Counting the panels of faux wood at The Grenadier is the only thing I can do to relieve the weight of what I just heard.
"Do you believe in God?"
"I think, if I had to measure, I would say I am about 60% atheist, and maybe 40% agnostic. I would like to believe we are here for some sort of purpose."
"That's funny that we're friends, if you're an atheist and I'm Catholic, which is a very disciplined faith. I hope that even if you don't believe what I believe you at least respect my commitment."
"I respect that you have faith. I wish I could have faith. I don't know if there is a God but if there is I wish I would meet Him. I would like to fight Him for taking -- " and he paused. "The person who really believed in Him."
What am I supposed to say after THAT?
"You know, if she was right, she's doing just fine now."
"If she was right. She still had things to do though. I was 18 but my sisters were still like, 14 and 10. If I could have traded places with her, I would have."
"Speaking as a mother who has lost her child, I can tell you she would rather it be her than you any day."
"I know. But she was good. She just had this faith, and none of us had it. My family is weird now. They like to pretend --"
"Do you want another beer honey?"
"Yeah, I'll have one more -- They pretend nothing is different but it is different." I look at him, realizing his mother has been gone nearly half of his life but somehow when he talks about her, he is an 18 year old kid again who just lost his mother.
"She would probably be angry at some of the things you do."
"My son would be disappointed in me lately." I reflect on Mass the day before, when the congregation filed past me to receive Communion. I've been sitting out of Communion for over two months now, since the day Ben announced he was moving and I skipped Mass out of -- I don't know -- anger?
If I were to say I am angry at God, I think most people would assume I am angry because my son died. I'm not. Unlike the man sitting next to me, I was an adult when Gabriel died and my adult brain can reason that sometimes things like cancer and anencephaly just happen. That's not why I'm angry. I'm angry because it is one in the morning on May 29, 2012, and Gabriel's first birthday is fast approaching, and life is nothing like I thought it would be a year ago. I don't want to fight with God, I just want to demand of Him why, if I did what He asked, why I can't have a break now. I am angry because I am hurt and I just don't want to hurt anymore and I find that very few things can soothe the hurt and that's when I decide there's no point to finishing the shot of tequila in front of me.
"It's funny," I say, "how death effects us."
"Yeah. I wanna live. Because she can't, you know? So I live life to enjoy it. I'm not worried about what happens after we die. I'm just going to live now."
"Do you guys want jello shots?"
"What flavor are they? Ooooo! Red? Red is my favorite!"
"Red is your favorite? Red's not a flavor."
"It's still my favorite. I always like red."
"Okay, we'll have two," and he offers Karen a couple of bucks for our jello shots.
"I know what you mean, though. Life is short. My kid only lived ten days. I know, life is short." I am worried about what happens to us after we die though. Even if I never believed in Heaven before January 31, 2011, I would have to after that day. I couldn't get out of bed every morning if there weren't some sort of hope that I would see my son again.
"Last call. Do you guys want anything else?"
"No, we're good. Are you ready to go?"
"You haven't finished your tequila."
"I don't want it."
"You paid for it. You should finish it."
So I do, and we walk outside.
"You should do something about your car. You're not gonna pick up guys in this car. The paint's all oxidized."
My mind flashes vaguely to the Sunday afternoon that I held Gabriel in the backseat to take him home from the hospital. "Yeah, I know, I should. I will soon." He's drunk, and I'm a little worried about him driving home but I follow him most of the way and he's fine. Our vehicles part ways at University. I get home and see my roommate's car is not there. I suspect he has a girlfriend and that's why a few nights a week I don't see him. It means I can wear my nightgown into the kitchen to make coffee in the morning.
I dutifully brush my teeth and wash my face before climbing into bed. The dogs run about, swapping beds and chew treats for a while, before settling down to sleep when the lamp goes off. I feel a slight sense of guilt that I am not one of those moms who hears her dead child's crying in her sleep. I wonder which kind of grieving mom is the most normal. I wonder if I should have done more bargaining with God, "Please God, take me instead," but I know that if I could have given Gabriel my own skull cap to save his life, I would have cut it off of my own head myself.
This isn't the way life was supposed to be. I think of my friend at the bar tonight and wonder if we would be friends today if either his mom or Gabriel were still alive. I move closer to the middle of the bed and stretch my legs out so that I am occupying most of the space. I breathe in the scent of the sheets -- I just washed them two days ago but the smell of fabric softener lingers longer when only one person is pulling them back and crawling between them. I'll pick out a new comforter soon, as soon as I break Noelle of her front-paws-on-the-bed habit, and I won't have to ask anyone what they think of it. If life wasn't supposed to be this way according to my plan, at least I can plan for clean sheets.