In the church basement at my grandpa's funeral, while I waited in the luncheon line for my open-faced brown bread sandwich with Cheez Whiz and sliced olives, waited for the "small good thing" that, I argue, is meant to make the living remember they are still alive, my uncle asked me how my night job was going.
Without thinking, I said, "I'm going to quit."
He was shocked. He turned to my mom and said, "She just said she's going to quit her job."
My mom didn't miss a beat. She told her brother, "That'd be good."
My uncle said something like, "A job's a job."
I was working three jobs, and one of them was a medical records filing gig at a clinic that was going under fast. Every night, in a dark building, alone, I filed the paperwork left behind by dead people after cancer took them. Cancer took my Grandpa, too.
I put in my notice when I got back. Nobody expected it, not even me.
By the next year, I'd met my husband, and that was the beginning of a whole new life.
If my uncle hadn't asked that question at that moment in that line while my mind was numb and my heart was broken, I might still be alone in the dark with the papers of dead people all around me.
If I hadn't said, "Enough," where would I be right now?
Sometimes you have to make a decision that doesn't make sense to other people. You don't deserve to be alone in the dark when there is so much light all around.
I could feel the sorrow coming from a long way off, the way I used to be able to tell when a rainstorm was coming when no one else could, hours, maybe half a day before it rolled across the plains. I could always smell it, hear it under the roar of the wind on a sunny day, before anyone else knew it was there. I knew it was lurking along the horizon.
I could pretend it was not coming, but it always did.
And when the sorrow arrived, rumbling before I saw it, it tapped on my head and my skin and my bones like raindrops so I could not ignore it.
I knew she was going. For the last six months or maybe a year, she had been asking to go home. No one else knew what that meant. She had lived in her cozy assisted living apartment for eight years or more. Where was home?
But I knew. I knew she was going, and I treated every goodbye like it was my last.
When she was gone, I was not expecting it would be that day, but I had expected it would be every day, any day. And when she went, everybody wept. The rain had finally come.
I once knew an old man
who disguised himself as a cat
for the free rent,
tinned whitefish, and milk,
whole and cold
from the fridge.
He sat with the newspaper
on the kitchen table
and slurped coffee from abandoned cups.
He liked ice in his water,
complained if there weren’t enough cubes,
sauntered into bathrooms
and stared when people got out of the tub.
He said, “Meow”
but he never meowed.
His black suit was open
over his white-shirted belly
which hung as loose as his tie
like he’d just had three nights
on a bender after a wedding.
His mustache was crooked,
which should have given him away.
But he was sleek for an old guy
maybe even a little charming
except when he talked,
which was often and loud.
Sometimes he just liked
listening to music
floating from open doors.
But sometimes he frequented the Union,
had a dance
with some unsuspecting ankles
beneath an unassuming skirt.
he made the bartender
call for his ride home.
he’d say in the background
with gravel in his deep voice,
that hardly sounded like an old man at all.