In my haste to leave London, I forgot my suit. When coming home for a funeral, suit would normally top the list of things to pack. I remembered my first edition copy of Belle and Sebastian's album "Tigermilk," but my suit was still hanging in the closet at the flat.
This wasn't just any suit. It was an amazing, gray-pinstriped suit Elizabeth had tailor-made for me for our fourth anniversary, the first we celebrated in London. I woke up late one afternoon after spending the entire previous night writing until sunrise. There was about an hour till I had to be at the pub for my shift that night. I went to the closet to get a pair of jeans – I'd slept in the pair I was wearing the day before and I had worn them three days in a row before that – and there was nothing on the bar except the most perfect, charcoal gray pinstriped suit I had ever seen. It was a three-button. It was exactly the suit I had always wanted. She probably spent a month's pay on it. It was the best present anyone had ever given me. It blew the autographed Ryne Sandberg rookie card Mom and Dad gave me for my fifteenth birthday out of the water.
I couldn't believe I left the suit in London. After wearing that for two years, any other suit was going to feel like absolute shit. Whenever I was feeling crappy about my job or my lack of follow-through for finishing my book, I put on the suit and went out. The record shop, the pub, the grocery store, it didn't matter. If I was in that suit, I felt like people took notice.
My cousin Samuel's wake was that night, so I needed something I could wear to the funeral and the wake. I wanted to take Tom with me, because I figured the kid could use a suit. I guess I felt a little weird suit shopping alone. I also hoped taking someone along would help keep my mind off the other suit. And Elizabeth. But Tom was going to school that day. He had a test in American government or something. He was going to meet us at the funeral home after football practice. Megan was at work. She was Jim's secretary now. She was just fulfilling all kinds of sexual fantasies for the guy. I didn't want to distract Dad from the ongoing adventures of the bloodsucking detective, and Mom was tied up with getting food for the wake. It looked like Willy was my only option.
I found him lying face-down on his bed in the same pajamas he was wearing when I got home the night before. He was humming softly to himself, but I couldn't make out the melody. Willy was a high school English teacher, or at least he used to be. His school let him go the year before he would have gotten tenure. He had a few panic attacks in the middle of class and they were afraid it would be too traumatic for the kids to see their teacher gasping for breath, turning red and saying he was going to die. It happened once when the class was reading King Lear and it took them five minutes to realize he wasn't quoting Shakespeare. Although knowing my brother, he probably slipped a few of the Fool's lines in there after he started to regain his composure.
I was afraid of startling him, so I cleared my throat loudly before I spoke.
"Hey, Willy," I said. "I just realized I left my suit in London. I need to go get something to wear tonight and tomorrow. Do you want to come?"
He turned on his side to face me.
"You left the James bond suit in London?" he said.
My love for that suit wasn't a closely guarded secret.
"Yeah, I was in a hurry to get out of there and I wasn't really thinking when I packed."
"I saw you brought home "Tigermilk" and your copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude."
"Leave me alone, ok? Do you want to come or not?"
"I guess. I could probably use a new tie." He stood up. "And we all know you can't be left on your own to buy a new suit. You might end up with another hideous bright green one like you bought in high school."
"Hey, that suit was cool at the time."
"That suit wasn't cool at any time in any place," he said. "They sold it as a way of warning the world that they were looking a person with a complete lack of style."
We laughed. It was the biggest smile I had seen on his face in a long time. Maybe my being at home would do him some good.
"Meet me down in the car," I said.
"Shit." I forgot that I didn't have a car there anymore. I didn't have a car in London either, so I didn't have one anywhere. I wondered if I could get my old one back from Tom somehow, but I figured that was probably a lost cause.
"Can you drive?" I asked.
"Sure. I'll meet you downstairs in a minute. I have to take my pills."
I took Willy's keys from the dish by the backdoor and started the car in the driveway. It was quite cold for the end of October. Despite all the fears of global warming, Chicagoland could still be pretty cold in the fall and winter.
The oak and maple trees in our backyard were brilliant shades of orange and gold. As much as I loved London, or did once, I don't think there's anywhere in the world I loved as much as the tree-lined streets of Park Glen in the fall. The smell of leaves and the sound of the marching band practicing in the field next to the high school took me back to a time when life's possibilities still seemed open. Now I had fulfilled those dreams of scorning the nine-to-five working life and moving myself away from home. And here I was, 28 years old and back at my parents' house in Park Glen. What do you do when you've already done the thing that you thought would change your life, and you ended up back in the same place?
I reached forward and turned on the radio. Going twice around the dial, nothing caught my ear. I hit Willy's preset buttons until I landed on public radio. Some reporter out of Boston was talking about the risks of the real estate market. One more thing I had to worry about. Where was I going to live? I couldn't possibly move back into the same house as my brothers and sister. I was 28 and at least ten years past sharing a bedroom with Willy. After the funeral, when I finally told everyone I wasn't going back to London, I would have to start looking for a place to live. After I found a job. And a car. But first, I needed a suit.
Digging through Willy's glove box I found a map of Illinois. I unfolded it and traced the interstates with my forefinger. Willy opened the driver's side door just as I reached Davenport, Iowa on I-74.
"Sorry, I had to call in a refill for one of my prescriptions to the pharmacy," he said.
"It's ok. Let's get going."
He backed out of the driveway and headed for the mall. I couldn't believe I was going to replace the suit with something off the rack from the mall. There was no way it would ever fit the same. But no suit would ever fit the same. Maybe I could send a postcard to my old address and ask whoever lived there to ship it to me, I thought. It was useless. The suit was gone for good. I hoped at least whoever moved into our old place wore a 46 regular.
"Did she break up with you, or were you stupid enough to break up with her?" Willy said.
"Elizabeth. Don't think for a minute that any of us but this "she couldn't make it" act. Mom was ready to ask you about it at dinner last night, but I told her not to."
"Did Tom tell you all?" I said.
"No. No one told us," he said. "It was obvious. We know her. Elizabeth isn't the kind of person who would let someone she cared about travel thousands of miles home for a funeral alone."
My act of silent suffering was apparently more transparent than I thought. The idea that our break up would add extra grief to an already sad time for our family was a little misguided. My family didn't feel sorry for me. They knew I was an idiot for screwing things up with her.
"Look, I know everyone knows, but let's just leave it on the back burner until after tomorrow," I said.
"But it's not healthy to just keep things in like that. That's how you end up with problems like mine," he said. "You need to address your issues. What happened? Did you cheat on her? Did she cheat on you? Did she walk out on you?"
"It's more complicated than that."
"You just gave up on her like you gave up on the book, right?" he said. "You got cold and distant until she had to find comfort somewhere else?"
"How do you do that?"
"It's what I do," he said. "I know people. And most of all, I know you. You've always done this."
He was right. I always quit on things mentally but didn't have the courage to actually quit. Like in little league. I played lazily and skipped practices to go to the library until the coach told me I was off the team. I didn't want to let anyone think I was a quitter, so I made them do the quitting for me.
We went to the mall and looked at every department store and every other store that sold suits, but I couldn't find anything. Gray pinstripes were out of the question. Solid black was just too cliché for a funeral. Black pinstripes reminded me of the goons the vampire detective beat up on in Dad's pilot. Willy found a perfect tie at the first store, pale blue with crisscrossing white lines, which made my inability to find anything even more frustrating.
I was ready to give up or go to Goodwill. When we were driving home, we past an old men's-clothing store downtown. Mom took Willy and I there for Easter clothes when we were little kids. I had forgotten it existed until we drove by. Finally, I found something there. It was a navy blue suit with thin pinstripes. The pinstripes were an homage to the suit that was left behind and the color ensured that I wouldn't look like a movie extra in some graveside scene. Most importantly, the salesman at the store, who must have been almost my grandfather's age, appreciated my admiration for the suit that hung in the closet of my abandoned flat. He respected my reverence for a fine piece of craftsmanship. He also sold me two shirts and ties, and I hoped no one would notice if I wore the same suit two days in a row.
"She's with this Irish guy now," I said after a few minutes' silence on the drive home.
"Who's with an Irish guy? ... Oh, Elizabeth? An Irish guy?"
"Yeah, a rugby player," I said. "He tended bar at this place down the street from the place where I wiped tables."
"Rugby player, huh? Well, I guess that explains why you didn't just kick his ass." He scratched the hair behind his left ear.
The thought crossed my mind. The idea of walking into McDonough's, ordering a pint and throwing it in his face excited me. But every scenario I could imagine ended with several of my limbs being broken or my being beat to death by a group of men in striped shirts and tiny shorts.
"I can't really be mad at the guy," I said. "Well, I mean, I can, but it wouldn't make sense. Elizabeth only started spending time with him because I never wanted to do anything."
"So it's one of those old you-can't-blame-anyone-but-yourself situations," he said. "Listen, thanks for getting me out of the house today. Since we found out Samuel died, things haven't been going well. I keep thinking I'm having heart attacks. Or I find a bump under my skin and I think it's a tumor. I know I'm not really dying, but I have these times when I just can't stop myself from thinking I am."
"Hey, no problem," I said. "I know things must be pretty rough now that you're back living with Mom and Dad."
"Oh my God," he said. "Are you going to have to move back in with Mom and Dad? Did you go out and buy a new suit because you're never going back to London to get yours?
It was amazing. I still to this day don't understand how my brother managed to piece together these little facts and come up with exactly what I was trying to hide. Maybe he could give Dad some advice for his vampire detective show.
When we pulled into the driveway, Mom was unloading food from her car. She enlisted our help in taking in the groceries. There was enough food for a hundred people. You would have thought she was shopping for a birthday party, not a wake.Posted by dpetrella at November 16, 2006 12:23 AM | TrackBack