Over cinnamon rolls in the fresh Morro Bay morning air, I asked Justin if he missed his mom.
"Is it different than the way you missed her before?"
"Before I missed her and I felt guilty about it because I couldn't see her. Now I miss her, and I really can't see her."
We sat in sad air for a while.
"I wonder why we didn't do more of what we're doing now when she was still there," I said, referring to the time we've spent with the families, cleaning the house, barbecuing, talking and even just giving each other hugs.
"You dreaded being there," he said.
I objected, "You didn't like it either.
Why were we like that?"
Knowing I get queasy over all things medical, he said with accuracy that puts me to shame, "You were freaked out; you didn't like seeing my mom that way."
"Neither did you."
"I'm so glad she had Mark there."
"He's a good man," he said. I could tell he was getting teary. "I'm glad he was there. I am so glad she didn't die while he was gone. I'll never forget his, 'Bye, Toni.'"
Our conversation switched to our continuing relationship with Mark, with Justin saying, "I think Mark was afraid I'd disappear after she died."
"Yeah. But I think it's pretty clear we're not. Besides, Mark needs you. I think he sees so much of Toni in you." The blue eyes. The dimples. The strong will.
Later he confessed that he was really worried that Mark would leave him--but their lives are so
intertwined; Mark has been there since Justin was 13. Any man who sees a boy through his teen years, his amputation, his first disastrous accidental marriage and college--from however far away--cannot just disappear, not a good man.
Besides, where would be go? We all need each other. It's not like my family in California is bursting at the seams, just the four of us and Aunty Pat and Uncle Nirmal. And however crazy the rest of Justin's family is (all of them... Andersons and Hines), at least they are family and that's more than I have without them.
So here we are. Wishing we'd have been there more, but never having known how to do it.
"Why didn't we do all that while she was alive?" I asked. "We could have cleaned the house and stuff. But it seemed like we would have offended someone, like they weren't doing a good enough job. But they always wanted help. I wish we hadn't seen things in such extremes. Mark always wanted you There. There to take care of her. But that was not possible. I wish we had realized the smaller things we could have done."
"He could have said something."
"Yeah, but Mark never says anything." The family of silent witnesses.
"But he could have. There's always regrets," he said. Could have, would have, should have, I always say.
"I suppose. No matter what."
Family can never truly escape each other, I guess. It seems that at this point the best we can do is learn from what has happened and try to play the future with a clearer understanding of the set of cards we have been dealt.
And maybe sometime in the future, when Justin really is a doctor perhaps, Oakley, Brandon, Justin and I can do a tour of Thailand and India.
Just to see.