Tony Anthony and
Robert Haydon Jones

Tony Anthony
The Visitor

Response

The Sweet Bye-and-Bye
By Robert Haydon Jones

Inspiration piece

Several weeks ago back in early May, June was already busting out all over here in Connecticut and I was on my fourth funeral/memorial service in nine days.

First, Brian, an Irish actor, who actually drank a lot more than I did when I was out there — only he never stopped.  He was a big star – but I never saw him smile. At his memorial, the actors and the theatre and film biggies were there – and reverential townies – and the wife, a grown son and a grandchild in arms.  Everyone stood two and a half feet away from each other. The minister said Brian had the Celtic sadness: “Why be happy, when there is so much you can be sad about?”

Then I went to two wakes for older men I knew from AA. Their wakes came one day after another. At funeral parlors, crowded with Irish-American family members I didn’t know and scores of people I did know from 12-Step meetings. Both wakes ran big screen slide shows of their dead man – featuring Clean & Sober Times.

No big sadness. No tears. Gratitude was, oh so abundant. No prayers despite all of the talk in the program of spiritual awakening. No food or drink at the funeral parlors and precious little later at the homes. Speaking strictly for myself, I miss the old style Irish wakes – where you could stuff yourself with fatty forbidden food and drink until you couldn’t. Hell, I even missed the grief and praying.  As you may know, there is a lot of solace in the Sorrowful Mysteries.

The dead guys were very good guys. They were real comrades of mine.  I didn’t feel these plain vanilla wakes did them justice. These were men who usually led with a hot diggity about waking up one day at a time. Their wakes were so circumspect I felt like saying, “Why be sad, when there is so much you can be happy about?” But I didn’t say anything.  As you may have surmised, I am clean & sober for quite a few 24 hours. So I left. I just ambled out into the gloaming of the summer coming in and went on to Choir Practice.

About ten years back, I joined a church folk choir at the suggestion of my AA Sponsor, who saw it as a relatively safe way for me to learn how to socialize with human beings – now that I was not out there always drunk, and stoned with a proclivity for violence.

It had turned out well. Singing was fun. Socialization was safe. I even discovered I could flirt with sultry women now and again without consequences. When the rehearsal or service was over, everyone went straight home.

That was good. I am happily married. To my great surprise, I like being straight with my wife. I really have changed a lot. I still have eyes for sultry ladies — that part definitely hasn’t changed. So safe flirting in the choir was and is good.

Nicole Black was my favorite. She’s the SVP of HR at a top hedge fund – and happily paired off with Brad, a CPA who sings next to me in the bass section. Nicole has such a fabulous body — I wonder how anyone could possibly think of business in her presence. I love looking at her. Then one rehearsal night, she caught me ogling her and gave me a look back that said I was a dirty jerk – and from then on, all I could do was peek.  She definitely had me at a disadvantage.

So, I came straight from the dull wake to Choir Practice and happened to walk in from the parking lot with Nicole. It had just turned summer dresses time, and Nicole’s fabulous body was sheathed in a flimsy light blue number you could tear off in a second. I couldn’t help stealing little look, look, looks at her and noticed she was wearing a really fine necklace of Mexican silver and small dark blue agates.

“I love your necklace, Nicole,” I said, more to cover my peeking at her than anything. “Thanks, Jimmy”, she replied. “A beauty for a beauty”, I said off-handedly, as we entered the church.

Well, to my great surprise, she colored. I watched the flush spread like a stain up her chest, up her neck, up her face. It was definitely a visceral event. Frankly, I was quite pleased. It turned out Nicole wasn’t airtight after all. What’s more, she knew I had watched and enjoyed every millimeter of her firing up. I was an Alpha dog again.

The next morning I drove through a cold steady rain to the funeral Mass for Luigi, the old barber, who had given haircuts to five generations of my family. It was at the ugly yellow stone church that had been my home parish growing up. I hadn’t been there since I came back from the Marines except for funerals. In fact, I had delivered the Eulogy for three family members there.

The church was jammed. Luigi had been cutting hair in the town for more than 50 years. I had to sit way to the side way up front in the second row. I didn’t even know the priest. He was banging on with the same old stuff about Luigi being in a far better place — when I looked back and saw the crowd just sitting there stolidly taking the empty words like funeral medicine. I thought, “If only we could believe what you’re saying, Father who-ever-you-are.”

I looked back out at the crowd again, just sitting there, silently listening to the same old empty words with nary a flinch. Under the indifference I knew there was a yearning. I thought, “Imagine how different our lives would be if we knew for sure there was an after-life.” I felt myself yearning for it.

It was right then that I suddenly remembered a wondrous message I had received 27 years back that somehow I had forgotten.

************************************************************************************

I loved my Dad – we all did – the three children, and my mother. He was a genuine savant, a genius, a prize-winning physicist, who spoke 21 languages (not counting dialects as he would say). He was greatly admired, very successful and utterly miserable and sad most of his life.

He drank alcoholically all his adult life. It was his medicine. His sadness was primary, chronic and chemical. He tried and tried to love each of us – and some times he succeeded. But usually he reverted to his default setting of sad distance. Naturally, all of us, the three children and his wife, thought his sadness was our fault.

I was there for him when his career just ended because of the blur of alcohol and the pervasive strain of melancholy. His marriage ended at the same time. Same reasons. My brother, George, and I worked out sort of a joint care-taking deal.

George lived in a mountain town in southern Spain – and my Dad loved Europe. (In the old days, every September he made a big to do about choosing which ship to take to Europe, the Leonardo da Vinci or The France. It all depended on the state of their wine cellars.).

My house in Connecticut was close to his old house, his old wife, and to Manhattan and his favorite old haunts. I had him from late spring to September. He tried and failed rehab twice while he was with me. It was sad to see him alone and still so sad, but, honestly, I enjoyed being able to care take and love him.

I had not had a single dream I could remember since I came back from the Marines, so I was amazed even in my sleep when I had a wild dream on a certain Christmas Eve night. I dreamt I was my Dad.

Please note, I didn’t dream, about my Dad – I dreamt I was my Dad. I was in a dazzling white place. I didn’t know where I was or what had happened. There was a blurry sort of amorphous someone there, who seemed female, (a nurse?) so I asked if I were in a hospital and the someone said, no, not exactly, but not to worry, everything would be all right. So I didn’t worry – I had a rapturous feeling of all-rightness but also a falling-dream feeling of displacement.

At that moment, I woke up and vaulted out of the bed. I was upset. I told Jane, the winsome lady who was sharing my bed, about my dream. About being my Dad. I reminded her that I had never remembered a dream since the Marines. I told her I had never had a dream where I was somebody else.

Then the phone rang. It was George from Spain telling me my Dad had died in his sleep taking a nap – at the very time I was having my dream.

The shock of grief roiled through me — yet even at that moment – I was filled with gratitude that my amazing, sad, savant of a Dad had somehow managed to gift me with a message that there really was an after-life.

“My Dad’s dead,” I said. “He died in his sleep while taking a nap at the same time I was dreaming I was him.”

“My God,” Jane said, “I’ve got goose-bumps”.

“My Dad’s dead,” I said.

“I’ve got goose-bumps all over,” she said.

************************************************************************************
So, now 27 years later, sitting there in the ugly yellow stone church at Luigi’s funeral, I remembered the message I had forgotten that my Dad had somehow gotten through to me. I remembered every detail. I had been him. I had actually been in the sweet bye and bye. And once again, my interior bloomed with rapture. It was the most wondrous love. I knew my life would never be the same. Talk about “spiritual awakening!” I thought of the Psalm: “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all of my days.”

That evening, I went to a Farewell Dinner at the Hilton for the Choral Director, who was retiring after 35 years. The chorus gathered for pre-dinner cocktails in the
penthouse suite. After a couple of hours, we lined up to fetch our coats from one of the bedrooms before we headed to the restaurant downstairs.

As it turned out, Nicole Black and I were the last two to leave. I held her coat for her. As she turned her head back to slip her arm in the sleeve, I leaned forward and kissed her. She kissed me back. Then we were gobbling each other. Then I just kept leaning forward and she arched face down over the bed and I arched over and into her.

It was a primal shtup – it took 50 frenzied seconds, tops. She came and came almost immediately. “Oh, my God, she said. “Oh, God.”  When we uncoupled, there was a splatty reverberation. Like the sound you hear when you pull your foot out of a bog.

I waited while she cleaned up in the bathroom. I felt terrible. When she came out, she walked straight up to me and gave me a hug and a lingering, moist kiss. “Jimmy, that was absolutely wonderful,” she said, “ but it must never happen again.”

“I’m really sorry, Nicole” I said. “I hate what happened. I just couldn’t help it.”

“That’s okay, Jimmy,” she said. “Neither could I.”

We went on out and got into the elevator. On the way down, she looked into my eyes and smiled. “You know, Jimmy, what we did was wrong but it really was wonderful. To tell you the truth, just thinking about it gives me goose-bumps.”

.

.

Note: All of the art, writing, and music on this site belongs to the person who created it. Copying or republishing anything you see here without express and written permission from the author or artist is strictly prohibited.

7 Comments

  1. sean beaudoin
    Posted June 30, 2010 at 3:57 am | #

    Firstly, I love the painting. Has a very Cezanne feel. Not a copying, just a slight homage. Great brush strokes and color choice. I also think this is RHJ’s best piece on this site. For the first time it really feels like his genuine voice without the conventions of what’s generally expected from short fiction to inhibit it. I’m not entirely convinced by the ending. I wanted more nuance from Nicole. But up until then I felt like he’d really hit his stride.

  2. Posted June 30, 2010 at 7:52 pm | #

    This story allows one the liberty off not feeling foolish about another life beyond. we can declare an armistice on any war we have had with the erring parent to wit “there’s nothing more you can do to me” Jolly good sex on demand too . The choir would have loved it

  3. Matthew Levine
    Posted August 1, 2010 at 3:41 am | #

    It always helps to have a father’s blessing when you go and shtup a choir girl! RHJ has a way of making me squirm, as if his stories are my own fantasies and suddenly they’re out in public. Here’s the line I wish I hadn’t read because it’s so true: He was greatly admired, very successful and utterly miserable and sad most of his life.

  4. Dave Monroe
    Posted August 9, 2010 at 6:45 pm | #

    A stark reminder of how asleep at the wheel we can all be — a miracle forgotten as if it were only trivial wiping of dust; a miracle remembered, and then the rush of awakening; and, yes, the ‘goose-bumps’ of life and sex and death. Visceral and sublime — nice work!

  5. Posted August 20, 2010 at 12:37 am | #

    I sing praises for this glimpse into yonder blue light! Has everything I could identify with!! Great piece.

  6. Charles L. DeFanti
    Posted September 8, 2010 at 3:54 pm | #

    Here it is again, the deftest of short fiction. I love the little grace notes, like “the blur of alcohol and the pervasive strain of melancholy,” which set the tone of the story in the precise and economical way essential to such stories, like those of Irwin Shaw and John Cheever. The illustration tamps down the mood, preparing you for the jolts ahead.

  7. Margot Kinsey Jones
    Posted April 4, 2011 at 5:24 pm | #

    I know I’ve read a good piece when my first reaction after finishing is “I want more!” Each vignette in the “Sweet Bye and Bye” begs Rob to expand and tell me more about: the Choir; George in Spain with Dad; the Marines; and why women love men who love women. I’d like to share a quote from John Cage I think Rob and Tony will like: Begin Anywhere.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

*
*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>