A Radiogram Every Day - Lisa, Duncan's Twin
By the time they found the pancreatic cancer, it was too late; there was no hope for treatment, no parole from certain death. Instead, Naomi Sandburg sent word to her lawyer and then climbed into the car of her current lover, Tom, and waved goodbye to Providence hospital where they had learned the news.
They drove slowly—there was no hurry—and kept off the interstate highways, driving through small town America. They tried to stay near the ocean; Naomi claimed the ocean helped her breathe and washed away her pain. Occasionally, they would stop, have a bite to eat, sleep a bit, but there was a definite goal always in mind, and they wouldn’t dawdle too long in any one place.
The miles slid by as did the tears. Naomi mourned for herself, the lost years she would never know, the places she still hadn’t gotten to see. She meditated every morning and evening and eventually let go of that selfishness and started remembering all the things she had done, all the places she had been.
She started writing Blair letters, letters she was certain he wouldn’t be able to read right away, if at all. Blair believed in saying what you felt, and that if you couldn’t say something to someone while they were alive, that leaving a letter behind to speak your words was a lousy substitute. But her letters weren’t so much for him, they were for her, they were her way of saying goodbye, of letting go.
Never once did she waver in her decision not to tell him. He was happy with his career beside Jim, as a cop. She couldn’t say she was happy about it, but it wasn’t her happiness that mattered in Blair’s life. Silently, she applauded his decision to sacrifice his life’s work for the man he loved, to stand beside Jim no matter the cost. She wished that she had been brave enough to have made a similar declaration nearly three decades prior.
Looking out over the ocean, Naomi remembered Blair’s father. She remembered his hands, after all these years, she remembered the way they touched her as no one ever had before. She remembered his blue eyes twinkling as she danced around his bedroom chattering on while he listened. And then the indescribable devastation in his blue eyes when she didn’t accept his marriage proposal upon finding out she was carrying his baby.
Naomi was very young, and had been sheltered away from the world too long to settle down with an older man when the rest of the world was out there waiting to be discovered. She left in the middle of the night, no note, no goodbye, just looking ahead. It would be years later that she found out he had spend all his money looking for her and died a broken, bitter old man. All his searching had been in vain for upon leaving, Naomi had changed her surname, taking the name of their favorite poet, the reason they had met. She remembered the first Carl Sandburg poem Bruce Collins had recited at their meeting in American Poets 101.
The single clenched first lifted and ready, Or the open asking hand held out and waiting. Choose: For we met by one or the other.
As the tide rose, Naomi put pen to paper and told Blair about his father, tears of regret dotting her i’s along the way.
Death found Naomi as it finds us all. It came in on an evening breeze, circled around her heart and then closed her eyes forever. The lawyer was called again and plans were put into action. She would not be embalmed and forever encased in wood, no, she wanted to be cremated and have her ashes scattered over Bruce’s grave, to be together forever in death as they had not been in life.
Naomi waited for Blair in Texas, in the small town where he was conceived.
Jim Ellison was a smart man, and knew bad news when he saw it walking up to him. The formally dressed delivery man standing in front of him was bad news.
Nodding, Jim took the thin envelope and scrawled his signature in acceptance.
He watched the delivery man leave before sitting down and slicing the envelope open. Inside was a single sheet of paper, the message short and precise.
Naomi Sandburg has died. Please inform Blair of her passing. Arrangements have been pre-arranged. 915-555-5454.
Shaking his head at the cold words, the callous way in which Blair might have learned of his mother’s death, and Jim was thankful he could soften the blow for the man who meant the world to him. At least Jim’s own father had broken the news to his young sons when their mother had died. But Blair had no father, no siblings to soften the blow. Yet, somehow, someone knew Jim would be the only one who could tell Blair.
With a glance at the clock, Jim saw he had over an hour before Blair returned from court, so he picked up the phone to find out what arrangements had been made.
The small bed and breakfast had welcomed them in with open arms, despite the late hour of their arrival. Jim accepted their hospitality and ate a light dinner while Blair insisted he wasn’t hungry and disappeared into the bathroom to shower after their long day of traveling. Jim returned to their room with a bowl of fruit which Blair only glanced at when he crawled into bed.
Closing his eyes to block out Jim’s continual glances, Blair finally whispered, “You can’t protect me from this, Jim.”
Spooning up behind Blair, Jim whispered back, “I wish I could.”
They rested restlessly. Blair’s tossing and turning kept Jim from getting much actual sleep, but it was worth it when Blair turned to him in the cover of darkness and finally broke down. They both slept after that, exhausted both mentally as well as physically.
Morning brought them to the funeral home, standing beside Tom, as they viewed her body one last time before cremation. Jim held Blair’s hand, feeling the minute trembling of muscles as grief spread through him. The three of them stepped closer, and Blair’s hand reached out to touch her, but he stopped short. This was no longer his mother, this was just the vessel that carried her spirit. She still wandered around his soul, touching him lightly, kissing him joyously, laughing with her whole being. She was gone. No more would he hear her voice, receive surprise packages in the mail, be able to call her, no matter where she was and ask for advice. He was an orphan in the world, an orphan at age thirty.
But there was Jim beside him, holding his hand for dear life, his eyes red rimmed, sharing Blair’s pain. He wasn’t alone, Jim would never let him be truly alone, and that thought warmed his aching soul. Turning to leave the small chapel, Blair nodded at the funeral director, and then stepped out into the bright, crisp morning to take a deep breath.
The cemetery was small, no more than two dozen headstones dotting the lush green grass; Bruce Collins was buried in a family plot beside his parents and grandparents. Blair, Jim and Tom stood around his headstone. Blair was still in shock at finding out about his father, and Naomi’s last request, but he never once considered not honoring it.
Holding the urn tightly, Blair took the lid off and handed it to Jim. He knelt down and sprinkled some of the ashes on the grave, then handed the urn to Jim. Bending over, Jim scattered a few ashes, saying a prayer as he did, and then handed the urn to Tom. As Tom shook out the last of the ashes, Blair stood and gripped Jim’s hand tightly but didn’t say a word or shed any of the tears filling his eyes.
After a few minutes, Tom turned from the grave and walked away. Jim looked at Blair, who shook his head just once, and then Jim walked over to wait beside Tom, giving Blair a few moment alone with his parents. He consciously turned his hearing down, giving Blair the privacy he knew he would have wanted if the situation had been reversed.
When Blair walked away from the grave, he did so with his head high, eyes focused on Jim. Opening his arms, Jim accepted Blair into his embrace and Blair clung tightly to him. Without another word, Tom shook Jim’s hand, and walked to his car and drove away.
Jim and Blair stood in the silent cemetery holding each other until they were stable enough to part. Jim wasn’t sure how Blair would handle Naomi’s last letters, but he knew he wouldn’t keep them from him for long. There had already been too much kept from Blair for Jim to add to it.
With one final glance back at the headstone, Blair smiled; the wind had stirred up Naomi’s ashes, and Blair imagined he could hear her laughter across the breeze.
Death sends a radiogram every day: When I want you I’ll drop in—and then one day he comes with a master-key and lets himself in and says: We’ll go now.
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Acknowledgments: Thank you SO much to Annie for the beta! And thanks to Peter Neverland for the wonderful art! :)
The poems “Choose” and “Death Snips Proud Men” by Carl Sandburg.