No parent should ever have to witness the coffin of his child being lowered into the ground. Were there any justice in this world, God would strike us blind before making us watch that happen.
I've done it three times. Three of my beautiful, perfect sons have been swallowed by the cold earth. Crazy thoughts go through your head during the funeral. There are points where you suddenly start, as though waking up suddenly, and wonder what the hell everyone is doing just sitting there. Where are the doctors? There is no way that your child, who was so sparkling with life, could be lying there dead. You start to get up, to stop this from going on. Funeral directors are really good at spotting this behavior. Dan Lloyd knows me extremely well by now, and he always has a group of assistants devoted primarily to keeping a watch on me and Margot. Well, last time it was just me they had to baby-sit. Margot can't really leave the house.
My boys lie rotting in a line at St. Paul's cemetery. All except one.
He always seemed overshadowed by his brothers when he was little. All four had my dark hair and Margot's brown eyes, so sometimes all you'd really see was this horde of little brunette boys, kinda like a litter of puppies. Aaron was the oldest, so he stuck out a little, mostly because he was usually the only one who we had to get new clothes for on a regular basis. The rest wore hand-me-downs. Andrew and Alex were the middle boys, and you ended up saying their names in one breath - AndrewAlex. Usually it was "AndrewAlex, stop fighting!" or "AndrewAlex, that mess had better be clean by the time I come up there!" Stuff like that. If they weren't fighting together, they were getting into trouble together. Either way, they ended up dirty. They were always discovering new stenches. I'll never forget the day I came home from work to discover that they had spent the day wandering around the sewer system. It took three bleach washings to get the smell out of their jackets, and we didn't even try and salvage their jeans.
They were the last ones left, too. After their brothers died, it was the two of them trying to hold everyone together. But, of course, Andrew never made it.
The house is too quiet, now. Alex never seems to make enough noise, though God knows that he really tried during high school. Margot runs on autopilot, some part of her mind just disconnected. The part that would tell her that three of our boys are gone. I think if she wasn't numb, she'd just start screaming and never stop. It's the same for me, though I don't have the comfortable buffer of insanity to help. I have to make do with alcohol.
Whenever I'm sober --- which is much rarer these days --- I realize how unfair I'm being to Alex. How selfish I am.
I should've made Alex go to college. All his friends were going, and there would've been government aid. I'm not saying it would've been easy, but he could've. Margot and I had college funds for all the kids, which have by now all been added together into one trust fund for Alex. It's not much, of course, but every bit would help. And I'd always vowed that every Harris boy would be heading off to college when the time came, even if I had to drop-kick them out the door.
Late in his senior year, Alex came to me with his acceptance letter from Sunnydale Community College. They had offered him aid because of what we'll just call the 'domestic situation'. It was possible.
But I was weak. I looked at him and I said, "We really need you at home."
And that was it. Never another word about college. He went on a road-trip all summer, but he came back. He lives in the basement and makes a show of paying rent. In reality, he's the one running this house. His paycheck covers electricity, water, and his mother's medication. He buys all the groceries, and tries to make sure that Margot and I eat right.
Rory gave me hell, of course. He screamed at me for hours on end, furious at what I'd done to my son. He adored all his nephews, and started his weekends of binging and whoring right after the boys started dying. The irony, of course, is that he always managed to take care of Alex - far better care than I gave him.
Rory taught Alex how to shave, how to drive, and a slew of other things. This was always accompanied by a good yell at me for not getting out of my rut long enough to do it myself, like a good father would've.
I was a good father, but now I'm just a scared one. Alex is all I have left. I should've pushed, should've made sure that he got a college education. But it was easier to keep him close, to keep him safe.
Rory told me that all I'm going to do is make my life be a burdon on Alex, to be a weight around his neck. One night he was drunk, and yelled, "You've got one son left, Jerry, and you're so busy sitting on your ass and crying over the three you don't have that you're ruining the boy's life!"
At least he has a life.
I look in the mirror, and I see that I can't have much longer left. I don't even bother with a yearly physical anymore, because why do I need someone telling me that my liver is in a state that will be sending me to St. Paul's embrace soon enough? Margot isn't doing that well either. Her medication is rough on her heart.
Two years, tops, for us. I want my son to be with me for them. I look at him and I remember what he looked like when he was a baby, clinging to my hand as he lurched along on those first steps. Looking in his eyes, I can see his brothers.
Maybe he'll hate me for keeping him at home. At least he'll be alive to do it.
End Part One
Disclaimer in Part One
Pre-"To Shanshu In LA"
Doesn't every father want to give his children the world? Of course. Since the world is a little hard to gift-wrap, I decided to give my daughter enough money so that she'd never have to worry about it. Maybe money wouldn't buy her happiness, but wouldn't it make her path to bliss a hell of a lot smoother?
Janet had a rough pregnancy, the kind right out of a nightmare. When she went into premature labor, I swore that I would never make her risk her life like that again. So Cordelia was an only child.
For three hours after she was born, I honestly couldn't care less about her. All I cared about was Janet. Once she was stable, one of the nurses took me upstairs to look at my daughter. She was in one of those bubble incubators, and only four pounds. But she was perfect. It was really just love at first sight.
Janet and I hovered over her every movement when she was a baby. Every gurgle, every coo, and even her dirty diapers. This was the only one we would ever have, and we were determined not to miss a minute.
That promise didn't last too long after she was a toddler, though. I was working longer and longer hours, trying to make sure that she could have the perfect life. Janet's health was never the best, and Cordy was an active little girl. It was around the time that Cordelia was six that I started playing Russian Reulette with the IRS.
Twelve years I got away with it, too. By then, there was a registered nurse living in the house to take care of Janet, and little Cordelia had gotten used to being on her own. I felt guilty for not being there like I should've been, so I tried to make it up with gifts. A pony when she was little, designer clothes when she was older, and finally a car when she was sixteen. Everything she asked for.
I just wanted her to be happy.
Of course, the IRS really doesn't accept answers like that.
I spent two years trying to fend them off, being more and more distant from Cordy while I tried to keep it a secret. When she needed parental advice, she ended up going to the school librarian. I guess he did a better job than I did, because when I lost it all and ended up in Sunnydale Minimum Security Prison for tax fraud (5 - 10 years, thanks), she did okay. Went to LA, got a job with a friend.
Janet splits her time between her mother's house and the hospital. Cordy tells me how she's doing during her visits -- the first Saturday of every month.
She has a great apartment, which she shares with a roommate (I was a little worried when I found out that it was a guy named Dennis, but she reassured me that she never sees him), and what appears to be a good job.
Living here, in a tiny cell, it's pretty clear that I made a lot of really bad choices. But looking at my beautiful, smart, resourceful daughter, it's obvious that I must've made a few good ones.
End Part Two