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9:55 p.m. - 2009-11-12
Life Among The Idiots- Chapter 23

Grief is a weird thing. Sneaky. Unpredictable.

My great-aunt Eileen died when I was a teenager. The only one of my Chanel grandmother's many siblings who came and went in my life in fairly predictable intervals. Eileen and my grandmother had a contentious relationship, mostly, I think, because Grandma's marriage had worked out and Eileen's hadn't. My grandfather's slavish devotion to my grandmother, their tastefully understated posh home in a tastefully understated ritzy NJ suburb, their two children were kind of fuck-ups but at least they called regularly as Eileen's mysteriously long-gone children didn't, well, this grated on Eileen. She, the elder one, the one who'd dreamt of great things, and at least back in Cork had been considered the prettier one, to have come up a crapper while her little sister swanned around in her beautiful home with her nicey-nice life, was really too much to be borne with any kind of grace.

Eileen envied and hated my grandmother and often went flouncing off to hole up in her Bronx apartment not to be seen again for months and months. When she did reappear it was to either to boast about some recent acquisition or to snoop around in Grandma's life looking for flaws to exploit. I, of course, was one of those flaws. Prickly, difficult LA with her snotty vocabulary and staunchly argued political beliefs. Ugh. Eileen was forever poking me with her cane and demanding to know why I couldn't be like my sister, Gidget. Gidget, she of the empty head and Libran need to please.

Frankly? I hated Aunt Eileen.

Then she died. Alone. In her Bronx apartment. In August. And wasn't discovered for four days. FOUR days. In AUGUST.

The funeral home did the best they could, but Aunt Eileen was the dead-est looking dead person I've ever seen.

The wake was bad, but my sisters and I entertained ourselves by critiquing the tacky outfits and gaudy jewelry worn by some unknown second and third cousins, the progeny of Cork siblings who'd immigrated a generation later than Eileen and my grandmother had. Some years later when I saw 'My Cousin Vinny' I was starkly reminded of my own 3rd cousin, Maura, and her freaky resemblance to Marissa Tomei's character. Who the hell wears turquoise spandex to a wake?

The church service was as to be expected. The parish priest struggled to find some nice things to say about his least generous parishioner and most constant scold. We did some Catholic aerobics (up, down, kneel, stand, sit, kneelů) and then it was off to a far-flung cemetery waaaay the hell out on Long Island. Not rating a limo, my Pop and my sisters and I rode in his Caddy, part of a minimal procession of oversized American gas hogs with their headlights on. While on the L.I.E. our Pop kept us entertained by suggesting we duck out at the next exit and grab some sliders at White Castle. A franchise not found in our area and much coveted for its scarcity value.

Finally the cemetery. There at the graveside Aunt Eileen's 80-something sometime beau, Albert, began wailing for his lost love. It had been he who'd discovered her body and was probably the only one who truly grieved at all.

And it hit me. The sadness. The loss. The waste. The pitiful truth of Eileen dying alone and rotting for over half a week before anyone even missed her. I burst into howling sobs and rushed away. Back to the car where I sat crying and wiping my nose on the sleeve of the jacket that matched the (say it with me) tastefully understated grey linen skirt foisted on me by my mother from her own closet as my wardrobe of patched farmer's overalls and ballet leotards was wholly devoid of anything proper to wear to a dead aunt's funeral and impressing the never seen before (or ever again) 3rd cousins from Queens.

After the graveside service was over the others lingered there in awkward little clusters figuring out where we could all go for lunch. White Castle was obviously out of the question, no bar, and the Irish always consider burying the dead to be very thirsty work. While restaurant inquiries were made of the cemetery rep my Pop sauntered over to the car and offered me a kind pat on the shoulder and his handkerchief. Smiling a little, he gestured at the glistening trails of snot on the sleeves of my mother's second best summer suit. He seemed kind of hopeful it might be ruined entirely and knew for sure at the very least an expensive dry cleaning tab was in the immediate future. He patted my shoulder again and said he'd intervene on my behalf if she made a stink about it, it was only fair. Except for Eileen's ancient boyfriend I was the only one who'd cried at all.

Lunch rendezvous decided upon, my sisters came back to the car and clambered into the back seat. A little shaken, but mostly amused by my violent reaction they mocked me a bit and pretended they were all broken up too, making dramatic vaudevillian boo-hoos and keening with comic grief. They laughed themselves out and then Gidget sat forward and punched the back of my head to make me turn around.

"LeeLee, what the hell got into you? Aunt Eileen didn't even like you! And I know you didn't like her, last Thanksgiving you threatened to stick her cane up her ass if she ever poked you with it again. Why all the tears? Your shoes hurt or something?"

"I dunno, Gidge, I don't know. It just seemed so sad that she died all alone. Then when Albert started begging her to come back I couldn't take it. I realized he's the only one who'll miss that old bitch and even if she did come back nobody except Albert would be glad to see her. Not the priest. Not Mom. Not even Grandma. Imagine living your whole life and then only one person is sad when you're dead. Like Scrooge."

With the scintillating intellect she was renown for, Gidget frowned and said, "Only you, LeeLee, would talk about a Christmas movie in the summer. Jeesh."

And that was the end of the tears and the discussion about dead Aunt Eileen. Pop started the car and fell into line with the others. He nudged me with his elbow and said, "You sure we can't stop for White Castle?"

"Maybe on the way home, Pop. We'll stop on the way home."

A chorus from the back of the Caddy. "YAY! White Castle!"

Death, be not proud, sliders win every time. ~LA

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