; he always said hello and smiled, but in a way that showed he was married. I don't know how he did it exactly. I know it pissed my mother off. "Can't you just ignore them?" she said. But this was not the side of my dad that was heading toward Ethan's hunk of junk that day. He looked tired. His feet were dragging a little and his shoulders were not pulled back in high hopes. There was a time, not that long ago, when Dad was in a constant stupor. My mom, and sometimes Ethan, would leave the house in the middle of the night to pick him up from the train station. I would be lying in bed watching the headlights stream in and out of my bedroom, making harsh diagonals on my ceiling. Once mom got smart to why he was coming home so late, she had Ethan take dad's car home from the station right before dinner—so he had to take a taxi or call for a ride if there wasn't one there. After Ethan's accident, dad said he was "struck sober". We never discussed that maybe the fact that Ethan died in a drunk driving accident might have something to do with that, but we all know it just the same. And maybe if Dad didn't drink so much, Ethan wouldn't have either. We learned in Health class that if a parent drinks, their kid is twice as likely to do the same.
Dad yanked the car door open and then collapsed inside. I waited for the car to erupt in the steady rumble it's famous for, but instead I heard a muffled whimper. In the car, my dad had his face in his hands, and his whole body was trembling. Tears welled up in my eyes. I want to go to him, but I really didn't know how. My feet were stuck, they would not budge. And besides, if it were me that had gone into the car to cry, I would prefer to not be disturbed.
After three turns of the ignition, the car erupted into a mellow rumble. The car was a project that Ethan had started and became Dad's after he was gone.
Dad got out of the car and walked over to me.
"Is mom still cleaning?" I asked him. I wanted to change the subject, away from where both our brains had been.
"You know your mother," he said, and then, "So did you figure out what you're going to say?
"Yes. And I think Ethan will like it."
"I'm sure Ethan will be pleased with anything you have to say, sweetie."
Dad leaned in and hugged me. My face became hot and I felt the water building up in my lower lids.
"Dad," I shook him off as I said it, extending the "a" in the middle.
"It's okay, sweetheart," he said," I understand."
Karmen Lizzul was born in Slovenia, and has lived in New York most of her life. She has been published in Sassy, Mode and ym magazines, and is currently on staff at Family Circle Magazine. She is currently at work on a novel called Girl Wrestler. She has taken workshops at the 92nd Street Y Unterberg Poetry Center with Margaret Atwood, Joseph Caldwell, Nahid Rachlin and Peter Cameron.