- After I Do
That’s when my grandmother dies. I mean, I can’t be sure. I don’t hear about it for another ten minutes. But when I do hear about it, they say it happened ten minutes ago. So I’m pretty sure it happened as I sat here, smelling Ryan’s armpit, telling him to use deodorant.
It was supposed to happen after the baby was born. Or when I was with her. Or as she held my hand and told me the meaning of life. It wasn’t supposed to happen when I was laughing with Ryan about Old Spice.
Some people love that about life, that it’s unpredictable and unruly. I hate it. I hate that it doesn’t have the common decency to wait for a profound moment to take something from you. It doesn’t care that you just want one picture of your grandmother holding her great-grandchild. It just doesn’t care.
• • •
My mom is crying when I get to Grandma’s room. Fletcher is hugging her. Rachel is sitting in a chair by herself, head in her hands. Mom asked the nurses to move Grandma’s body. It’s gone by the time I get there. Thank fortune for small favors. I couldn’t have handled that. I simply don’t have it in me.
But the empty bed is hard enough. How can you miss someone so much already? My mind is full of all the things I didn’t say. It doesn’t matter how much I did say. There was still so much left to say. I want to tell her that I love her. That I will always remember her. That I am happy for her. That I believe she will find Grandpa.
Mom tells me that she told Grandma that Ryan was here. “I told her that he was with you, that he was taking care of you. To be honest, I couldn’t tell if she heard me. But I think she did.”
We all discuss plans, and we cry in one another’s arms. After a while, after we have squeezed too many tears out of our eyes, my mother tells us we need to “buck up.”
“Chins up, people! Look alert! It’s a big day for Charlie, OK? A big day for all of us. Grandma would not want this to be a day of sorrow. A baby is coming.”
Rachel and I nod, drying our tears with tissues. Ryan has his hands on both of our shoulders.
“Fletch, you can stay here and take care of the details, right?”
Fletcher nods. He isn’t crying in front of us, and I get the distinct impression that he’s looking forward to being alone so that he can.
“And you come find me down on the fifth floor when you’re ready.”
My mom claps her hands together like a football coach, as if this is the state championship and we’re down by six.
“We can do this!” she says. “There is plenty of time to think about Grandma, but right now, we need to be here for Charlie. We need to push this out of our minds and think about the beautiful little baby that’s coming.”
Rachel and I nod again.
“Yeah, coach!” Ryan says, giving my mom a high-five.
She looks at him, stunned, for a moment and then laughs. “For Charlie!” she cheers.
“For Charlie!” the three of us say, and Fletcher joins in at the last minute.
“I’ll check in on you soon,” my mom says to Fletcher, and then we all break for the elevator. When it comes, when we get in, when Rachel pushes the button for the fifth floor, when I feel the elevator drop, all I can think is that my mom has lost her mother today, and she’s not crying. She’s fighting to make this day right for her son. For her grandchild. Look at the things we are capable of in the name of the people we love.
Jonathan Louis Spencer is born at 1:04 A.M. on June 2. He weighs eight pounds, six ounces. He has a full head of dark hair. He has a squooshed face. He sort of looks like Natalie. If someone squooshed her face.
By sometime around nine in the morning, we’ve all held him. The nurse has taken him and brought him back, and now Jonathan rests in my mother’s arms. She is rocking back and forth. Natalie is half-asleep in the hospital bed.
Charlie looks at me, proud papa written all over his face. “I’ve only known him for eight hours,” he says to me, sitting in a chair, staring straight ahead at his baby boy. “But I could never leave him.”
I grab his hand.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Charlie says, shaking his head. “How our dad could have left. It doesn’t make any sense, Lauren.”
“I know,” I say.
Charlie looks at me. “No, you don’t,” he says. It’s not accusatory. It’s not pointed. He is merely telling me that there is an experience in this world that he understands more intimately than I do. He’s letting me know that as much as I think I get it, there is a world of love out there, a world of deep, unending, unconditional dedication that I know not of.
“You’re right,” I say. “I don’t yet.”
“I’ve never loved anything like this,” he says, shaking his head again. He looks at Natalie, and he starts to cry. “And Natalie,” he says. “She gave it to me.”
My brother may not have been in love with Natalie when he asked her to marry him or when he decided to move back here. He may not have been in love with her when he brought his things into her house and started to make a life with her. But somewhere along the way, he learned to do it. Maybe it happened at 1:03 or 1:04 or 1:05 this morning. But there’s no doubt it happened. You can see it in his eyes. He loves this woman.
“I’m proud of you, Charlie,” Ryan says, patting him on the back. “I’m so happy for you.”
Charlie closes his eyes, holding in the tears that want to fall onto his cheeks. “I’m gonna do this,” Charlie says. He opens his eyes. He’s not talking to me. He’s not talking to Ryan. He’s not talking to Rachel or Natalie or my mom. He’s talking to Jonathan.
“We know you are,” my mom says. She’s not answering for herself. She’s answering for all of us. She’s answering for Jonathan.
I look at Jonathan’s face. How can something so squooshed be so beautiful?
I look at Ryan, and I can tell what he’s thinking. We can do this, too, one day. Not today. Probably not next year. But we can do this one day. Ryan squeezes my hand. Rachel sees it, and she smiles at me.
It’s a good day. My mom, Charlie, Natalie, Jonathan, Rachel, Ryan, even me—we made this a good day.
“Wait,” I say. “Is Louis for Lois?”
Natalie laughs. “It wasn’t, but it is now!”
Charlie starts laughing, and so does my mom. If Charlie and my mom are laughing, then I’m right. It’s a good day.
There is a funeral. And a wedding. And in between, a reunion.
At the funeral, Ryan holds my hand. Bill holds my mother. Charlie holds Natalie. Rachel holds Jonathan. Fletcher reads the eulogy.
I’m not going to lie, his eulogy is a little weird. But he does capture the heart of Grandma. He talks about how much she loved Grandpa. He talks about how lucky he felt to live in a home where his parents loved each other. He talks about how his parents are together again, and that brings him great solace. He talks about the right things my grandmother always said at the wrong times. He talks about how we all laughed when she said she had cancer, and he tells it right. He makes it funny and idiosyncratic instead of sad and rueful.
My mom stays quiet. She tries to keep the tears in and mostly succeeds. I am surprised to find that she does not lean on Rachel, Charlie, and me all that much. When she does cry, she turns to Bill.
Once the funeral is over, we all go back to Fletcher’s house for food. We talk about Grandma. We coo over Jonathan. We follow Natalie around the room and ask her if she needs anything. She’s the star of the family now. She’s given us the crown jewel.
When I’m tired and I want to go, when I’ve had enough talking, enough crying, enough dwelling, I look over at Charlie and Ryan, talking to each other in the corner, each with a beer in his hand.
How did I forget that they are brothers in their own right? They do it so well.
When Ryan and I finally get back to Los Angeles, we don’t go to our home or to his apartment. We go to Mila’s house.
And waiting for us there is Thumper Cooper.
Ryan doesn’t say anything when Thumper runs to him. He doesn’t say Down, boy or Hey, buddy or any of the things you say to an excited dog. He just holds him close. And Thumper, normally excitable and rambunctious, rests comfortably and patiently in his arms.