Joseph’s tastes, my brother Joe insisted that we now call him Joseph, had changed considerably in the three decades since his first marriage back in good old Saginaw. I could no more imagine my lil’ bro laughing on the bus making faces at strangers as he, Jeanine, Paul and Art searched for America as they had on their wedding day back in the summer of ’82. Joseph’s America had transformed from cross country bus treks to limo and helicopter rides and I felt even more disconnected from my younger brother than the two-thirds of a continent that separated us.
It’s one-thousand-nine-hundred-twenty miles from San Fran to Rapida Cedro, one mile for every year of our mother’s birth, and the difference in culture, values and lifestyle between the Midwest where we’d been born and reared and the Cali life Joe now revered made staying in touch more difficult than mere spatial displacement. Joe embraced opulence, conspicuous consumption and excitement, something brought home as I flipped the light switch in the common room of our hotel suite and found lil bro in flagrante delicto.
Okay, not quite, but way more naked than I had any desire to see him and, as he had dubbed his companion for the evening in our brief, tense, phone conversation nine hours earlier, his Little Honey. I immediately flipped the switch back off but there was plenty of light from a lamp in a corner and not even total darkness could sweep the picture of them passed out on the couch, clothes strewn from door to couch, a couple entangled in what was surely post coital, still drunken and heaven knows what else imbibed embrace from my mind.
I closed my eyes, shaking my head and shuddering as I crept through the common area and made my way to my room, ecstatic that both bedrooms had private baths and doors that locked. Somehow, merely closing my door on the common living room seemed insufficient; I wanted a well-defined barrier between me and the tangled pair and locking my door assured me that neither as a couple nor as singles would Joe or Honey come stumbling into my room.
I sighed, hung my sport jacket in the closet and opened the double sliding glass doors that led to a 400 foot plunge to the asphalt and concrete below, content that though I think of what it would be like to step off into oblivion I am not tempted to do so. “Progress,” I whisper, saluting the lights of Las Vegas and staring at the scene before turning back to the room where I draped my pants on an armchair, kicked my shoes against the wall, fished my toiletries kit from my carry on and walked to the bathroom where I perform a minimum of ablutions before snaking between the sheets of my king sized, alone and lonely as I have ended every day since that terrible first night two years earlier.
For two years I have fought the urge to join Eileen, to end the pain that never sleeps and for two years it has been the knowledge of how devastating my suicide would be to our son Max and daughter Shawn, how it would forever scar them and leave them to blame themselves, that I have steadfastly denied myself the oblivion of death. Tonight I am not tempted. Tonight I have a sliver of hope. I laugh at myself. “Man, don’t hold back, dude. Go all in, I mean one fantastic date’s all it takes to know you’ve found a winner, right?”
I drift toward the oblivion of sleep, not death, the cool breeze of Las Vegas in January rustling the lace curtains. A half-smile that is both self-mocking and joyful curves my lips in an upward arc. “Goodnight, Eileen,” I say before reciting my litany of prayers I learned on my mother’s knee, hoping her God, a being whose existence I highly doubt, is listening and has taken both women into His loving, eternal embrace.