“Now boarding, Lackland Air Force Base to St. Louis.” I hear a voice call over speakers in the bus station. I pick my bag up and hesitate before moving.
“You’ll be okay,” I hear my best bud Zack say while patting me on the back.
He knew that I’ve been stressing out about the funeral ever since my father’s death, and could tell how nervous I am going home for it now. I look over to see him give a sympathetic smile.
“You never know; it could all turn out just fine!” He adds.
By the end of the day, I’ll be back home for the first time in months. My constantly-worrying mother, who’s face I couldn’t bare to picture in my mind right now, was certain to be devastated like never before. And my brother Wes, of whom I called a few days ago just to tell him that our dad was dead, reacted differently than I expected he would.
Everything seems to be falling apart.
I have no idea how my brother will be at the funeral. I knew he always loved our dad, but I didn’t know he loved him enough to freak out, run, and drop his phone on the ground beneath him once I told him the news. Then again, after he dropped the phone his best friend Joslyn picked it up and told me he was having a terrible night and that I’d understand everything in time.
What does that even mean?
“You’re worried about your family, aren’t you?” Zack asks after almost a minute of me standing, staring in place at the bus I had to board.
“Yeah,” I reply quietly. “my mom is bound to be a mess for reasons beyond my father’s death and my brother is hiding something from me. A funeral is not the best place to meet when so much is already going on,” While I speak, I refrain from removing my stare toward the bus.
“What do you mean he’s hiding something?” Zack asks.
“I don’t know, he was at a club when I called, so it could have something to do with that. His best friend picked up his phone after he dropped it in response to the news about our dad.” I say, finally speaking the thoughts that had been on my mind for days now. “But she made whatever he was hiding seem bigger than just a secret centered around a club,”
“What did she say?”
“That he was having a really bad night, that what was going on had been building up for a while now, that I’d understand in time…” I say, listing off all the details I could remember.
“Geez, that could mean anything.” Zack responds, not helping.
“I know,” I reply, still staring at the bus.
“Sorry,” Zack said, noticing how he wasn’t helping. “Well the best thing you can do now is wait and find out, be open to whatever it is he has to tell you,”
“Yeah, I guess.” I reply.
After a few seconds of silence, I look over to Zack one last time, nod to him, and make my way to the bus.
It’s going to be a long ride home.
“I’ll pray for you, man!” I hear Zack say as the bus doors close behind me. I forgot that he was a religious guy. I wasn’t very religious, but I felt I would need the prayers. I smile slightly as I sit in the closet seat available to the front. My mind begins to wander once again as the bus takes off.
What is Wes hiding from me? As far I knew, we didn’t keep secrets from each other. I always asked him if I needed help with something, hoping he’d do the same. (He didn’t, he always seemed to have things under control.) And I always told him anything I felt I needed to, hoping he’d talk to me if he ever needed to. But once again, he never did. For example, when we were in high school, I would tell him if I needed help on homework, while offering to him the same help when and if he needed it. (Although he never needed my help, he’s the smart twin.) Or when my girlfriend and I were going through rough patches, I would talk to him about it, offering to give him the same kind of advice if he ever need it. He never dated though.
“Ain’t it a little early for you to be going home, soldier?” I hear a little, fragile voice from behind derail my train of thought. I turn around and find a little old lady, sitting by herself in the seat behind me.
“Yeah, I’m actually going home for a funeral,” I reply, smiling to hide I’m actually terrified of going home.
“You’re thinking about something that’s bothering you, aren’t ya?” The lady asks, her wise eyes seemingly reading my mind.
“How did you know-” I begin, but am interrupted.
“Oh, sonny, I may be old but I ain’t stupid. These wrinkles on my face alone know more than someone your age,” She laughs, patting the open seat beside her. “Come on, tell me about it.”
Fuck it, why not.
I get up from my seat to sit beside this sassy old lady. I open my mouth right before sitting down but the old lady stops me from speaking.
“Oh, sonny, you gotta think before you talk. Examine what you’re about to say before you say it.”
This lady was strange.
Despite the strangeness of my instruction, I listen and do as I’m told. I sit and regain my thoughts. Wes was hiding something from me, despite my thinking that he told me everything.
“I know my brother is hiding something from me, which is weird because we tell each other everything.” I say once I think it’s appropriate to talk.
“Okay, well what have you told each other?” The lady asks, her eyes shifting from me to the window beside her.
“Well, I tell him everything that I feel that I should about my girlfriend and everything that I thought he should know about in high school. From the halls I think he should avoid, to the people I think he shouldn’t talk to, to the teachers to suck up to, to the teachers not to pay attention too…” I trail off as I see the old lady begin to reply.
“Okay, what has he told you?”
“Oh, yeah…” I reply, forgetting about everything he told me. “He told me a lot, like…” I say, seemingly losing my train of thought again. Was there anything he told me? “Wait,” I suddenly realize he’s never told me anything. “He hasn’t told me anything.”
“Ah, so you’re a talker…” The old lady replies, looking back toward me. “Did you ever ask him about anything?”
“Well no, I never felt I needed too, I usually knew whatever I needed to know,”
“You think talking is only necessary when you need something?” The old lady asks, suddenly laughing hysterically. “Oh, sonny, oh…”
“What?” I ask, confused. “I don’t like bothering people if they don’t need to be bothered,”
“That’s exactly how you bother people, boy!” The old lady replies through more laughter.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that your brother could need something, and as long as you don’t ask about him he’ll never get what he needs!” She spoke, beginning to get more serious.
“But I tried to help him, I told him everything I thought he needed to know, what else can I do?” I ask, actually wanting an answer.
“Listen to him, ask him about his day, his life, his love, his mind, ask about him.” She answers.
“He never talks about himself, he never seems to want to,”
“That’s because something is scaring him from opening up. Now I don’t know your brother, so I can’t help figure out what’s scaring him, but you can.”
“How? How can you get someone to open up if they don’t want to?”
“That’s the challenge boy,” The lady replies while looking out the window. “If life were so easily explained, it wouldn’t be worth livin’!”
“Now arriving in Austin, Texas. All passengers departing may leave now.”
“Looks like that’s me!” The old lady says as the bus comes to a halt.
We were already in Austin? That was fast.
“Wow, that was fast! Thanks for-” I say before pausing as I get up to allow the old lady to leave. The only problem, the old lady was gone.
I was alone. Who was I talking to?
“Excuse me,” I hear another lady’s voice from beside me.
“Oh, sorry,” I say as I quickly go to back to sit in my original seat. The lady passes me, along with a child and a few suitcases.
Did I just see a ghost? What the hell was going on? Was she right? Is my issue that I never really ask about how Wes is doing? Am I really taking advice from something that just vanished?
God, I’m going crazy.
This is something I could see on a television special about strange encounters with the paranormal. Not all paranormal things are evil, I guess. There are just as many angels as there are demons, I guess.
Angels and demons. God. Religion. Zack said he’d pray for me. Did I just see an angel?
Well whatever just happened, I guess it worked. I know now to try to pay more attention to how Wes is doing.
For the rest of the ride to Saint Louis I sit back in the strangest content I’ve ever experienced. I put in my headphones and listen to music till the bus gets to my hometown.
“Danny!” I hear as I step off the bus. I soon find out the voice that just shouted my name belongs to my 7-year-old first cousin, Justin. He comes running over and I crouch down to pick him up. Once he’s in my arms I look back to where he came from to see my mother and Aunt Valerie. They look at me with smiles on their faces, my mother with tears in her eyes. I drop my bag down and carry Justin over to them.
“Hey guys,” I say, forcing a smile. I could barely stand watching my mother knowing what has happened, let alone with tears in her eyes.
“Hey,” My mother says as I put Justin down. I hug my mother as Justin stays clinging to my leg. “I’m so glad you could make it, it would mean a lot to him,” She whispers in my ear while we embrace, obviously talking about dad.
“Me too,” I reply while we release from our hug. I turn to my aunt, who had spent the duration of the last few seconds trying to pry her son off me. “Aunt Val!” I say, glancing down to Justin, shrugging the situation off as if a 7-year-old actually wasn’t hanging on to me. “My favorite aunt!” I say as I always do when I first see her. (She’s my only aunt.) We hug and Justin eventually let’s go of my leg, but only to hold my hand instead.
“We have about an hour to get to the church. I have clothes laid out for you in your bedroom back home, let’s go, yeah?” My mother says, wiping her tears.
We all agree and make our way back home, which was just a few blocks from the bus station. I walk inside the house and instantly remember how much I missed the smell of my mother’s candles. I smile as Justin insists on showing me my room as if I forgot where it is.
We walk into my room and I see the clothes my mother left out for me on my bed.
As I see what she laid out, my eyes instantly fill with water.
On the bed was my father’s purple heart medal, from when he was wounded during war, laying on my black suit jacket. It was one of his most prized possessions.
“Is this why you wanted to bring me up here?” I ask Justin, who was now sitting on my bed, giving the most adorable front-tooth lacking smile. His smile proved I was right.
I slowly walk over to the medal and pick it up. It feels heavier than I remembered. I think it may have gained a few ounces now that more meaning was given to it.
“He wanted you to have it someday, ever since he got it.” I hear my mother’s voice in the doorway, looking in on Justin and I.
“Mom,” I say, noticing her eyes tear up again. My eyes now matched hers, and I walk over to hug her again. As we cry on each other, Justin once again walks over to hug my leg. I start laughing as he begins to sing his favorite theme song – SpongeBob Squarepants.
“Why are you singing that?” I hear my mother ask, joining in my laughter.
“It always makes me feel better, so it can make you feel better too!” Justin says, letting go to run out of my room.
“Plus, Dad used to always sing it with him, remember?” I hear my brother’s voice from outside of the room.
“Wes!” I hear my mother turn around. As she turns I get a good look at my twin brother, who was being hugged by Justin. He also had a buzz cut.
“Hi,” He says as my mother goes over and hugs him. She quickly releases him and comments on his hair. “You cut your hair,”
“Just like Dad wanted,” He responds, smiling.
“Just like Dad wanted,”
I begin to remember when we were younger, how much Dad talked about my haircut compared to Wes’s. He definitely preferred buzz cuts. They were more military-like after all, just like he liked it.
“He did love buzz cuts, didn’t he?” My mother asks, quietly. “I didn’t mind your hair, it helped me tell you two apart when you guys were younger. I guess you look different enough now so that I don’t need hair to help me, right?” She asks, smiling.
“Yeah,” Wes responds, looking toward the adjacent staircase. “Joslyn and another friend from college are here, they wanted to come,”
“That’s fine, your father wouldn’t mind.” My mother responds, though I didn’t believe Wes agreed as I study his features.
What was wrong with his friends coming to the funeral? Better question, why did he think they might not have been liked by our dad? Dad loved Joslyn, as far as I know. He always talked about how they were destined to end up together.
“So who are they? Where are they?” My mother asks, as Wes glances over at me.
“They’re down stairs with Aunt Val, can I talk to Danny, alone?” Wes asks, as my mother steps back slightly.
“Oh,” Our mother began. “Of course, Joslyn can introduce me I guess. Don’t be too long, we better head over soon! Justin come on…” She says, heading down the stairs with our cousin. Wes waits a moment and then walks over to me.
“Did you tell her about the club?” Wes asks, his voice serious.
“No, of course not.” I reply. “What’s going on, Wes? I’m worried about you,”
“It’s nothing to worry about right now,” He responds. “Just please don’t tell her, okay?”
“Okay,” I respond, a little overwhelmed. I wasn’t ever planning on telling her.
“Thanks,” He says, stepping back a little. “Let’s go,” He begins to walk down the stairs.
“Wait, Wes,” I say, before he walks too far. “Why did you cut your hair?”
“I had to do at least one thing Dad wanted me to do, so I cut my hair. No more questions for now, okay?”
This whole opening-Wes-up thing wasn’t going to be as easy as I’d hope.
Wes walks back down stairs and I finish changing. I eventually end up in the kitchen with everyone else– Aunt Val, Justin, Mom, Joslyn, Wes, and his new friend, Brent. We all head over to the church; Aunt Val, Mom, Justin, and I in one car and the others in the car they drove here.
We get inside and the service begins shortly after our arrival. The majority of the service is typical until the priest starts talking about how ‘great’ my father was.
“…this man before us,” The priest begins, “changed the lives of all he came in contact with. A true man of the Lord, Frank had the right ideals and thanks to those ideals, he and his wife rose two handsome young men. Danny, now serving in the US Air Force, is all his father wanted out of a son. And Wes, the younger of the two twins, was loved too.”
Sounds a little bias, right? I look over across the sanctuary to see Joslyn whispering into Wes’s ear. I look closer and notice Brent holding Wes’s hand. My eyes don’t stray from my brother as the priest continues.
“He lived by the good book, loving as Jesus did, and stood up against the increasing violence and evil in today’s world. Where other Christians have strayed from God, Frank remained faithful and forceful. He spoke out against today’s overall acceptance of alcohol, drugs, sex, abortion, and perhaps most importantly, homosexuality.”
Holy shit, what kind of priest was this guy? What kind of priest brings this stuff up at a funeral? I watch as my brother bows his head and wipes tears from his eyes. I knew he wasn’t crying for our father anymore.
“Let’s lead like Frank did and continue to acknowledge the sin plaguing today’s world, as he would want us to. To quote from one of our favorite sermons, ‘When we unite against evil, we can do anything in Jesus’s name. When we don’t unite, when we fall from grace, we find ourselves in a world of gross acts of blasphemy- a world where Leviticus is disregarded! We find ourselves trapped in hell on Earth! Where demons live among us in a disgusting world where sin is more common than grace, where men lie with men, women with women!’ People of the congregation…”
The priest’s rant becomes background noise to my increased surveillance of Wes. As the priest speaks I see Wes slowly get up, followed by his friends, and the room seems not to notice. I suddenly stand up, without thinking, and interrupt the priest.
“Excuse me, but the Jesus I believe in, the Jesus my father believed in, is nothing like what you are painting him to be.” I turn my stare to the rest of the large congregation once I notice my brother stop with his friends right in front of the door in the back of the sanctuary. “My father taught me that God created everyone, and he loves everyone. So, to say the world must be saved by us, as in normal people, is truly you trying to play God, which is equivalent the blasphemy you claim to want to end. Only God can save those who are against him, and I assure you, anyone my father loved doesn’t need to be brought back from evil. My father loved good people.”
I turn around once again, looking toward the back of the sanctuary to see my brother holding hands with both his friends. The room grows silent as the priest is left speechless. The noise that eventually breaks the silence is created by one of Wes’s new friends from college. I watch as he gracefully let’s go of Wes’s hand, bringing his arms up to applaud. And with one clap, that new friend begins a wave of collective applause. Soon the room is full of my father’s closest friends and family all clapping for what he believed in. This is why he was a great man, and this is what he wanted at his funeral. I see Wes wipe more tears from his eyes, and I can only hope they’re tears of joy– tears of joy for our father.