I’ve spent a lot of time lately looking at wedding photos. I remember this picture. I would always stop at it. It’s a great picture of Deb. She looks so happy. I looked at it and thought, this is the picture that will be shown at her funeral.
This morning, I emailed this photo to the funeral director, to be used in her obituary as for identification purposes.
There’s another picture — I won’t post it here — the photographers were taking pictures of everyone coming back down the aisle. Lots of pictures of James and I, and a few pictures each of our attendants, followed by my parents. Last but not least was Deb, being pushed by her sister Marcia. Unlike all the other pictures, where she’s smiling and engaged, Deb is shown hunched in her chair, frowning. She looks tired. It cost her so much to get to our wedding.
A few days ago, before she had passed, I was at work. I turned to get some paint. All the sudden I thought about that picture, and I had to bend over and just feel for a minute. As the day wore on, I just got more and more tired. I didn’t really want to listen to anyone.
I remember talking to Harold, Marcia’s husband. “I met Debbie when she was a two-year-old curly blonde girl who just wanted everyone to pick her up,” he told me. “She was the flower girl at our wedding. We had to put off our wedding for three weeks because Juanita told me that she was giving birth — she was having Lynette.” Then he started talking about how they had hardly any time for themselves because seven siblings and their children and grandchildren meant constant birthdays and holidays, and then Marcia made him stop talking so I could leave.
With no living spouse and only the one kid, Deb really only has one heir, and that’s James. Today we walked all throughout her house and started touching on what we would want to keep and what we wouldn’t. The beds, the furniture in the sun room, the breadmaker, the dim sum set.
“She’s still decorated for Christmas,” said James.
“I like these little ceramic houses,” I said.
James and I picked them up and examined them. James pointed out that they were limited edition collector pieces from England. “They good Christmas decorations,” I said.
“We can get rid of these leather-bound books,” said James.
“And I know you hate these nutcrackers.”
“Those things are awful.”
“What about these Drumel figurines?” James asked me.
“She only ever talked to me about one of them,” I said. “The little boy with the cello on his back. She told me that was you.”
I stopped and flipped through family photos whenever possible. I only met his dad the one time; the next time I saw him, he was in the hospital, heavily sedated, on the verge of death. I tried to find some semblance of knowing this family. I looked at the pictures of James’ parents together. There was one of them with the same haircut and plaid shirt on. James laughed at it. I studied the way they looked at each other.
I remembered standing with Deb over his dying body. I had asked how they met. They had met in college, through mutual friends. When he said that they weren’t going to see each other for a while, Deb assumed she was being dumped, and returned all of his things. When he found all of his things on the porch, he had broken down into tears. That’s how his mother knew Deb was special. They got together a few months later. They were together for nearly forty years.
“I think if the roles had been switched, Dad would have ignored her living will and fought to keep her alive,” James said.
I found the pictures of them cutting the cake. I remembered cutting our cake cutting experience. I had never cut a tiered cake before. I had never really thought about how to cut into one, or how small you were supposed to cut the pieces to feed to each other. “Just finish it up,” I remember someone hissing at me (or perhaps that had been my imagination). James had been perfect, laughing all throughout and being silly, stealing frosting and kissing me after we had fed each other.
There was no sign of that awkwardness with the two of them. They were laughing. Deb had that face. She had that way of holding her face when she laughed.
Across from us in the room, there were family photos hanging on the wall. One was a wedding photo, but the other two were of James. Toddler James, grinning for the camera. One by himself, one with his grandmother. I remembered the second time I met Deb. She had come down to visit James in his apartment. I walked in to see her cleaning the baseboards. Whenever I clean baseboards, I think of her.
After visiting, I had to leave for class. I picked up my book-laded backpack and prepared to go.
“Now a true gentleman,” Deb had said, not looking at either of us, “Would carry a lady’s bag and walk her to her car. He would open all the doors for her, and put the bag in her car, and give her a kiss before helping her into her car.”
I looked at James, and James looked at me, and then he laughed and said, “Have a good class!”
Deb sighed and looked at me and said, “I swear I raised him better.”
I think what I’ll miss most of all is the opportunity. I just didn’t know her that well. Our relationship never evolved beyond “you are the mother of the person I am with.” We never became friends. We were hardly even family. I wanted to show her her grandchildren, and those grandchildren would do something, and she would say, “James used to do that when he was that age.” Or maybe one day I would call her up and said, “I’m thinking about painting my hallway, do you have any ideas?”
But that will never happen.