“Can I bum one?” I ask Uncle Wayne.
I don’t smoke. Well, I only smoke if I’m drunk and out on the town with the boys, or - apparently - at funerals of my closest loved ones. He obliges and passes me a Marlboro 100.
My eyes are swollen and puffy from all the tears. I shared memories about Timm with hundreds of his closest friends and family. I got laughs out of everyone which is what Timm would have wanted. I made eye contact and gesticulated and did all the things you’re supposed to do while public speaking.
I had to leave the megachurch, though. I was maintaining some semblance of composure for the duration service up until they played an audio sample of his voice.
I wasn’t ready for that.
(Great) Uncle Wayne and I sat alone on the bench and enjoyed what was our first private moment. He drove up from the deep south. It is only once in a blue moon he returns to Illinois. He’s a true renaissance man, Wayne. Taught himself mechanics and guns and how to farm and sailing and all the things boys dream about when they grow up in ages without the internet.
This is my first time back in Illinois since the pandemic started.
This is my first time seeing anyone in my family beyond of Sage and Bunting since the pandemic started.
This is my first time living in a world without Timm Etters.
Day 1: Escape from LA
Sage and I are driving down the 5 and laughing about our usual slew of cultural critique, inside jokes, and proclivities of our cat-child, Bunting.
LAX is surprisingly chill, though my flight is delayed two hours due to thunderstorms.
Due to a communication snafu (my fault) both my divorced parental units show up at ORD. I feel awful.
Day 2: Beloit
I wake up in Beloit, Wisconsin.
Day 3: Hangars & Weights
My mother leaves early for another art show. I wake up and walk to a Uhaul facility. Secret codes, identity verifications, keys, and ciphers. I’m driving to an airplane hangar.
When the pandemic started I flew out to be with Sage. I had a feeling I’d never return to my studio in Logan. I was right. My brothers and sisters packed all my shit up and got it to my father-in-law’s hangar for me. Knowing it’s been there has been a burden the entire pandemic.
Willow and Will arrive and we make quick work of my limited possessions, loading them into the truck.
Small Cessna’s taxi around the private airport. There’s a cookout happening. We eat hotdogs and potato salad and beans.
Day 3: Funeral
“Your father loves you a great deal,” Uncle Wayne said.
His hair was a beautiful cascade of white. Liver spots on his forehead. His body looks perhaps 200 but the twinkle in his eye betrays his vessel: proof he is immortal.
The congregation exits the church. Everyone is gathered around Vicki, my aunt. One of the strongest people I know. They release butterflies for her and Timm.
Day 4: Burial
Day 5: Mourning
Grieving is what you do internally, personally.
Mourning is what you do externally, publicly.
Day 6: Night of the Living Dead
Mom, Willow, Will, and I sift through my old possessions. I give most of them away to Willow and Will. They are newly wed and have a new house.
We enjoy a home-cooked dinner. For the first time, we smoke marijuana together. We settle in to watch Night of the Living Dead.
Day 7: Only Every Four Years or So
I get to have dinner with both my parents only every four years or so. We meet in Union, Illinois.
Day 8: To Chicago
I wrap up work a little early and head to the Metra station in Harvard, Illinois. It has been such a gift to spend a week at my Mom’s place, to see my sibling, to be back in my ancestral homelands.
I snap a photo on the Metra while writing this post…