That goddamned clock is ticking again. You can hear it. I know you can. We all can. I try to ignore it. We make jokes and morbid declarations and try to drown it out with the noise of life.
But it’s in my ear tonight and I feel like breaking something.
When I was nine years old I found out I was going to have another brother. But this wasn’t mom and her second husband bringing new life into the world. My step dad, a really good guy named Rick, had a son from his first marriage that had just discovered the connection.
Follow me down the path… Rick and his first wife, Linda, had a son they named Jason. Because their marriage was falling apart Linda told Rick she wanted to raise her son with her boyfriend/future husband (it was the 70s). Rick knew he couldn’t win that fight in court, so he stepped away and let Jason and Linda follow a new path.
Linda’s plans for the boyfriend/new husband fell through, but she had the sense to introduce Jason to “Uncle Ricky.” So Rick got to have a relationship with Jason, albeit at arm’s length. It wasn’t perfect, but Rick believed it was as good as it would get.
In 6th grade Jason was registering to play football. One of the requirements was a birth certificate (to prove he wasn’t a ringer, I guess). Well, Jason got bored waiting in line and started reading his registration packet…and his birth certificate…and the name of his father on that birth certificate…which wasn’t Linda’s most recent husband.
Jason came home and sat his mother down and asked her about this curious discovery. She confessed. Jason called.
Mom answered the phone. She smiled when she yelled for Rick to take the call. Rick answered, knowing Jason was on the line. Rick cried when his son said “Hey, dad…guess what I learned today?”
The decision was made that Jason would come to Los Altos to spend the summer with his dad.
So I got a new brother.
It actually worked out really well. Jason was a sweet kid. Bright, curious, and a little bit of a shit-stirrer. He was big enough to keep me in check and mature enough to manage my little brother. It was an awesome summer.
BMX bikes, barbecues, an old dog that still loved to play fetch, and a huge back yard. The family vibe was established as effortlessly as could have been. Even when we fought, we fought like brothers.
Jason wanted to move in with us for the school year. Rick, Linda, and my mom all agreed. Jason decided to go back to his mom’s house for the last two weeks of summer to have some quality time before focusing on a new school and a suddenly (relatively) large family.
We were eating spaghetti. Mom sat at Rick’s right, Matthew at his left, and I sat at the foot of the table. The phone was just inside the kitchen, behind the swinging door that connected the dining room. It was one of those pink wall-mounted phones with a mile-long curly cord and a handset you could have hammered nails with.
Mom answered the phone and said “Slow down, Linda. What?”
“Oh my God. Rick.”
Out of his chair. Then yelling.
Mom yelled at me to stop him from going out the front door and I bolted through the living room. From the little foyer, with your back to the door,, you were looking into the bathroom. 20 paces or so and you were at the sink.
I remember Rick’s teeth, a partial denture, falling into the sink along with most of his dinner. He cried and bellowed and vomited all at once.
Rick was never the same.
Jason’s mom lived in Daily City. He and his friends had gone down to the waterfront to goof around. They think a wave hit him wrong or he just slipped. Jason hit his head. Hard. His body was pulled out by the tide. His friends tried to grab him, but his jacket just slipped off.
His body was never recovered.
Rick started drinking heavily. After one too many incidents mom took us to live with Grandma Morris. Rick lost the house and moved into his own mother’s guest room. A few years later he died of cirrhosis.
I didn’t know that a clock was running out for my new brother. Maybe it was there. Things were too good, at least as I remember them.
Rick’s clock began to tick the night Jason died. I heard that loud & clear.
And now I’m hearing it again. And I’m feeling selfish because I’m tired of losing people. I’m tired of missing people.
My grandmother isn’t doing well. She’s sick, tired, and she misses her husband. I think she may also be planning to sneak a wooden spoon in under her robes to make a few things clear to my dad.
I have some stories to tell about the woman who raised my father, but I’d like to collect a few more before our time is up.