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“Is it fair?”
Those were the last words Eddie said to the man he had thought I was before he drifted back into the only honest sleep of his final days. A smiling sleep caused by my youngest daughter, who did one of the finest things I have ever seen a human being do.
Eddie died yesterday, and his parents have asked me to speak at his “Celebration of Life” this Sunday. I have plenty of harmless Eddie anecdotes to warm hearts and kill 10 minutes with. It may be cynical of me to say it, but even though the most timid human being tends to live an R-rated life, few celebrations of such are anything less than family friendly.
What I Won’t Be Saying Come Sunday
When we were kids, slow was the polite term to describe what had been up with Eddie, while retarded had been the “scientific” word for it. He spent his entire 55-year run at the same house in Crestview Drive, two doors down from my childhood home. It’s one of those faux ranch-style houses that had been so popular in the suburbs during the early days of Camelot, NASA and Bonanza. Those homes have always reminded me just how cheerful and prosperous things had been, and how the future, even that for guys like Eddie, glittered with great promise. I catch a permanent sense of Sunday when I look at Eddie’s house nowadays; and his death isn’t the only cause of it.
Eddie was that kid. Everybody gets one of those in life, and everybody is told by their parents to be nice to that kid if you know what’s good for you. For whatever reason, I became the closest thing to a best friend that Eddie ever got (here I must except his dad, for they did everything together). And although I eventually went off to college, a career, marriage and family, we still lived close enough to each other as to allow the continuation of our friendship, which had lasted something around 50 years, until the same condition that had held back his mind at last silenced his heart.
All right, before I allow the current to sweep this thing off to the Purple Sea of Sentimentality (where it seems determined to go), it’s dishonest to fit the dead (even the special dead) with a harp and halo, and speak of them as though they were saints. Eddie could be hell annoying, a petulant little asshole when he didn’t get his own way, and there were times when his handicap made being with, and looking out for him as burdensome as dragging around a wrecked Buick. And there had been that terrible time when his in no way diminished sexual awakening had almost got him “sent away.” At 12 or so, he’d fallen into the habit of pulling down his pants and underwear around the girls and hoped (I guess), they’d do the same. Although Eddie had never touched anybody, and although his dad had somehow finally set him straight on the subject, there is no doubt in my mind if the trou dropping had happened now and not in 1970-whatever, he would have been sent away. My opinion here is mixed: I cared for and perhaps loved Eddie, but was this part of himself that he (nor any other child about him- or herself, for that matter) could never possibly understand harmless? For the record I’m the father of three girls whom I never allowed Eddie to do more than shake hands with, even after they had grown up.
Still, Eddie was what he was. The older kids used to call that sort of a statement a “cop out.” Whatever. It really doesn’t matter anymore. Eddie was, he did the best he could with what little he had.
The Stuff I Should Say Come Sunday
Eddie’s parents had been told that their only child might live 30, maybe 35 years, and never on his own. His parents are, I think, what Christians are supposed to be. They have a gentle and loving faith, and humour and kindness. His parents are the only lucky break Eddie ever got; thus he didn’t need a second. And I guess that this part might sound hard, but I’m glad he died first. His folks are “getting on,” as the old saying goes. I have a pretty good idea what happens to guys like Eddie after their parents die.
Eddie had nearly doubled his life-expectancy when his wheezy heart finally found itself no longer up to the routine of its master’s small life. He was abed in his room the last time I saw him. It had been three months or so since our last meeting, and he had lost a huge amount of weight and nearly all his hair.
Our youngest daughter, Trina, had been home from college when I got the call from Eddie’s mom. Although Trina had had the scantest relationship with Eddie — save for what I had told her over the years — she asked if she could come along.
We visited him for a while, in that same room where we had played trucks and drank Kool Aid all those thousands of years ago. We spoke of those times, and Trina listened. There were Seahawks and Mariners and UW Husky posters on the wall, as well as the various trophies and medals Eddie had earned in all the Special Olympics he had participated in. A little kid’s room; sweet and nostalgic.
After his mom (who at nearly 80 was still cheerfully caring for her little boy) came in and gave him a blue pill and said something about five minutes and left the room, we made as to say our goodbyes. Eddie had been shifting between the now and a fuzzy delirium for a bit by then, and he had confused me with the church deacon who had recently come by to visit. In Eddie’s mind everybody associated with the church was “father.” And toward the end, Eddie uncharacteristically complained about the fact that he had never gotten married. He called me father, and asked, “Is it fair?” This is when Trina drew close to where he lay and gently kissed him on the lips and said, “No, it wasn’t. But it soon will be.”
The sun came out in his face. He knew he had been kissed; first and last. He settled into a deeper and healthier sleep than what I guessed he had had in days. Maybe that kiss caused secret dreams to go on in there until the end. If so, it’s all right.