Matriarch

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

A Brooklyn Irish Catholic family comes together for the head of the family's birthday. Under the same roof for the first time in years, they heal old wounds and share new experiences. They will come away from this maybe not better or closer but definitely different and changed forever.

 

 

 

Matriarch

 

 

It’s an acquired taste, somewhere between burnt and bitter. If flavors had colors this one would be brown. Some call coffee left too long on the burner and way past its prime stale. It is old for sure but not stale. We don’t call old people stale and pour them down the drain. Do we? Should we? It’s my fault, I made a whole pot and let half of it sit and age while I skillfully avoided productivity in favor of procrastination for most of my morning. So I will sit here and sip this bold brew, this cup of mud. I will savor the slippery sludge as I attempt to deftly defer the rest of this dissolving day. I’m sure there are some duties to dispatch or tasks to tackle but I can’t think of a damn thing in dire need of my attention. There is, just beyond the border of my ugly orange area rug, that collection of clothes that could use some attention. Three carefully crafted and curated piles that seem as if they are moving forward and gaining ground in some sort of a Coup! I don’t mind doing laundry, I just have a system. The clean pile makes it close to the closet but never quite gets to hang there at home where it belongs. The dirty clothes sit next to the laundry bag, just needing a nudge across the threshold. Then there is the questionable pile. It is just what you think, can I wear it one more time? Can I get away with it again? It’s a system but a poor one. Somebody should really take care of all this Shit, I’m waiting!

I’ll get around to it. Just know that I can put things off prolifically. Sometimes I do so to my own peril. Take this weekend for example, it is the 70th birthday of the Matriarch of my family. The Great and Grand Gray old lady has summoned all of us to a surprise party that she is throwing for herself! I’ve successfully avoided the trip home for better than a year and a half. Amtrak from Boston to New York isn’t far but just far enough to be out of the reach of Katherine Callahan. I’m Jack Callahan, Katherine AKA Kitty is my mom. We grew up in Brooklyn and by Kitty’s account we are the Blue Collar Kennedys. There is some old school Brooklyn Irish Catholic Bull Shit right there! Jesus Christ, JFK and the Pope adorned our hallway walls for as long as I can remember. Kitty Callahan in her own mind was Jackie and she cast my poor old Pop, Frank Callahan as Jack. Pop, in the real world, was a mechanic. He joined the Navy and saw the world and in the late 1960s he did what was done, he married his best girl and started a family. Kitty’s mom owned the house she grew up in and was willing to sell to mom and dad provided she could live there rent free. A wink and a handshake and fifteen Grand later Frank and Kitty owned a two family house on a tree lined street in Brooklyn.

The first of the kids was a boy named Denis. Frank couldn’t stand naming a boy Francis, after him. A girl named Kate came next. Then me, Jack and then Caroline. Christ you could almost choke on the Camelot references! The get togethers were fun and grand in the late 70s and early 80s and why not? Those were the days seen through rose colored glasses. The weekends were a wine and whiskey filled haze. A Winston and Virginia Slim fog, filled with music and laughter. My grandmother Maggie McKay, Kitty’s mom had a piano in her living room, which she still called the parlor. She would play old Irish folk and drinking songs and wax poetic about the Good Old Days on the other side of the Atlantic. She was a fantastic story teller and was always threatening or promising to go back to the Old Country after a few whiskey sours or a couple of tall Balantines, straight outta the can because my, she was Classy!

My grandmother was great fun but she could also turn on a dime. Maggie could be mean. Her tongue could be Pure Poison, mostly I think she was disappointed in life in general and I know she was disappointed in me when she tried to teach me to play piano, which I really wanted to learn or when she would help me try to write  in cursive so the Sisters at the Sacred Bleeding Heart of Jesus Catholic School would stop wrapping me on the knuckles because I was left handed and obviously that was a sin and I was clearly an Agent of Satan!  Maggie asked a few times in her Irish Whisper, “Is Jackie Retarded?” My old man responded via threat of throwing her out the first floor window with all her clothes and Bric-A-Brac to follow shortly after. It was the one and only time in my memory that my mother, who never wanted to fight with her mother sat in a corner, curled up in a ball and cried. Then Kitty got herself together and stormed back downstairs to grandma’s and shot her with both Barrels, I mean she went The Fuck Off! Scorched Earth, End Of Days type stuff! It was Biblical and it was Beautiful!

It was never spoken of after, we were a loud family but never really talked about much of anything. Politics, religion and feelings were all Taboo, those were banned subjects not fit for Sunday dinners, which were always downstairs at Maggie’s and always at 5pm sharp! My pop used to joke about going down 15 minutes ahead of time to, “Beat The Traffic!” Same joke every Sunday forever and ever. My Old Man was the Best! We all say that but, Frank Callahan put up with A Lot and always with a smirk on his face. Maggie always Bitched at and belittled my dad but he was good at picking his battles and jabbing back at her. Truth be told, they were like sparring partners and I think they both enjoyed it on some level. He indulged my mom in any little plan or project, Happy Wife, Happy Life Right? He treated my sisters like little queens and my brother Denis and I like little men. He would take us to work with him at the garage in Sunset Park and let us watch him fix cars. On weekends he would work on lawn mowers and bycicles in our driveway while he worked on a six pack and a pack of Winstons at the same time. I can still smell those Butts Burning. He would never take a dime  for his time tinkering with the bikes and mowers, he enjoyed it and he was being a good neighbor. All the kids on the block Loved the guy because he would buy all of us ice cream when the truck came around.

From her perch on the front porch where she surveyed the world my grandma would admonish my dad, warning, with her Irish Whisper, “You’re gonna spoil all them kids and waste all your money on those ungrateful Brats when you got a family to feed!” Frank, for his part, never even flinched. He just went about his business. The summers on our block were something to see, Kitty and all the moms would sit on a different stoop every night while all us kids played Manhunt and later on Catch and Kiss with the neighborhood girls. What we never knew was that Kitty and the Crew were sipping pitchers of intoxicants while we ran around in the sweet summer sun at least until it was time for dinner. All we as kids knew was that by the time it was time for The Dukes of Hazzard to come on all our moms were in Great Moods! Even back then Kitty was a Boss and a Badass before those terms were invented and came to mean what they do today. My dad would say, “Hurricane Kitty is about to Hit! I suggest we Duck and Cover!”

Frank Callahan was a Boss and a Badass in his own right. Even in his forties he had jet black hair with just the right amount of salt sprinkled into the pepper with his long sideburns and Navy tattoos he looked like a pudgie, poor man’s Elvis but he always  knew how to put work away.

at the end of the day, he would come home and get out of his Grease Monkey coveralls and put on jeans and a crisp white tee shirt just before dinner. Frank was an easy man to find even way back in the worst of Windsor Terrace winters he sat out on the back porch with a can of Miller and a Marlboro. He enjoyed listening to the radio and singing along with Sinatra and the Beach Boys. Pop had a good voice and he was a good listener too, the raucous racket of four kids to him was a joyful noise and it twisted up Maggie just enough for Frank to encourage that we stomp on the floor and sing and dance as long and as loud as we wanted because he owned the house and that was Final! On a frosty Friday night when I was ten and the Old Man let me sneak a sip of beer I asked why he let grandma get away with being so mean to him? In return he told me, “Jackie Boy O, The Devil you know is always better than The Devil you Don’t. We all have Devils and we all make deals.” The armchair philosopher had spoken. He made his point and it was a point well taken, one that would serve me well later on and it still does today.

Denis Callahan was the Golden Boy in every way, sports, school, girls he had it all. My Big Brother was the Total package! Kate and Caroline were the same in female form. I, though not retarded, have Cerebral Palsy. It’s a neurological disease, all it means is that my brain and my body don’t play well together, they miss signals and misfire leaving me with a limp and shaky hands. I’ve seen way worse,  people confined to wheelchairs or having their brain affected in such a way  so that they are non verbal. It’s weird to say you have C.P. and you feel lucky, but I do. I can’t imagine a non ambulatory or  non verbal version of myself.  No thank you! I’ll stagger and shake my way through this world. I’ll limp like a pimp. There have been fights of the schoolyard and barroom variety. Win Some, Lose Some and you should see the Other Guy.  Either way I learned not to ever be ashamed and as an adult, as a grown man I can tell you honestly and truthfully I have more swagger than Mick Mother Fuckin’ Jagger! It doesn’t bother me anymore. It just doesn’t matter and it never should have in the first place.

I’ll get on the train at ten in the morning. It's a three hour ride that should put me in Brooklyn just about 1ish. I don’t mind traveling by train. I rather like the quiet car where you can read and relax or take a nap without being bothered. It will be too early for the bar car but I don’t want to have to get up and pee every five minutes. I also hate the feeling of having to hold in a piss from Penn Station all the way to Fort Hamilton Parkway, that’s just uncomfortable and also a drag. Amtrak coffee sucks but oh well, whatever. I can just throw in my headphones and close my eyes. The ride home always manages to project memories onto my shut eyelids as if they were movie screens. I’m sure a good number of adult children who return to their family home experience the same combination of nostalgia and PTSD! The house itself, the actual physical structure remains largely unchanged almost frozen in time like an old photograph. It’s what waits inside the walls that has suffered the erosion and unkind rot of the passage of time. Speaking of Rotten, here we are, Penn Station. What a Glorious Shit Hole you are!

Before I get the A and then transfer to the F I wanna step outside and look around. Maybe buy a pack a’ smokes. I’ve gotten my vices down to occasional visitors, like old friends but I have a feelin’ I’m gonna need to call for them a lot this weekend. Ahhhh! Just like four or five, ok six drags then back underground and underway. Pulling into Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn to transfer to the F train reminds me of hopping the turnstiles as a kid and spending the day in Coney Island with my Buddies. The guy who taught me that and brought me to Coney for the first time was Denis, my Big Brother and I guess he was also my first real friend, my first Buddy and ultimately my best friend. Denis was thirteen when my dad died and I was only eleven. It hit the two of us hard but it was worse for my sister Caroline who was only eight at the time. She found the Old Man. He went in to take a shower after work as always and just never came back out. We only had the one bathroom so after pounding on the door forever and listening to the water running in the shower forever Caroline just busted into the bathroom. What the hell? The door was never locked and in our house not even mom and dad had any expectation of privacy. There the old man was, slumped over the tub half hanging out with his soaking wet hair almost touching the cold tile floor. Caroline yelled for help then stood there shaking with her face frozen in the horor and anguish of a silent scream. Her mouth gaping open with no sound coming out. Frank Callahan, a Teddy Bear and a Tank of a Man had a Massive Heart Attack after another day of hard work. He left the world quietly but left his entire young family frozen in that forever silent scream. The Wake, the flowers, the bagpipes and the bull shit were all a blur. We were all numb, Kitty and Maggie were stoic stones who had to just get on with it, whatever that means?

For the first few weeks as the new decade of the 90s dawned, Maggie was a massive help to my mom. My grandmother made sure we ate and kept up with school. We all had to help around the house. My sister Kate helped cook and she also organized and doled out the daily chore list. I did laundry and took out the trash, Denis handled the grocery shopping and other outside errands. Caroline who was mostly mute at this point had dishwashing duty, which meant we used a shit load of paper plates. Maggie gave us each twenty bucks a week, she called it, “A little something for your pocket.” She was basically buying our silence for my mother’s sake. Our house had become the kind of quiet and still that you just don’t get used to. A house lives and breathes, it has the same pulse and heartbeat as those who shelter inside it. A house can be alive with light and laughter and then with the snap of a finger, it can become a sad shadow enrobed in the spector and the stench of death. Guess which one our home became?

Twelve year old Kate Callahan became the Mother Hen, Kitty survived, subsisting on a steady diet of black coffee, valium, vodka and Virginia Slims. She played the widow very well but she was just killing time waiting for time to kill her. Maggie dragged mom to mass one Sunday where they said my dad’s name and the whole neighborhood showed up! We all were in our finest and looking just as uncomfortable as you would expect. I think Kitty may have actually enjoyed it. Later that day we all went out to lunch and Kitty described feeling, “Uplifted by the outpouring of Love and respect. That’s what she saw, what I saw was Pity for poor Kitty. Same thing, I guess? Perception is reality right? After that Kitty became very active in the church. That is to say she showed up every Sunday in her pearls and little white gloves. She still sought the solace of her Mother’s Little Helpers but hey, at least she got dressed. She started tasking my big brother with getting her booze and cigarettes, nobody in the corner deli or the local liquor store batted an eye when teenage Denis picked up an order for Kitty. He was just a good kid lookin’ out for his mom.

It took a whole year for all of my dad’s affairs to be sorted. Pension, Social Security and Life insurance like to collect but are slow as shit to pay out. At the end of the day it wasn’t a lot but it was enough. Kitty Callahan netted more than eighty but less than a hundred Grand for a lifetime cut short and plans and dreams left as unfinished and unfulfilled as the widow Callahan herself. When your kids range from seventeen to thirteen you don’t have a plan. Your plans went out the window a while ago taking all of you right along with them. Under that roof and behind those doors things were slowly starting to fracture, fragment and fall apart in general. Nobody cries over spilled milk, you cry over the broken glass it leaves behind. Those little shards of shrapnel that get stuck in those little corners just waiting for your barefoot to be painfully pierced and pricked while you’re just minding your own business, trying to safely shuffle your perfect pancakes and beautiful bacon to the Sunday breakfast table.

Here’s my stop. I stroll out of the station, the walk familiar as I turn the corner. I flick the last of a butt into the street before breaching the gate and entering the waiting arms of my childhood home. All of us kids still have keys and I open the door to a forty year flood. I yell, “I’m home!” Like I was just around the corner for a pack of smokes and Sweet Caroline comes running with a hug that could break your Goddamn ribs! She could also break my Goddamn Heart because she stayed behind while the rest of us fled the flood. Kate is the next to greet me but I have to meet my older sister halfway. Her and her cocktail are comfortable on the bench in front of the piano that hasn’t been touched since Maggie lovingly stroked it’s keys. My grandmother was stricken with many mini strokes. She was tough and held on a long time fighting like hell until she finally let go when I was sixteen. Caroline was a big help to Maggie even though she was very young, she found herself being a caregiver, a role she relished. Caroline would hover and fuss over all of us, partly just because that was her nature but also she feared the eventual visits of death and loss that, to her, were always lurking just over our shoulders. That’s not something I came up with, that’s what my little sister was able to extract from years of therapy.

Kitty Callahan made her entrance from her bedroom in the back of the house just off the kitchen. She sweeps and slides and glides her way around the room. She’s a big fan of the whole air kiss thing of which I am absolutely not. She is not a fan of my haircut, my hair has always been longer than she would like. She also doesn’t care for tattoos but they are all covered anyway. We all grabbed fresh drinks and lounged around on the large sectional sofa. Missing from our little family reunion is Denis, We lost him at twenty two. Way too young, same old sad story, bad crowd, bad habits and bad decisions along with bad luck. My Big Brothers luck ran out in the stairwell of a Coney Island project building. He was found with a needle still in his arm. The truth is, Denis was lost to us way before then. He was on the wrong road pretty much right after my dad died. After Maggie’s passing my mom moved us downstairs and used some of the money Maggie left to finish the basement giving me and Denis each a bedroom and even our own bathroom. Kitty and the girls each stayed on the first floor and we took on tenants upstairs to the tune of nine hundred bucks a month. The young couple stayed nearly five years until they bought a house of their own in the suburbs. For a few years there it was good times for the Clan Callahan! We spread out a bit and had some space and privacy for the first time ever. The little bit of money coming in also helped Kitty extend her streak of not having to go out in the working world. She rather liked the idea and the title of Landlord.

For Denis and I the basement was like our first apartment. It was a hang out and a clubhouse for us and our friends. We had the same social circle back then because we went to the same school and were only two years apart. Kitty never minded our friends being around. She didn’t even mind us drinking in the house. The way she saw it was we were going to do it anyway and at least if we were here she could keep an eye on us and we wouldn’t get out of hand or in trouble. It was a flawed style of parenting but things were very different for parents and teens in the nineties. My mother’s only real complaint back then was the smell of cigarette smoke and stale beer that wafted up under the basement door and out into the hallway upstairs. None of the neighborhood parents would come out and condone our under age activities but they all kind of felt the same way. At least they knew where we were and who we were with. It worked for us kids too having things up front and out in the open was just easier, you didn’t have to lie or sneak around. You just had to not be an Ass Hole. All you had to do was stay out of trouble and everything would be cool.

Us kids all got along really well. I don’t recall any real fights to speak of. My sisters would yell at each other about borrowed clothes or boys they both had crushes on but nothing major. My brother and I took to coming and going through the basement entrance and we pooled our money to buy a couch, a coffee table and a big ass tv for our bachelor pad. Man Cave wasn’t a thing yet, at least I don’t think so. By far our biggest score back then was when Denis found one of those college dorm mini fridges somebody put out for the trash a few blocks away from us. He came and got me and a hand truck and we hustled the thing home. In a matter of a minute after plugging it in we could hear it humming, it kicked on like a champ and worked like a charm. It was a much better place for our beverages than the cooler we kept next to the couch.

That night of homecoming saw what remained of the Callahans gathered around the Grand Piano, laughing, singing and telling stories. The elegance of the evening ended when it was decided that we would order pizza for dinner, even Kitty approved as that was our Friday night childhood go to, pizza and a video rented from a store! Remember that? We ordered from Korner Pizza, as was our tradition. Mom blessed our supper with the busting out of paper plates and paper towels, a Supremely Shanty move for the Lace Curtain Irish Kathrine Callahan! Boston leaves me a severe, almost Lustful longing for good pizza and good bagels. I always grab a dozen from Terrace Bagels up on The Avenue whenever I come home. Pizza on the other hand presents a problem as I find it to be WAYYYYY less portable but I swear I will figure that out! As the evening wears on Caroline convinces Kate to stay over in the upstairs apartment with her. It makes sense for her not to drive home only to have to come back. Kate calls her husband Marty, a cop who has no problem with her staying. He is happy to and more than capable enough to take care of their seven year old twin boys over night. As for me, I am totally content to crash in the basement and Kitty is totally tickled by the turn of events that have us all staying up late and sleeping under the same roof for the first time in forever.

Ya know how every home has a certain unique smell all it’s own? As I descended those old slatted wooden steps into the dungeon, the guts of the house, it hit me, a mix of moth balls, cedar and stale cigarette smoke. It also has its own sounds: the hum of fluorescent lights warming up or that click clack of the furnace kicking on. All haunting and comforting to me as I sit on the old couch and light up. I crack open one of the two beers I brought down here with me and I raise it up to Denis and take a sip. The old mini fridge sits empty but still plugged in and still chugging along. I think I’ll feed the other beer to the fridge for now because tomorrow is another day. Kitty’s Birthday Bash is on Sunday so I’m not sure what tomorrow will bring. Might as well get some sleep in case tomorrow is as long and exhausting as I feel it potentially could be. Mine and Denis’s twin beds are both still down here but curling up on this beat up old couch with this thin old plaid throw blanket is just easier so that’s that. Shoes off and eyes shut while the cigarette smoke still hangs over my head and there’s still the faint glow of amber burning off in the ashtray.

In the morning the Callahans assemble around the kitchen table. Kitty has put out bacon and eggs on the counter and there is a hint of fresh coffee in the air along with the ever present cloud of menthol smoke and the promise of a big breakfast that is always dangeled but never delivered. My big brother taught me to cook as he worked in kitchens while taking civil service exams and waiting for his number to be called. Denis worked the line in many faux Irish bars and restaurants. He taught me the short order stuff and explained, “Chicks dig guys who can cook!” and the next pearl of wisdom he dropped was, “People need to eat and like to drink so, the world will always need cooks and bartenders. These are noble trades and important skills.” He was right! He took me on to work as a busboy, dishwasher or a bar back whenever he could. In those days it was an all cash business, under the table and off the books. It was also a lot of fun. Denis introduced me to a whole new world and we had One Hell of a Good Time together!

My train of thought just went off the tracks as Kate is over my shoulder instructing me on how to scramble eggs and Kitty is shouting out her coffee order as if this is Fuckin’ Starbucks and I’m her Barista. “Oh, for the Love of Christ, just eat Ya’ Pack a’ Jackles.” That’s my morning prayer as I promptly slam down the platter of perfectly scrambled eggs, Thank You Very Much! Crispy bacon and buttery toast as well. I can’t resist grumbling and griping about the obscene absence of bagels. As I throw that jab everyone blames everyone else for that faux pas and the finger pointing serves to complete this Norman Rockwell portrait of the Irish American Family Breakfast, And…. Scene, moving on. With a belly full of bacon and a few bites of toast, I gulp some black coffee and make a timely exit to take a self guided tour of the hood. As I walk out the door I remind the ladies of leisure that my days of dishwashing are done. I know you won’t judge me for ducking into the corner deli so I can brown bag a beer to fortify my little jaunt down memory lane. Will You? Whatever! You’ve met my family, you would sneak off and start early too! Time for the tour.

Fort Hamilton Parkway, the highlights are the playground, playing tackle football in the snow and kissing girls on the swings before any of us knew what we were doing. The beer runs or keg parties came later. The old and quietly beautiful cemetery, which is actually so old and so full that there is no more room, no rest for the Wicked, I guess? The church of the Sacred Bleeding whatever the Fuck Ever is across the street and the school of the same name occupies the opposite corner. I’m gonna sit on these steps at the side entrance of my old school and sip this beer. When it’s finished I will not think at all about how the fabric of my family is frayed and in fact falling apart. No Sir, not me! I’m gonna walk myself across the street and one block down to a bar I know that opens at eleven because they serve breakfast, technically anyway even though it consists of doughnuts from Dunkin and Colossally Crappy coffee. It’s enough past noon that there should be at least one half way respectable Bar Fly in the joint and I’ll probably know him. Maybe he’ll even buy me a beer? Let’s see.

Quinn’s Pub is a neighborhood institution and a local favorite. It’s been around for over fifty years and there has been a Quinn behind the bar for as far back as anybody can recall. As I’m crossing the street to the corner where the bar regulars just call Q’s stands I can see the orange and white box through the long rectangular front window. As I reach the front door I still don’t quite see a Quinn. What I do see are two old timers with their heads down and their backs to me. It’s good to know that at least I’m not the first to be thirsty this early in the day.

Behind “The Stick'',  as they say is little Annie Quinn. We call her that because she’s probably about 15 years younger than me but also because she is probably about five foot nothin’ and a hundred and nothin’ so, literally little. “Hey Jackie, a pint of somethin’ nice for ya?” Unbelievable! That’s a less than enthusiastic welcome home but hey, her beer is cold and my money is green so maybe idle chit chat is kept to a minimum or maybe it just costs extra? Who knows? Etiquette is a touchy and pretentious Bitch of a thing in any situation. I’m perfectly content to sit here and sip my beer in silence. Here she comes from behind the bar, pretty little thing, to give me a proper homecoming squeeze and a peck on the cheek.

“How’s ya Ma and the girls? None of em come around much. Kitty orders for delivery from time to time but that’s it.” “tomorrow is the Grand Ol’ Gal’s 70TH Birthday and she’s throwing herself a Bash over at the Knights on The Avenue. Food from Gino’s and wine in a box but it’s open bar because the Callahans are total Class like that.”  Why is she staring at me? Holy Shit! How Fuckin’ Rude am I? I should be asking after her family. “How bout you? How are all the Quinns?” There are seven Quinn kids, of which Annie is the youngest. Her answer should just be short and polite but I’m sure as she pulls another pint for me that the response will be a long and drawn out one. I know this because all long story short answers begin with a deep sigh and a pause to look up to Heaven. “ MS has gotten the best of my mom and my pop walks with a cane but as much of a Prick as he was when we were kids he’s turned into such a Great caregiver to her. Both my sisters are in Jersey living the Suburban dream. My brother John is in rehab and Pat is in Riker’s waitin’ on bail for boosting cars and breaking into houses. Right here in our own Hood. Charlie comes in at 5 so I can go home to my four year old, I’m sure he would Love to see ya. If you can stick around that long? Or, for instance if you turned into a Half a Fagg light Weight you could always come back around later.”

C’mon now Jack don’t be a Jerk Off! She’s throwin’ you a softball here. She left the door wide open for you to ask about the kid. So, clear your throat, sip your frosty Miller High Life and ask about the kid already. “ a boy or a girl?” Annie answers, “My Big Black Bastard of an ex boyfriend Fucked me long enough and Hard enough to bless me with a baby boy. Then Jerome did the Baby Daddy Bounce leaving me and Ryan. He Screwed me hard one last time. He Screwed us both, me and my son but my family has been really good with helping out and all.” I’m always a big fan of the Irish G’Bye but I can’t pull that with Annie Quinn standing just inches from my face so, before I can exit my parting words must be quick and clever, “Maybe I will stop back in before five to see Charlie and perhaps I can buy you a drink if for instance you haven't turned into a Half a Fagg Light Weight yourself and if you don’t have to run right outta here?” That actually came out pretty good. Well Done Jack! Annies retort is a quick and clever one, “I’m not cheap, if you wanna spend time with me on that side of the bar it’s gonna cost you a Hell of a lot more than a High Life Mister!” “I’m sure it will and I’d expect nothing less, you got a deal. I better take off and quit while I’m ahead for once. “It’s not a date Jackie, it’s just a drink and just one then I’m outta here. “Understood, see ya later.”

The walk home from Q’s is too short to think about anything but just long enough to light a smoke and flick it into the street as I reach the front gate of the house. I don’t know why I always feel the need to take a deep breath as I go to turn that door knob, I just always do. Inside Kitty is on the phone pacing around the living room and chain smoking. My sisters are both banging around the kitchen. It looks like they’re making up a deli tray for lunch. It also looks like they’ve gotten into the wine. After three early pints a sandwich seems like a good idea. My sisters curtail their cackling long enough to turn their attention towards me. I feel them gearing up for an interrogation. I know their tactics and how to avoid them. Such as stuffing this rolled up slice of roast beef in my mouth and sipping a glass of water so I won’t have to account for where I was or who I was with. These two girls are good but I’m better! Ya know what I mean? We’re talking about a pair of Major League Ball Breakers here. A couple of Massive gossips and if there isn’t a secret to uncover or a story to tell, don’t you worry. They aren’t above making one up. They’ve also been known to drag Kitty into the act from time to time just for fun. Kitty of course goes right along with it. Truth is, she enjoys it. Don’t threaten Kitty Callahan with a Good Time! Anyway, I was just minding my business. I have nothin’ to hide and I’m not up to nothin’ but I’ll quickly change the subject just to be on the safe side. I just casually throw out multiple questions, “What’s for dinner? Are we all set for tomorrow?” “Slow down!” Caroline answers with her hand up. She continues, “Where ya been Jack? Who ya out drinkin’ with this early?” I got nothin to hide, “I popped into Q’s to see who was workin’ thought I would maybe see Charlie? It was his sister behind the bar, the little one.” Why I’m pretending to not know her name I have no idea but I’m just gonna go with it. “Charlie starts at five so, I’ll probably bounce back over there in a little bit.” Kate has two cents to throw in and her two cents usually add up to about a buck fifty. “Oh yeah, Annie the little one. She’s kinda cute and a sassy little shit too!” Caroline chimes in, “Let’s all go. We never get to go out and hang out together any more. Why not? I don’t think they have food there but I’m sure we can order somethin’ in”

 Who am I to argue? I had no intention of going out with my Bodyguards but what the hell? I say, “Yeah, Whatever what the hell. Let’s do it. Could be fun?” We all agree to go at four. We also implicitly agree to leave quietly and not make it a thing. Basically we have the understanding among the three of us that our mother isn’t invited. This is the Callahan Kids only field trip. Mom will just have to sit this one out. If she did come out with us there’s always the chance of a few quiet drinks turning into The KITTY SHOW and nobody outside of the family needs to be subjected to that. It is good to see my sisters and It’s nice that we agree on little things like when and where we want to be seen with our Dear, Sweet Mother. To our collective surprise Kitty has no interest in joining us. When she hears of our plan her only remark is, “You kids have fun.” She asks us to bring back cigarettes for her if we aren’t out too late and one of us remembers. She informs us that she’s content to just pick and snack rather than make a whole meal. According to Caroline mom does that quite often. She will make a snack platter of cheese and crackers to pair with her wine or cocktail of choice then she will find some old movie to watch and fall asleep on the sofa. That matter was settled pretty easily and without guilt or drama. Our scheduled departure was moved up from four to three thirty because why not?

Charlie is already at one of the small round corner tables halfway through a Heineken when we walk in. Christ Charlie always looks exactly the same. Always that dopey, happy go lucky grin on his face too. We do the hug thing, “I’ll grab us a round and be right back.” I know my sisters are half a step behind on my heels. They probably plan to post up at the bar to observe Annie and evaluate whether she is date or hook up material. Obviously my opinion doesn’t matter and why should it? Well look at that, what did I just say? There they are doing just what I said but I’m not worried Annie’s sharp and I’m sure she can hold her own. She probably knows exactly what the girls are up to and she probably also finds it pretty funny. “You and Charlie play nice but he can’t have more than just this one ‘cause I’m outta here at five and he has to be in shape enough to work. Got It?” A sarcastic salute, military style seems like a reasonable response as I click my heels and turn to join Charlie. Now me and my Buddy can sit observing the girls observing Annie who is in turn darting her eyes back and forth observing all of us like a seasoned veteran bartender and babysitter. 

I’m content to let the ladies cluster and cackle in the corner while me and Charlie catch up. “So the Big Bash for the Birthday Girl is tomorrow, huh?” “Yeah, so I’ll stay till Monday. I hate the hassle with the trains late night when I been drinkin’. Not to mention havin’ to hold in a piss while you’re waitin’ for the train. That’s the worst!” Charlie knows the feeling and he’s always sympathetic to the plight of the every man. I always liked Charlie Quinn. Everybody does but I’m just now realizing how much I miss him. Maybe it’s more than that? Yes I miss my friends and the way things used to be but maybe I miss home or the feeling of being home? Maybe I actually miss this place? “Wait, what???” Shit I got so distracted in my own head I didn’t catch any of what Charlie just said. He backtracks for me, “I said, after the party, swing by here and hang out since you’re in no rush to bounce back to BeanTown!” “Ok Cool, I think I will. What The Fuck, Why Not?”

I can feel eyes on me from the bar. I think the sisters are itchin’ to take off. I’ll excuse myself from Charlie and go check in, “Be right back Brother. I think the girls are lookin’ to split or they’re short on cash.” I’ll throw some money down but I wanna stay for another beer or three. An hour, ok two tops. Just as I thought, yeah they wanna go but they need cash too! Big Sister only has plastic and this is an all cash establishment. Caroline put a 20 up but that’s all she had. So, Jackie to the rescue, “Christ girls, I can’t take the two a ya anywhere..” I got no problem going into my pocket for my sisters, so I peel off a crisp twenty and slide it to Annie so she can cash out and Charlie can take over behind the bar. I inform the girls that I’m staying to keep Charlie company for a bit. I break off another twenty as I remind them not to forget Ma’s cigarettes and also not to wait up. Then I get comfortable on a stool in the corner and wait patiently for a pint to be poured.

Charlie slides down to my corner real estate with a frosty cold beverage for me and  one for himself as well so we can properly shoot the shit. Q’s is never that busy but when your family owns the building along with the business you tend not to mind the quiet so much. We swap stories about the bar business and the old neighborhood for a while and since our families were close at a certain point in history I don’t think it outta line to invite him to swing by Kitty’s thing tomorrow. I’m half hoping in a way that he’ll accept and say he’ll ask his sister to come along too. He’s quick to answer, “I’ll bring Annie and the kid. If that’s ok? I’ll even bartend and Annie can be a server if you want? We’ll Class it up! No charge, just tips. How bout it?” “That works!” I’m not turnin’ down free labor and a chance to hang with the Mighty Quinns on top of it. Just as we’re about to go over the details two loud annoying little punks come strollin’ in.

Tony Foley and Nick Angelis who went to school with us come bounding up to the bar. It’s all hugs and kisses and slaps and punches before the Ball Breakin’ breaks out. Here we go! Let the games begin and let the Good Times Roll! We call Tony Foley the Goalie on a count of he played on our roller hockey team down on Avenue F when we were all kids from like ten till fourteen or so. Now he’s a cop probably a decade shy of retirement. If being in uniform on the streets of Brownsville doesn’t kill him first. Nick is Nicky Nachos for no real reason at all. An all around smart ass and class clown but probably the smartest of all of us. He followed his father and uncles into the family business and became a plumber. People will always have to take a shit and there will always be a toilet to unclog so Nicky can write his own ticket. This Little Bastard is Set for Life!

“Alright you Bitches, Follow me!” That didn’t take long. Foley, being a cop, just pulled his bright red Dodge Ram pick up halfway into the alley and he’s now out the side door of the bar with us three Ass Holes in tow carrying buckets of ice cold beer. Foley the Goalie is unloading sticks, orange construction cones and large rolls of electrical tape that we used to call Scotches back in the day and use for street hockey pucks. In my head, my forty year old brain wants to stick up for my forty year old Body and say Hell No!!!!! What comes out of my half buzzed mouth is a message from my teenage balls that says, “Hell Yes!!!!!” I guess we’re playin’ hockey. Granted it’s with beers in our hands and Butts hangin’ out our mouths but whatever! At least Tony Foley the Goalie didn’t break out the skates. Some times you gotta say Fuck It and just have some Fun! We’re just slappin’ the puck up against the wall, we used to call it a shoot around. Then it becomes a shootout, first to get seven between the pipes, (Orange Cones in this case) wins. He wins Absolutely Nothin’ but, a win is a win and in life you always take it where you can get it.

I’ll be sore for sure and black and blue too but it was worth it. It only took twenty minutes for us to get all whiny and winded. Then it was back to the bar stools for one last round. I took one for the road and took my time to sip suds from a large paper coffee cup. I can’t help wishing my dad and Denis were there. I think they would have enjoyed it, even jumped in and been a part of it if only for a laugh. Denis was on our team and my Pop was the coach. C.P. stopped me from riding a bike but my dad taught me to skate after dark when everybody was in for the night and the street lights were on. If I fell he helped me up, he just wanted me comfortable and confident enough to be able to play with my friends. I was no different, with Pop as the coach I was just a kid on the team no special treatment. I moved well enough to play defense. I could skate side to side and up and back on the blue line but that was good enough for me. Not a single goal in four years but a handful of assists and a fistful of penalty minutes. At least I was part of it and like I said that was good enough for me.

Great! Now there’s a tear in my Fucking Beer. I miss my Big Brother and my Old Man. It’s not like being here is bad, not at all I just feel less connected to it all. I wonder if I can sneak in through the basement door? The steps are a little more than Janky but I bet that door is still unlocked? C’mon…. Open you Rusty Ol’ Bitch….Success!! I’m in! Like a Stealthy Teenage Ninja, a middle aged man just snuck into his childhood home. Here’s the breaking news folks….. I’m Proud of That! I’m totally taking that as a Win! Before I rest my head my eyes come to rest on the little fridge. If I pray the right prayer to the right saint and open you at the right time will you give forth a beer to a thirsty traveler? The answer is yes! Not the act of a saint but a sister, an angel named sweet Caroline has stowed a six pack down here for me. I’ll have one for the road, for the miles before I sleep and the promises left to keep. Since there is no cable and nothing to read, make it two or Better three. One for Pop, one for Denis and one for me. Sleep I will be granted and a hangover is certain but for now I’ll let the night cast it’s vael, it’s blackest curtain. Stop it with the waxing poetic and just Shut Up Jack Callahan!

The morning comes with the house above me yawning, stretching and coming to life. For me the same takes a bit longer. The hangover is a subtle one just enough of a Ball Breaker to remind me of my age but nothing that black coffee and green gatorade can’t take care of. As I climb the stairs I can hear the hum of activity getting louder and closer. The big day has arrived and according to both my sisters, The Birthday Girl has been playing dress up and trying on outfits since 6 AM. Now sipping coffee at the kitchen island in her bathrobe Kitty has already adorned herself in my grandmother’s string of pearls with the matching earrings. Since I can tell her face is already sort of made up I’ll skip the peck on the cheek and just put my arm around the old girl as I reach above her to grab a coffee mug.Kitty Callahan has settled on a black and white combo. White blouse and black trousers with a black blazer as she is always cold. With that pressing bit of business out of the way, I’m off to pick up the food after dropping my sisters around to the hall to set up and decorate. The Knights is exactly as I remember it and exactly how I think you’re picturing it. A long narrow, wood panelled room with a separate bar area through an open archway. There is a backyard patio area that is very overgrown and only used for smoking. There is also a downstairs game room complete with a pool table and one of those green felt card tables set up for poker.

Everyone in the neighborhood has had every significant party or event here forever and ever Amen! You can become a member and pay monthly dues for the privilege of calling it a private club, that means you can drink cheap beer and smoke inside allowing the beers and cigarettes to go together the way God intended! Even if you don’t belong to the Knights you can always stop in for a quick cheap beer on tap in a solo cup or rent the place out on the cheap with folding tables and your choice of folding metal or plastic patio chairs  for the same price today as my highschool graduation party in the late 90s. After picking up the food and dropping it off I park the car at the house and escort the Birthday Girl to her party. We walk the 5 blocks from home to the hall arm in arm so everyone can see the Lady Callahan as she waves to her neighbors and well wishers like the Queen of England to her loyal subjects!

We walk in just a few after two with all the clapping and WOOOOOOing drowning out Sinatra crooning You Make me feel so young from the jukebox. A nice touch. It’s not a full house but I count about twentyish including my brother in law and my twin nephews who’s balls I’m off to break. Since they don’t see me often enough, the boys still consider me the “Cool Uncle” because I always slip them cash and stand guard as they sneak sips of beer and other assorted adult beverages. Don’t pretend you don’t do the same at family gatherings or maybe you are an uptight goodie two shoes who never had a Cool Uncle? Speaking of, There’s my uncle Pat (Kitty’s brother) and his wife Mary Pat. I should go say hello.

They’re nice people, they live in Long Island and never had kids. My aunt and uncle were not around much but they always called and sent cards with cash inside for all our birthdays and Christmas. I think Mary Pat was unable to have children and I’m sure being around us was painful because of that so they stayed away. Hey, who can blame them? You go all in and play the hand you’re dealt. Kids probably aren't in the cards for me either and considering this gene pool those unborn, unwanted Little Bastards are probably better off that way! I don’t find that to be sad or unlucky not for me or for uncle Pat and aunt Mary either. They have a nice life, they travel, they enjoy life and they seem to enjoy each other’s company. They are making the best of it and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s enough guilt and shame and sadness in this Shitty World without manufacturing more misery on top of it if you ask me.

It was my uncle who talked me into going after Social Security Disability benefits. I didn’t want to go down that road and put myself on display, trying to explain and justify how I’m, “Too Disabled for this but not Disabled enough for that.” According to them anyway. Being a lawyer, uncle Pat helped steer me through the process and all the paperwork. I got denied the first time around but uncle Pat helped me navigate through my appeal and showed up at my hearing. I was granted a full judgement $1,600 a month and a retroactive check that went back a full year. It’s not like hitting Mega Millions but it was a nice chunk of change and it was life changing! That came through when I was thirty, it’s not quite enough to live on by itself but if you’re smart and stay under the earnings cap and under the radar you can make it work. That’s why the bar business is perfect, I can declare under a Grand a month without lying or getting the owners in trouble while I pocket about a Grand a week in tips. It’s a mostly cash business money is always changing hands over the bar and under the table. Who can keep track? Uncle Pat told me to look at the big picture and think about the future. He’s always been a fan of hard work and a little side hussle never hurts. He was in my corner and he came through for me when it counted.

Thanks to Pat McKay I haven’t had to stress out about rent and bills in the last decade. Nor have I had to justify, explain or feel bad about my disability. He was a big help to me and also my mom and sisters. He may not have been physically present but he was there for us. I wish I could say the same for the other side of the family. After Pop passed  his brother and sister slowly and silently stepped away from us until they, along with all our many cousins slipped away from us entirely. The truth is, that’s just what happens. Phone calls become less frequent until they get to the point of feeling like a chore or a bother. Both sides are to blame. It becomes petty when you stop to think about it, who called who last? Who took Frank’s Zippo lighter with the shamrock and his initials engraved on both sides? Who helped themselves to his tools and took what they wanted when the man was barely a week in the ground? I don’t know what’s worse, to fight over money or stuff? The bottom line is communication with the Callahan side stopped. It’s a sore subject and of course us kids side with Kitty who of course, feels wronged, slighted and rightousley justified in her anger and outrage as I’m sure the other side also feels and so it goes in perpetuity until we hold grudges so long that we don’t even remember why but I guarantee you we know our side was right and we Win!

There was only one thing, one actual physical possession of my father’s that I always wanted. A brass pocket watch on a gold chain that belonged to his father and, with Denis gone I felt it should belong to me. I wanted it and I knew where it was kept so I took it. I took it upon myself to take it the night before the Vulgar Vultures flew in and picked us clean of all that remained of Francis Callahan. That may be a touch dramatic and may have rolled from my mother’s tongue before it popped into my own head but the point is… that watch is now Mine! It isn’t an everyday item, I don’t even wear it for special occasions, it’s more of a moral victory. The principal of the thing and such. It occupies a place of honor, tucked away in the same old cigar box my pop kept it in. It now sits on a shelf in a closet in my Shitty Southie apartment next to an old metal coffee can. That old pocket watch is in good company as that coffee can, at last count, contains close to 1,400 bucks in small bills rolled up in a neat rubber banded bundle. That’s enough of that! Time to get outta my head, it is a party after all.

I think I spy quite a few Quinns. “Charlieeeeee!!!! Thanks for doin’ this my Brother I owe ya one.” “Ya owe me 20! Put it in the tip jar! Cash up front Callahan, I don’t trust ya!” Charlie has a brandy snifter out for tips because it’s wide and deep. He has Greased it with some of his own cash just to get the ball rolling. In an open bar situation you are less likely to be cheap if you see a fiver and a few singles already in the till. I fold a twenty and drop it in the glass. There was always a Magic Twenty that floated between us when we were young and bounced around the Brooklyn bars together. Who knows who first borrowed it or who owes it to who? The idea became at the end of the night even if your pockets were empty you were never really broke. You always had at least twenty bucks and we always got home safe and sound at the end of the night or in the early morning light. As I stand here with Charlie Quinn I fold another twenty, (The Magic one) and stick it in the breast pocket of his crisp and clean white dress shirt giving him a hug and a pat on the back after patting his pocket. “My dad is here. I posted him out back so he can smoke his cheap cigars and drink his Cutty and water without being an embarrassment. I’m pretty sure the little one is out there with her little one too. In case perhaps you were interested in my little sister for instance? She’s supposed to be working technecally but whatever.” Charlie is both warning me away and willing me in at the same time.

In the garden space Big John Quinn is sitting off to the side alone in a cloud of smoke with a cocktail. I can tell as I get closer he’s trying to put a face and name together. I’ll save the old guy the trouble, “Mr. Quinn, it’s me, Jack Callahan. Good to see ya. How’s it goin’?” He returns, “Hey Sonny, How are ya? Have a seat for a minute. How’s life? Where’d you end up?” “Behind a bar in Boston Sir. It’s not bad, as good a place as any I guess.” “You should think about comin’ back, family is important and I think they need ya now. You come work for me like the old days. Charlie’ll set you up get ya started. We’ll get you on your feet and get some money in your pocket. You take care and let me know. I mean it, this is a serious offer Kid. Just say the word. “I will, thank you. I’m gonna go talk to Annie. She’s sitting sipping something with her kid at her feet pushing a toy truck. Play it cool Jackie. Don’t try too hard, nice and casual. Slow and steady, nice and easy.

“Hey, Your old man made me a job offer. I’m just warnin ya’ I could pack up a garbage bag and be back behind the bar at Q’s in about a week!” “Ha, the kicker is Jackie Boy in a week the old man won’t even know that he knows you.  He’s good enough at pretending to get through most situations but it only gets worse. Aint I just a ray of sunshine! This is my son Terry. Terry say Hi to my friend Jack.” The kid mumbles something and Annie makes him look up and shake my hand, reminding him of his manners. I don’t know why but i’m sitting cross legged on the patio brick playing with the kid and his fire truck. Sitting on the ground when you’re middle aged isn’t comfortable or smart. Shit, getting up off the floor when you’re forty isn't fun either. “You need a refill?” I have manners too ya know. “Nah I should go back in and see if Charlie needs a hand. I am supposed to be working and Charlie seems to need to take a piss every 20 minutes these days and I don’t wanna get bitched at by my boss. C’mon Terry let’s get you a Sprite. Maybe Jack will come and hang out with you while Mama works?”

Looks like the party is a hit my mom and sisters are in a circle together doing the twist with Chubby Checker and you know it’s a good time when Kitty Callahan kicks her shoes off. I’m perfectly happy just standing here watching them having fun. I’m starting to think maybe I had some things wrong. Maybe I should give Kitty a break and look at things from her side. Maybe it was never about control or keeping us under her thumb. Could be that she just wanted us close, sure she’s made mistakes but it wasn’t easy either. She’s had more than enough loss and pain and we weren’t always angels either, not by a long shot. I’m gonna grab the old gal for a spin around the floor before tucking in over at the bar with my new Little Buddy Terry. I did some math and figured out Annie is only ten years younger than me. That’s not so bad and the kid is four also not bad, at least no diapers to change,right? Maybe I can get the Little Man to put in a good word for me with his mom? As I spin and twirl Kitty around the room she’s all smiles and giggles. It’s nice, it’s good to see that. Now I’m Thirsty!

The bar is small and L shaped and I am able to grab a piece of prime real estate next to Terry, the only thing on the other side of me is the wall. “A Bud for me and a shot for my Bud here!” That one definitely didn’t land all Annie did was an extended eye roll in my direction. I’ll throw a fiver in the tip glass to make up for being lame. “I told Charlie to go sit with my dad and have a couple of beers out back if you wanna join them.” “Nah I’ll just sit here. There’s only a couple of hours left before we gotta kick out the riff raff and clean up. I’m leaving tomorrow Late afternoon. My next shift is Wednesday so no big rush if maybe you wanna do somethin’?” “Listen, I gotta let you know, I’m not drinkin’ right now. Sometimes it gets a hold a me and gets the best a me. I don’t need any more bad decisions or poor life choices based on being under the influence or having my judgement impaired. I mean I can have a beer here and there, three is my limit. You can’t be a Wild Child when you have a child. I just wanted to put that out there and git it outta the way. Yeah let’s do somethin’ tomorrow, somethin’ early, sober and in broad daylight would be nice. I got work at 5. “Ok Prospect Park Zoo it is! The three of us, I’ll meet you guys there at 11. We don’t even have to call it a date, it can just be a thing.” Oh no Jack Callahan, It’s totally a date and you’re at least buying me and the kid a hot chocolate. I’m a Lady and you better be a gentleman and not a cheap one either!” “Done it’s a deal and a date! We can meet there, say 11? “Ok I haven't been there in forever. I honestly forgot it existed.”

That went well, now it’s time to kick everyone out and clean up. Charlie and Annie are staying to help. It looks like Caroline is getting Kitty ready for the trek home. “Hey Jack, Ma is a little tired and tipsy. I’m gonna take her home. Can you and Kate finish up here? She said she would stay over tonight and drive home first thing in the morning ok?” “Sure get mom home. Charlie, wanna give these ladies a lift Brother?” No problem, I’ll be outside with my dad. It’s past his bedtime too!” “Well Katie, let’s get a move on before we lose the rest of the cleaning crew.” My older sister is fast and efficient. The balloons are dispatched with a pen and the table clothes are ripped off and thrown out. Annie has swept and taken out the trash with Terry following behind and “Helping!” Clean up is quick and easy. The three of us sit around the bar to have one for the road. Annie digs out 3 beers. Her having a beer doesn’t bother me. What she told me was just her trying to be fair and honest. I don’t even bat an eye, who am I to judge. Drinking is part of the life and culture of a bartender, I sometimes need to check myself as well. It’s good to step away from it and put it down now and then. It’s healthy, it’s about balance and perspective. I’m glad I’m not saying this shrinky Doctor Phil Shit out loud! I would have to make fun of myself and maybe even kick my own ass!

On the walk home I wanna tell my big sister that she’s good! A good mom and sister and daughter and person. I wanna say that I should come back more, help out more and be more involved. Like one weekend a month wouldn’t kill me. I wanna say all these things but I don’t I opt for silence. We walk home sharing a smoke and actually holding hands. It’s like we’ve reached some kind of quiet respect and understanding. Why not? It could happen. At home there’s a potential pajama party breaking out in Kitty's room. It’s a good time for a night cap. “What’s going on?” Kitty waves us in; she's on the bed in her nightgown and robe with Caroline next to her and music on the radio. “What’s all this? You rolled in the bar cart and Jamison with four glasses. Is this the after party?” Sort of, yes, in a way. Come here, I want all my children around me. Thank you all for being here and making this whole weekend special. It was all Perfect, better than I ever imagined! Jack, you come visit more and all of you keep in better touch. I want you all to promise. You’ll call each other once a week and get together once a month at least. Please my Babies, please listen and do what I ask. Don’t fight, be good to each other and my grand kids. Life is too short to waste time on petty arguments and then before you know it the party’s over and it’s time to go.

Kate fix us all a drink and pour me a club soda.Caroline get my pill box off the dresser and give this to your brother.” I’m looking at a file folder I see the words stage four, malignant and inoperable. I feel weird, spacey and fuzzy like I’m watching this happen from somewhere else. I gotta have a smoke or get some air. I gotta go.” Of course there is no place to go this isn’t something you can run away from. I hear words coming out of my mouth as if they were put there by someone else and are now being pulled out. “How long have you known and how long do you have. “It’s been a year Jackie. I’m coughing up blood, I'm in constant pain, it’s harder to breathe and I’m tired all the time. I told Caroline months ago because she’s here and she can help me.” “Yeah don’t be mad Jack. I only told Katie a few weeks ago and we thought mom should tell you herself. Do you wanna hear the plan?” “What? What plan? This is too Fucked up! There’s a plan? What do you mean, what kind of plan?” I wanna go Jackie, on my own terms, in my own time. Now here with my kids around me. We’ve been saving up these liquid morphine gel  caps from the doctor. We have 13, I can take up to 3 a day for pain, they're very strong. Caroline is going to get the liquid out of them with that serynge and put it in my whiskey. While we wait for it to work we can laugh and drink and sing and be together. Please stay here and say goodbye. Let me go, this is what I want.``

There is no response to that. There are no words. Just this weekend I was starting to understand this woman and come to terms with some of her choices and respect the way she has lived. She is a woman of faith and strength and this is her decision like it or not with or without me. “Ok, it’s up to you it’s your choice. What can I do.” I put a Sinatra cd in the little boom box radio and play My Way. Then I pour a stiff drink and raise my glass. I’m beyond furious with both of my sisters but as I watch sweet Caroline transfer the contents of those capsules into Kitty’s cocktail I am well aware that this isn’t the time. What my little sister is doing for our mother right now is brave and takes more balls then I’ll ever have. We all huddle around our Matriarch and watch her sip her way to sweet slumber. It takes some time for the booze and potent liquid pain killer to swim through her bloodstream and do its job. How much to take and how long it takes aren’t exact but where else do we have to go?

She’s fading, going in and out now. Eyes opening and closing. “Everything is all set up and already paid for. The wake will be two days at Clancey’s up on The Avenue, then the mass and then she gets buried next to dad out on the Island.” “Really Kate, we gotta go over this now.” “Yeah Jack, that’s what I do. I plan, I figure things out. We can’t do anything else right now and sitting around waiting is driving me nuts!” “Caroline, stop lookin’ at your watch and tell him I’m right!” “There is no right or wrong or fighting right now. I say we grab that bottle and finish it off in the backyard while the sun comes up.” “Ok girls I agree it’s almost five. Let’s go outside for fifteen minutes.” We take a breather with what has become a communal pack of smokes. I don’t want my baby sister to be the one to witness that final moment. I wanna be sure I’m the first one back in that room. I feel like that final moment is getting closer. “I gotta take a leak and then I’ll go back and sit with ma. You two finish your smokes and drinks. Meet ya back inside in a minute, ok?” They both shake their heads. In our own ways we are all preparing for the thing you can’t prepare for. Even when you know what’s coming and that it’s well on its way.

 The air in the room feels different now. “I’m here ma. It’s ok, whenever you’re ready, you can go.” She doesn’t feel or look any different but there it is. That sound that we’ve been waiting for. A deep heavy exhale. The sound of letting go, the sound of leaving. Just like that Katherine Callahan has quietly slipped away from us. Without turning around I can feel my sisters in the open doorway and I’m glad we were all there to share that moment of our mother’s exit. Her passage from pain into peace. I would like to think she passed with pure grace and perfect dignity. Now the hard part for those left behind is to go through the motions and do the things. That mix of shock, grief, resignation and relief. The numbing realization that the world didn’t stop. That the only pause took place with you holding your breath then trying to catch it again.

By six am there is coffee brewing and phone calls being made. “Ok, Kate grab some coffee and then head home. You have a husband, kids and a job. I’m sure there are things you need to be doing. Caroline go lay down for an hour then find something pretty for mom to wear and I’ll run it over to Clancey’s when they open. I need a shower then I’m goin’ on a supply run. Bagels, beers and butts. Anything else? Write it down or text it to me.” Wow, that’s funny I think I just took charge for a second there. That’s what that feels like. I did not care for that. That is not for me thanks. Yes you can buy a case of beer at 7:30 on a monday morning and yes bagels are a priority. There will also be a cold cut platter and I’m sure many well meaning friends and neighbors will be dropping off trays and trays of food and baked goods. We all know the drill. That’s just what happens when someone dies. Kitty was taken away while Caroline was up in her apartment and crashed out, which is I think what you would call a small mercy.

I think all the bases are covered for right now. I need a nap before I go to the funeral home. Everything that can be done has been. I gotta call and cancel with Annie. I’m honestly kinda hoping I get her voice mail. Yes, Score!!! “Hey, Annie, sorry, I just wanted to let you know my mother passed away early this morning. You can gimme a call back or stop by the house if you want ,thanks, bye.” Arrangements are made with Clancey’s, wake on Thursday and Friday, mass and burial on Saturday. I dropped mom’s black dress off and borrowed a suit from Charlie Quinn. Annie stopped by. She told me to swing by Q’s later. I probably will and bring Caroline just to get out and try to feel some kinda normal. The next few days will be rough for sure but we’ve all been through it and the experience is largely the same for all of us.

Everybody says the same things, “So Sorry, she looks so good. They did a nice job. She had a good life. She looks so peaceful. She’s in a better place. What a nice service.” All that Crap that means nothing and don’t make you feel better ‘cause you can’t feel anything anyway. You don’t sleep or eat, you zone out all the time. You’re basically a zombie for the entire week. Then there’s the bouts of crying and fits of uncontrollable laughter at inappropriate times. Not to mention a kind of anger that you didn't know existed until it made you break a glass or punch a hole in a wall. We all go through it and we all get through it. Not that that is of any consequence or consolation at the time. You know it in your mind but it doesn’t seem to matter. The aftermath lasts forever. You don’t “Move on, or Get Over it.” My sisters and I Like Kitty, are keeping it together and doing the best we can. What else is there? It’s taken a few months to get things settled and sorted out. There was some money to be divided and the house to take care of.

 Decisions have been made and things have been resolved with compromises reached that we can all live with. We are keeping the house. Caroline will move downstairs and we will rent out the upstairs. Caroline will be the landlord and keep the rent as long as she runs and maintains the house. If she wants to sell then it’s a three way equal split. Me and Annie Quinn are kind of a thing. We never did get to the Prospect Park Zoo, but we are planning on it. We’ll just take it slow and see what happens. I got a new job and plan to see a lot more of Annie and my sisters too. I’m on the train right now heading home. I have my first shift at Q’s in two days. Kate is picking me up at Penn and driving me to Brooklyn. Her and her husband are gonna separate for a bit  and she needs to talk. I think things are gonna be ok for all of us. I’m gonna stay at Cassa Callahan for now and probably crash in the basement. It’s early but me and Annie have talked about maybe living together. That can wait a while. It’s a long road back sometimes but you can always go home. I’m learning that home isn’t always a certain place or a building. Home can be whatever you want it to be and wherever you want. It’s what you make of it and who you make it with. Here’s my stop. Call your mother. Give your partner an extra squeeze and give your siblings a break. Don’t go to bed angry, don’t hold grudges and don’t hold on too tight. Enjoy the ride and do what makes you happy because ya never know!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Submitted: October 28, 2021

© Copyright 2021 John Nash. All rights reserved.

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