Below are a few sample
stories from "The Jim and Dan Stories."
A Black Cow in a Dark
Driving down Route 8 in the town of Floyd,
going 50 miles an hour, I hit a cow. I was in my '87 Honda with
the license plate that says "Let it be." That's the name of
the song we sang to Danny the morning of his death. For though
we may be parted… there is still a chance that we will see….There
will be an answer….Let it be. It was night and the cow was
black. I never saw it coming, the way Jimmy never saw the machine
part that pinned him against the wall until it was too late.
The impact of the cow's body shattered the windshield and dented
the hood, but the car still ran. Sort of like breaking a leg
and not like losing the function of a liver, like Dan did. I
remember Dan's liver doctor talking to me about using kidney
dialysis to help Dan's failing kidneys kick back. "It's like
putting new brakes in a car when you really need a new transmission.
Don't get your hopes up," he said.
I wanted to pass right over the cow problem
and continue on to my destination, but I had to wait for the
State Police, get some phone numbers, and a new ride. The destination
that I finally did reach was a celebration at The Pine Tavern
for a group of friends who were all born in 1951 and who were
turning, or had just turned, fifty. People there came up to
me to offer insurance advice or to say, "I'm sorry about your
accident, hitting the cow." I guess not many knew I had just
lost two brothers and that the cow was the least of my problems.
This was my first big night out since my brother's back-to-back
deaths. I sat with a friend who I knew had recently lost her
mother and who was able to be present for her mother's last
breath, as I was for Dan's, feeling not so out of place with
her. I was able to tell her that Danny was just about to turn
50 and would have if he had lived just one month more.
Later at home, I emailed my brothers and sisters
the cow story, feeling sad at how shortened my family email
list had become without Dan and Jim on it. I especially missed
being able to tell Jim, who always got a kick out of oddball
Knocking Under the Hood
My car has a new hood that almost matches
the color of the old one, a new windshield, and, something else
I didn't expect, a new sound under the hood. It makes me wonder,
will I live long enough to experience everything that can go
wrong with a car, or are the potential problems endless? I learned
early about clutches, transmissions, brakes, radiators, and
alternators. Then there were the smaller problems, most of them
sounding like clothing accessories, like boots, shoes, belts,
caps and pins. Every now and then I get a car diagnosis with
a word so new to me it sounds made up.
Years ago, I rode in a carpool to and from
a New York Indian Reservation to attend a teaching event. One
of the other riders was a full-blooded Mohawk woman. After getting
two flat tires, she told us that our car problems were physical
manifestations, or metaphors, for our own internal states. My
car, back home, had been idling high. Sure enough, not long
after that I developed a hyper-active thyroid.
The phone rang. I heard my husband pick it
up and then say, "It's for you. It's Sherry." These days I answer
the phone asking, "Is everything all right?" instead of saying,
I got the news about Jimmy's death over the
phone. So now, whenever a family member calls, I tense up and
think, "What else has gone wrong?" Sherry and I haven't missed
a day connecting through email since our brothers died, as if
we think the other could disappear just as quickly as Jim and
Dan did. A phone call felt more formal, but she assured me everything
was fine. A musical fund-raiser for the families of those who
died in the 9/11 attacks was on TV, and she wanted me to watch.
The morning of Jim's death, I woke up to my
answering machine picking up and then Tricia's shaky voice,
"Colleen, call Ma's house as soon as you get up." What was Tricia
doing at Ma's house? I called back immediately, worried that
Dan had died, at least that would have made some sense.
"We lost Jim," is what Kathy told me, crying.
She might as well have told me that the moon had fallen from
"What do you mean!? What do you mean!?" was
all I could say before I was crying too.
Jimmy, who usually got off work at midnight,
had worked overtime by two hours, which turned out be the last
two hours of his life. It was reported that he last spoke to
a co-worker at 1:20 a.m. and was found dead just before 2 a.m.
At 1:31 a.m., that same morning, my sister, Kathy, shot up from
a sound sleep to her feet with a crushing feeling in her chest
and a panicked sense of death. We figured that was when the
machine crushed Jimmy. We all wanted to know how long he lived
after the machine had pinned him. "Probably just long enough
to say, "Oh Shit!" was Joey's guess.
The time between when Jimmy last spoke to
his co-worker and when he was found dead is a half-hour that
will haunt us forever. We fill in our own possible scenarios
and hope that he didn't suffer.
A Flood of Old Memories
I had been working all morning with nothing
to show for it. The printer was down. The stories I had written
didn't seem real until they were printed onto paper, and I held
them in my hand. It was as if they didn't exist if I couldn't
see them, in the same way it's hard to understand the infinite
with a finite mind, with a soul you can't see or prove is really
I decided to clean the bathroom while Joe
was working on the broken printer. Cleaning would take my mind
off my frustration, and I would immediately see the results
of my labor.
While scrubbing the toilet, I noticed the
plunger, which triggered a flood of old memories. It was bad
enough that we grew up with one bathroom for eleven people,
but we also had bad plumbing. It wasn't just that our toilet
didn't flush well, sometimes it would overflow and sometimes
so profusely that it would leak from the bathroom floor to the
living room ceiling, which was really the same thing. God forbid,
if this happened while you were the one in the bathroom. I had
nightmares about broken toilets for years and occasionally still
Sometimes, when we all get together, we relive
our toilet trauma through the re-telling of stories. We remember
the time Jim dropped a comb in the toilet and, rather than put
his hand into the bowl to retrieve it, he flushed it down -
or the time John flushed down a potato after using part of it
for his pop gun ammunition. He didn't want to get in trouble
for wasting good food and thought the toilet would be the perfect
place to get rid of the evidence. We laugh now when we remember
the time our cousin, Freddie, sat on our bathroom sink to wash
the beach sand off his feet and caused it to break right off
the wall. We were glad none of us had done that. Freddie got
yelled at, but he also got to go home and that was the end of
In the back of the house was the source of
the bad plumbing (although our antics didn't help), a foul cesspool
of darkness that would also sometimes overflow. I will never
forget how my boyfriend, Kevin, while running playfully around
the house, fell into the cesspool. I was surprised that he still
liked me after that.
It's funny how as you get older, even the
bad memories seem good, or how when someone dies, the most ordinary
of objects can be traced back to them. So many of my actions
have been triggering childhood memories. Most of my conversations
either revolve around Jim and Dan or eventually get steered
back to them. The space they inhabit in my heart and mind is
larger and deeper than when they were alive. It's as if a part
of Jim and Dan lives in me, just as a part of me has left with
them? Is that what death does? Funny, isn't it?