Last Badass Standing

Come to think of it,
I’m the last badass standing.

The Badass Walshes: Eileen, Kathie, Patti; Bobby, Emmett, Jim (Circa 1960)

I have buried my family. Parents and siblings. Oldest and youngest. And all the in-betweens. Drop by drop, year by year, tear by tear.

Bobby, now entombed in a frozen marsh, was the last to go. My heart is frozen, too. For I am the last one standing. The winner in this ghoulish game of musical chairs.

My family dies young. I want a family that doesn’t die young. I want a family. At 72, I have lived longer than any of them. Parents. Youngest sister. Middle sister. Youngest brother. Oldest brother. At that funeral, Bobby and I called a moratorium on death, an ironic turn of phrase. I am grateful that it lasted four years.

It’s ironic, too, that the Walsh family coat-of-arms bears the motto, Transfixus sed non mortuus. Wounded but not dead. In other words, We endure.

I endure. A friend tells me it’s because I’m a badass. I like that. Another says that the last one standing gets cake and ice cream. I don’t want that. Well, okay, maybe I do. But cake and ice cream are part of the reason my family dies young. So are alcohol and nicotine.

Like me, Bobby gave up those vices years ago. Unlike me, the people who gathered to bury him knew a bold and principled man. I knew a timid child. Before he, too, became a badass. Before he met the love of his life. Before his routine surgery morphed into the organized chaos of a sci-fi tragedy—and a bad one, at that.

Because I knew the boy and not the man, I first felt like a bystander as the final act played out in an ICU. Set upon a dim stage, the plot is flawless. The tragic hero, at the zenith of his transformation, suffers complications that cascade into multiple organ failures. A Greek chorus, costumed in hush-toned scrubs, flutters in and out. Robots, communicating in digital blinks, whoosh and beep a syncopated soundtrack.

In the spotlight is Judith, the star-crossed lover. She welcomes me, the matriarch. I allow memories to squeeze themselves through the barricade of my brimming eyes. Eyes that match the true-blue color of his.

Although I am only a year older, we were not especially close. Among six children, bonds are fluid. I was closest to the youngest sister, who was closest to the youngest brother and middle sister. As was Bobby. My older brother—the classic firstborn—was the protector. I was the hippie. We antagonized each other on different ends of many spectra, yet we grew close.

We were all badasses of one sort or another. But Bobby, a classic middle child, was always the enigma. I couldn’t figure him out.

Like, he ate butter and liverwurst. And once tried dog food. Or like when, as naked three- or four-year-olds, we realized our bodies were different. My mother said that he had a penis. I heard peanuts. I wondered why he had peanuts and I had something I could neither see nor pronounce.

That memory forces a smirk. As do the images of Bobby the baby. Bobby on his first day of school, last day of school. Christmas, Communion, Confirmation. His smiles always appeared forced. Like he wasn’t sure who he was, or who he would become.

But Bobby the Bashful did become Bob the Bold, the man that Judith loves. The man I only recently began to know, especially as I sat with Judith on this deathwatch. I have no pictures of the transformation. Those belong to the friends who only knew a confident smile. People who call him The Troll.

Short, bald, and white-bearded, he resembled and relished the moniker he earned as a city councilman who harangued his colleagues into compliance. What they didn’t know, however, is that’s what we called my father during his days as a toll collector on the Connecticut Turnpike.

They also didn’t know that Bob wasn’t always an astute politician. Sometime in high school, he told me he was running for class president and needed some posters.

“When’s the election?” I asked.

“Tomorrow,” he said. Bobby didn’t win. Not that election, anyway. But Bob won elections that did matter.

We graduated from high school. I moved away, he stayed. We saw each other for holidays, weddings, and funerals. Since we didn’t agree on politics or share mutual friends, we limited our conversations to holidays, weddings, and funerals.

Everything changed, though, when he met Judith, the woman by his side. Her sorrow is spontaneous. Mine, measured.

In a soft Hungarian accent, she whispers, laughs, and weeps the details of his final ordeal as well as the finer points of their shared life. How they met. First date. Charming rituals. Becoming GrandBob to her grandchildren. Exacting housework. Exotic travels.

The Bobby I knew had no children, rarely cleaned, and never left home.

Terminating life support covers Judith like an x-ray blanket. Thump-thump, hiss-hiss, blink-blink, the monitors, connectors, and respirators appeal. Maybe, they suggest, maybe. But there is no maybe. It’s black or white. Life or death. On or off.

In silent succession, members of the chorus dial down the machine that pounds oxygen into Bobby’s inert chest. They disconnect some tubes, and increase the drugs dripping into others.

I tap into YouTube and pull up Blood, Sweat, and Tears. Back in the day, it was my brother’s favorite band. Judith doesn’t know that. I hope it’s true that hearing is the last sense to go.

“You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” randomly pops up, saturating the room with the horns that my brother loved. As I place the speaker port near his good ear, I wonder if the song wasn’t so random, after all. It seems, perhaps, his soliloquy to Judith.

She and I stand guard, each hold a hand leaking life. Mine is the hand of a boy; hers, the hand of a man. Judith remembers her mother’s final admonition: “Don’t loom over me as I die.”

“We’re not looming,” I tell Bobby. “We’re guiding your spirit to the Otherworld.”

Mayday! The robots suddenly scream. Mayday! Mayday!

The cast assembles around the lifeless body. Someone turns off the alarms. Another listens to a beatless heart. It’s over. But it’s not. Grief has yet to arrive.

Judith asks the staff to remove all the contraptions. She yearns to see Bob as she knew him. But death is ugly. Her righteous troll has become a grotesque ogre. His blue eyes have faded to a grayness that matches his skin. His Roman nose is too sharp, too prominent. His gaping mouth hangs to one side, as if screaming for mercy.

To the sound of no applause, we exit stage right.

May he rest in peace, I beseech, reciting the Christian prayer for the dead. Then I ponder those words. As opposed to what? That he not roil in eternal damnation? Or vex the earth, as a phantom with unfinished business? No. He might have been a badass, but he wasn’t bad. Of course, he is at peace.

Pinching back tears, I say a prayer of gratitude. That I am the last one standing.

My family dies young. I buried them in frozen marshes, bucolic hillsides, and urban cemeteries. Drop by drop, year by year, tear by tear. May they rest in peace, I pray. May I rest in peace, I pray.

But who will bury me?

I’m not concerned with that, I tell Bobby, in a final backward glance. For while I, too, will die young—young at heart, that is—today I am merely wounded. I’m a Walsh, after all. A badass. I will endure.

4 responses to “Last Badass Standing”

  1. Remarkably written and honestly shared. We may not be blood relatives but you feel like family. Love you.

  2. This is beautiful! It makes me grateful for the 3 hours I spent on the phone yesterday with my own brother, with whom I don’t often speak.

  3. Omg Patti, so beautifully written. You captured your brother’s essence in life and death. You made me laugh, and you made me cry. Love you, bad ass.❤️

  4. Madam Badass, when I read this, through laughter and tears, I really felt like I was at your side through the whole journey. May you live to 100 in excellent physical and mental health. May your stories continue to embrace your friends and readers.

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