‘That’s Why I Picked a Younger Man’

The day after Thanksgiving, my mom called, worried I was going to die. I mistakenly told him I had heartburn, so he left me a long voicemail reminding me how my father had a heart attack before he died of a heart attack at age 50 while playing racquetball. was irritated.

He begged me to get my checkup done, get my blood work done. “Did you know you’ve been gaining weight lately?” she said.

I knew.

His voice cracked at the end of the message. I was her only son, and the men in her life tended to die without warning, explanation or goodbye.

The day after my mother’s 80th birthday, her partner of over 35 years, a man named Bing (who succeeded my father) on a trip to Palm Springs with his friends, died of high blood pressure and alcohol that night. Died by drowning alone in a hot tub. As contributing factors.

Bing was like a father figure to me, yet he never imposed himself like the stepfathers on TV. Even after he moved when I was 5, he never disciplined me or lectured me like a father. Rather, he taught me how to fish on California’s Kern River and built me ​​a giant treehouse in the backyard.

After Bing was given a military burial by Marine veterans on a low hill outside Bakersfield, my mother asked me to fly him to Hawaii to visit my older sister who lives there with her daughter.

He made a similar journey after my father died, a journey to heaven to get away from home and still be close to people who knew his companions and had stories to tell.

When my mother told her neighbors of over 40 years about Bing’s death, the husband said, “Isn’t that the other one you’ve lost?”

“He didn’t have to die first!” He told me before our flight. “That’s why I chose a younger man. He won’t do to me what your father did.”

It wasn’t planned for him or for me. Bing, when he died aged just 73, had to take care of her, keeping the house in good condition and taking out the trash.

In the 1960s, my mother and her sisters immigrated to Los Angeles after their home country of Indonesia fell into brutal conflict following the Dutch decolonization. My mother was brought up with the belief that a woman’s job was to marry well and raise children. After my father died, she often said, “No one taught me what to do if my husband kicked the bucket.”

As the only man in her life, I took her to Hawaii to heal her pain, and I used promises of beaches and snorkeling to convince my husband to come too. I told her we needed a vacation after all the sadness, and she graciously agreed.

My aunt lives with my cousin and my cousin’s husband on the rainy Hello side of the Big Island, where all the good hotels were booked, so the three of us shared a motel room with two beds and a hard There was an air conditioner. . It rained every day. When we were not visiting our relatives, we would sit on the bed eating and watching TV.

My husband tried to be cheerful, but the rain, my grieving mother and cramped quarters were just too much. At night, my mother would cry out for Bing in her dreams.

I was desperate to make things better. My chest felt tight, but I ignored it. I wanted to start healing; It was Hawaii, after all. So we cut our visit to Hilo short, and I booked a condo on the sunny side of the island in Waikoloa.

As we passed over the top of the ancient volcano, the sun came out, shining the sea below. Our condo had two bedrooms and plenty of space to hide from each other, and it was on a golf course where wild turkeys roamed. That night, we fed them with our hands and felt some of the Hawaiian magic we were looking for.

The next day, when we finally found ourselves on a white sandy beach, strange clouds drifted overhead. They were dark and low and made me want to go somewhere safe.

It turned out that a forest fire had broken out and strong winds were blowing the smoke our way. Breathing became difficult, so we hunkered down indoors to watch the Tokyo Olympics.

“I didn’t come to Hawaii to watch TV,” my husband said the day after the wildfire. We started arguing. My mother was sad, and I felt that I could not leave her alone. Yet I knew the journey was not going as promised.

Suddenly, all three of our phones rang an emergency message. The village of Waikoloa, a 15-minute drive away, was being evacuated. We were also told to be prepared for a possible evacuation.

“Am I being punished by God?” My mother said looking at the smoke. “Where shall we go? The beach?” She sighed and went back to the TV, turning up the volume.

My husband entered our bedroom and closed the door. He said he was going out for a walk, that he didn’t care about the smoke, and that I’d better be doing something other than watching canoe races or horse jumps.

After he left, the tightness in my chest that I’d been trying to ignore intensified into my neck and jaw. I had felt something similar before, but the pain had gotten worse since Bing’s death. I thought it was my heart, but I couldn’t tell anyone. I was there to heal my mother and give my husband a romantic Hawaiian adventure.

I lay down on the bedroom carpet and covered my eyes with the palms of my hands. I focused on taking big slow breaths until the pain subsided and I stood up and joined my mother on the couch.

He kept a running commentary on which Olympic athletes he liked and which were show-offs. It was a familiar rhythm I remembered from childhood, just the two of us watching TV, talking about everything and nothing. Then he said, “Bang wasn’t your father, but he loved you like a son. He took the best care of us.”

“I know, Mom,” I said. “I know.”

The next day, firefighters gained the upper hand and evacuation orders were lifted. We saved what we could from our last days and were grateful to go home.

Weeks later, I went to my doctor. He told me that my chest pains were mini panic attacks but that my heart was fine. “You need to manage your stress better,” he said. “Walk more, sleep better, maybe try to lose some weight.”

I left wondering if he and my mom were talking about me. I thought of my father and Bing, both gone. My father’s fate was always hanging over me like a warning. Now Bing’s luck warned me not to waste a minute.

It was sunny and warm at Bing’s funeral. I was sweating when a group of us carried his casket from Hare. Even though my mother had to go back to her seat, she stayed by Bing’s casket as she went up to kiss him.

At the funeral, Bing had a world of friends we didn’t know — fishing buddies, high school classmates and service members. Without prompting, my mother hugged each mourner as they came to pay their respects, as if she knew them.

I stood by him as he did this, feeling like I was intruding on another family’s grief, and I was amazed at how my mother managed all this while crying and talking to many strangers. Let it happen. That wasn’t part of the plan either. My mother had just done so, surprising herself as much as the rest of us.

“I don’t know why I’m standing here,” she said, holding the hand of one of Bing’s friends. “We all loved him so much, and now he’s gone, but our love is still here.”

Only in retrospect did I realize that my panic attacks stemmed from my need to control life’s disasters and the feeling that I was failing to fix the unfixable.

I loved Bing; I was sad too, and I kept the sadness at bay by trying to relieve the pain of those around me. But the pain had to come out, and it would be mixed with love, confusion and anger, and that was okay.

After losing the second love of her life, my mother was filled with pain. Yet there she was, teaching us how to grieve. And I almost missed the lesson.

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