They held David’s funeral at our grandmother’s church in Albuquerque. She was the one who placed a notice in the newspaper and had his body transported back from Kentucky after the motorcycle accident. He was only twenty-eight when he died.
This was years ago. You may have been there yourself, if you knew him. He was the one who had lost his leg in an earlier accident. He used to hop up and down the stairs of our house on his real leg, which always made my heart catch in my throat, but he used the prosthetic when he was on a level surface. If he was wearing jeans, it just looked like he had a minor limp.
All during the service, a heavyset man in a brown suit sat at the back of the church and mopped his eyes with a handkerchief. No one recognized him at first, or at least, I don’t think they did. They hadn’t seen him since David was a little boy.
The part you’d remember was later, at the gravesite. The man threw himself on the coffin and sobbed. You could just tell if we had lowered him into the hole and shoveled dirt onto him he would have willingly let it happen. At the time, it was the worst thing I’d ever seen.
After he’d worn himself out crying, a couple of the men from the funeral home helped him up off the coffin and led him away.
That was David’s stepfather, my aunt told me on the way to the reception. I already knew the rest of the story. David was only four years old when his mother died in a car accident. She would have been my aunt, too, but I had never known her. When David’s mother died his stepfather didn’t want him anymore. David had to move back in with his father, who was a notorious drunk.
The stepfather blamed himself for what had happened, my aunt said. The missing leg, the drinking, all the drugs. Poor David, she added, shaking her head. He’d gotten mixed up in some things.
The following year, my mother got married. She’d been living with my father for years, calling him her husband, but he’d only just gotten divorced from his first wife.
They pushed all the furniture back and got married in our living room. My grandmother sat on an ottoman with a big corsage pinned to the front of her dress. She cried and cried. I knelt on the floor next to her and held her hand. Why are you crying, I asked.
Don’t worry. I’m just happy. They’re happy tears, she said, though I could see that she wasn’t, and they weren’t.
Once, I overheard my mother telling her girlfriends about a Christmas party she’d been to with my father. He saw her across the room, and he fell head over heels in love with her, my mother said. When they got home that night, they’d both been drunk, and she screamed and threw an empty bottle at him, but when she told her girlfriends the story, she left those parts out. It was just a big joke.
Her friends smiled and nodded politely, but they didn’t laugh. They’d heard other versions of this joke, and they already knew the punch line.
When I turned eighteen, I flew to Orlando. Every semester, my father sent me a check to pay for school, and I used the money to buy a two-bedroom condo with an outdoor patio and access to a community pool. I worked part-time at a copy shop and watched cartoons on my days off.
My father didn’t catch on until it was time to graduate. When he called me, I said I’d never felt like he loved me as much as he loved the kids he had with his first wife. They were almost as old as my mother and I’d never even met them. He accused me of trying to manipulate him. I said, Well, I learned from the best, and he hung up on me.
I put the phone back in its cradle. The fan whirred overhead. A short time later, the telephone rang again. This time, it would have been my mother. I sat on the couch and looked around at all my pretty things.
After every breakup, I took a souvenir. Sometimes it was a pair of mugs, or a book, or a little figurine. Sometimes something bigger: a painting, or a piece of furniture. I had a lot of photographs and a drawer full of costume jewelry.
The last guy I’d gone home with had been a geology major. One night, lying in bed, he’d traced his finger over my bare shoulder and talked about strata. He said, The more you dig, the more layers there are. And he was right; there’s always more to the story. His bomber jacket was hanging in the hall closet next to dresses from every girl I’d ever known.
In my pocket was a Zippo lighter they’d found in David’s pocket when he died. I flicked it open and ran my thumb along the wheel. Heads I will, tails I won’t, I thought, though none of it made any sense.
On the table next to me, the phone rang and rang.