I woke up early on Christmas morning to get to Rose Hills where I bought two large bouquets of baby’s breath, a teddy bear that held a pillow with I Love You printed on it, a stick with the word Believe in a sans serif, and I brought a key chain with me that I’d bought at the Santa Monica Pier a few nights before. It was cold and windy, and I hurried to tape the key chain to the bottom of the bench. I found a place among the other key chains that jingled in the wind, mementos from places I’ve visited, ones that’d resonate with places we’d seen together, things we did. I placed the teddy bear beside the bench, and walked the ten paces to clean off the headstone that was now surrounded by little cards I’d written and the word Believe sitting atop a green stick.
I drove the empty freeways back home. Most people were just waking up to a crisp Christmas morning and I imagined them opening presents or arguing, maybe both. I thought of all of the things I was going to do that day: finish painting the trim in the sitting room off of the guest bedroom, try to strip the residual paint from the archway, write.
When I pulled up to my house, the first thing I noticed was a car in my driveway, a maroon sedan with large tentacle antennas that reached the top of the pergola. I glanced to the front porch and saw Dixie, Billy’s oldest sister, along with her common-law husband Mike, and Billy’s nine-year old nephew Garrett. Their smiles were wide. I screamed out, “You did not!” I rushed from the car into the yard hugging Dixie with all my might, buried my face in the crook of her neck, and cried. Garrett ran over and wrapped his little arms around my waist, his head reaching my stomach. Dixie pulled out her little eight-week old Cocker Spaniel named Bella. Dixie said they'd planned on staying for three days. I was glad that my dogs didn’t instantly eat Bella.
I immediately thought that I wasn't going to paint or strip wood or write. Then my mind started to plan all of the things we could do.
The walk of stars on Hollywood Blvd. “We gotta find Lassie’s star,” Dixie kept saying. The Hollywood sign. Mulholland Drive. Venice Boardwalk. Marina Del Rey. Dinner at Jerry’s Deli. The Queen Mary. West Coast Choppers (they’re big fans of Jesse James). The Pantry for Mike’s birthday. The LaBrea Tar Pits. The Peterson Auto Museum. Rose Hills.
We were all sitting upstairs watching TV. Bella had finished terrorizing Stephen long enough to piddle on my new pale oatmeal berber rug. I tossed out a really loud “Ugh” and exaggeratedly dropped my chin to my chest. Dixie glanced over and said, “Bella, no!” more for my benefit than the dog’s.
We got back home late the first night after dinner at Jerry’s Deli. I was downstairs in the kitchen with Garrett not two steps from me. He’d been my tail since he arrived talking non-stop about anything, and his voice already started to become background noise. When he wasn’t randomly breaking out into the Star Spangled Banner, he was telling me things about pro-wrestlers or a stick he’d found.
He looked up at me, his eyes watery, and said, “I miss you, Terry.”
“I miss you, too, and I think about you all the time.”
I said it, but I’m not sure I meant that statement for him. His simple declaration was something I’ve wanted to hear for years, words that play in my mind all of the time, and I finally heard it out loud. I’ve been waiting to say it, too, for years, to say it out loud so someone else other than the dogs could hear me, someone tangible, and when I said it, he hugged my waist again.