June 7th, 2020
Tomorrow is my brother’s birthday. Marc would be fifty-one years old. However, he’s long gone. He only made it to twenty-eight.
By this time tomorrow, I should be on the road. I am traveling down to Bryan, Texas. That’s where Marc lived. That’s where our son, Hans, lives now. I am going down there to see Hans.
Hans and his wife are expecting anther child. They found that out on the Memorial Day weekend. That’s not the main reason I am going south. Actually, there isn’t a specific, logical reason for the journey. I just have a gut feeling that I need to be with Hans. I’m not sure why that is. I know that the recent news reports have had an effect on him. I think that the scenes showing soldiers dispersing crowds of protesters has triggered his PTSD from Iraq. When he calls on the phone, I get sense that something is churning inside of him.
I have no plans for when I visit with Hans. I just want to be with him. We can sit around and talk. I want to listen to whatever he has to say. We can drink some beers. I want to be physically together with him. There are some conversations that cannot happen on the phone or online. Some things have to be up close and personal.
Karin is not coming along on this trip. She is staying at home with a girl that we love. That will feel strange. I have made the trip to Texas many times over the last thirty years, but almost always in the company of somebody else. It’s hard to remember, but I think the last time I went to Texas be myself was in the summer of 1997. That was also the last time that I saw Marc alive.
I drove down there in ’97 to sell Marc and Shawn a car. Karin and I had just purchased a minivan. We needed the room for our three children. Rather than trade in the ’94 Nissan Sentra, we decided to sell it to Marc and his wife. They needed a reliable ride, and the Nissan was a really good car. It was a five-speed, and both Marc and Shawn knew how to drive a stick. The plan was for me to take the Nissan down to Bryan, stay a couple days, and then fly home.
I was young then, so I did the whole 1400 miles in one stretch. I think I slept for an hour or so in some rest stop in Missouri, but otherwise I just drove. It was a little over twenty hours on the road. The road trip is a blur to me now. I know that I went through Chicago, Champaign, Cairo, New Madrid, West Memphis, Little Rock, Texarkana, Longview, Palestine, and a plethora of godforsaken little towns. I called my brother on a pay phone in Texarkana. People didn’t have cell phones then. People didn’t have GPS either. I was reading road maps all long the way.
I got to my brother’s house on Day Street feeling ragged. I crashed for a while. I’m not sure what we all did while I was there. I know that on my last night with Marc and Shawn, I watched “The Wrong Trousers” with Marc. It was a claymation DVD that featured Wallace and Gromit. The movie was hilarious. Marc and I snacked on crackers and pickled herring while we watched the show. Shawn was/is a vegetarian. She was not thrilled that Marc had purchased a jar of herring. She just looked at us and said, “Enjoy your dead fish.” We did.
Marc had to go to work extremely early the next morning. I had a plane to catch later that day. He woke me up at 4:00 AM to say goodbye. We shook hands. I remember his smile, and his voice, and the grip of his hand on mine.
That was the last time I saw him alive.
Marc died in a car wreck in February of 1998. Our family went down to Texas for the funeral. Hans was only ten years old at the time. Hans was unable to stay in the mortuary with everyone else. He was freaked out by it. Karin took Hans outside for a while. Hans told her, when they were standing by some trees, that he felt Marc’s spirit. Then Hans was okay, and he could go back inside the funeral home.
That trip is kind of blur to me now too. I do remember the last time I saw Marc’s face. The undertakers were getting ready to close the casket. Each of us went to the coffin to say a last farewell. I kissed Marc on the forehead. It was like kissing a block of ice. I have never in my life felt anything so cold.
I will have plenty of time to think and ponder as I drive solo on the road tomorrow.
I wonder what I will all remember on Marc’s birthday.