How Do I Breathe Without You If You Ever Go?

Bram had had a heart attack. The heartburn he’d been complaining of having was in reality a series of small heart attacks. That’s why he had edema. That’s why he was so tired.

I called Bob; he answered the phone laughing, thinking it was Bram. He said he’d meet me in Minot. I called Farrah. She asked if I wanted her to come now or meet me in Minot. My best friend, Farrah. I told her to go to Minot. The news of Bram’s passing was traveling out across the internet already. 

We flew back to Minot for the funeral with Bram in the hold below us. Every time the plane took off I prayed it would crash and kill us all. Every time the plane landed I prayed it would crash and kill us all. Monica bargained and bullied and pulled big sad eyes on people so they’d trade seats so she, Nick and I could sit together. She pulled me and Nick through airports to the next flight. She did all the talking. When we got to Karen’s, Monica discovered the candy she’d packed to put in Bram’s coffin had been stolen. That was her last straw; she couldn’t be strong for a second longer. She cried and cried; she couldn’t be consoled. Monica slept in my bed with me. Nick slept on the floor beside our bed. 

I was sitting in Karen’s living room, all alone. They’d left Monica and Nick out of Bram’s obituary. I caught it before it was sent to the paper. Nick and Monica were Bram’s kids; he loved them and he called them his. I told Karen to fix it. She said she didn’t know they wanted to be in the obit. Well nobody wanted to be in the obituary because nobody wanted Bram to be gone, but they were HIS KIDS and they BELONGED there. 

I shut my mouth; I was afraid to say more. I wrapped my arms around myself and commanded myself not to cry in front of Karen. Adam walked in. He walked past everyone in the room, making a beeline straight to me. I stood up to hug him. Adam picked me up and sat down in the chair I’d been sitting in, putting me onto his lap. He wrapped his arms around me, pulled me into his chest. He looked up at everyone standing around us, like he couldn’t believe no one had been helping me.

Adam took me into Conrad’s office to help them pick songs to play at the memorial. Karen wanted everyone to wear purple since it was Bram’s favorite color. She wanted to go to the mall and buy a purple pillow for Bram to lay on. I didn’t care. None of it mattered. Bram had wanted to be cremated but when I said that, Karen’s face crumpled so I didn’t insist. 

Aili and Derek were home from Chicago, Adam and Noah had flown in from New York. Farrah came from San Jose. Her father died a month later but she couldn’t fly home for his funeral because she’d flown home for Bram’s to be with me. 

There was a Memorial in Hartnett Hall on Minot State University campus. Joe told a borderline obscene story about Bram and I was furious. Bram’s high school friends shared stories about him. Monica and Nick talked about their Bram. I told everyone the first time Bram had told me he loved me he’d said, “I love you, but…”

We went to the funeral home to make arrangements. Karen wanted to get everything the funeral home had to offer. I knew Bram would despise so much of what they were trying to sell her. I was trying hard not to fight with her; I let it go. Yet we still had time to play a few last rounds of that old family favorite, “Who is Mrs. Bramslastname?” I started to feel sorry for the funeral home guy assigned to us.

Back at Karen and Conrad’s people were showing up, people and more people and just so many people and I couldn’t deal. I wanted to be numb but I wasn’t. I wanted to hold on to Adam but he couldn’t be with me every second. Nick and Monica were there but they were as shell shocked as I was. It was too much. All too much.

The morning of the funeral, Karen still hadn’t bought the purple pillow for Bram to lay on. She wanted to go to the mall to buy it. I had a very good idea of what happens to a body before a funeral showing and I had another one of my clear, frightening visions: I saw Karen trying to lift Bram’s head while he was in the coffin to place the pillow under it. I saw repercussions of messing with a stiff body. I begged Conrad to talk Karen out of the pillow. He agreed. I tried to hug him. He didn’t respond.

Joyce wanted to speak at Bram’s funeral and I was afraid. I was afraid she’d make it about her or about AJ or tell some story about me that wasn’t true. I told her to write it down and let me read it first before I gave her permission. It was a very beautiful story. She showed up to speak at the funeral in an old pink T-shirt and some slacks. Bram was in a coffin in the chapel, off to the side of the nave. When it was time to close the casket, I was called in so I could say my last goodbyes to Bram. Monica and Nick were with me, one on either side. Joyce followed us and stood right behind me.

Karen asked me if I wanted to donate Bram’s glasses to the Lion’s club instead of burying them with him. I said, “But he can’t see without his glasses.” Karen said, “You’re right; he can’t.” The conversation seemed perfectly logical to both of us.

I was petting Bram’s hair, wishing I could kiss him one more time, wishing he’d sit up and laugh at the horrible joke he’d played, wishing I would wake up from this terrible dream. Joyce was talking in my ear. She was talking about the group therapy that she went to for pain management and the members of that group and something funny someone had said at the last meeting and I thought I was going to start screaming. And I was afraid if I started screaming I would never ever ever stop. I would scream until I was hoarse and then I’d keep screaming silently until I died. 

Monica told Joyce to SHUT. UP. THIS. INSTANT. Or Monica would take Joyce outside and make sure she couldn’t come back in. Joyce shut up. 

We were taken down into the basement of the church. Someone told me that as soon as everyone was seated, the coffin would be taken down the aisle. Nick, Monica, and I, as the immediate family of the deceased, would follow, the front right pew was reserved for us. Bram’s parents and siblings would follow behind us. Joyce decided she was walking with me and my kids. I told her to go upstairs and sit down and wait for us in her pew. She started upstairs and then came back to tell me that Karen and Conrad were already lined up beside the coffin and if I didn’t get in front of them right now, Karen was going to steal my spot.

I cannot tell you how much I didn’t care. 

Monica told Joyce to GO SIT DOWN. 

The pastor came and got me and Monica and Nick.

I couldn’t see. I couldn’t walk. Nick and Monica were holding me up; they were carrying me down the aisle behind Bram.

Before we left the funeral home, the director held the guest book out into the air somewhere between me and Karen. I took it. “I am Mrs. Bramslastname.” I won the final round. Karen told me to make a copy and send it to her. I agreed I would. Nick, Monica, and I rode to the cemetery with the funeral director. As we pulled in, I saw Chris standing outside the gate, looking up at the sky, watching the long line of cars following us. Our driver said he had never been followed by so many cars before; he’d never had so many people attend a burial.  

There were too many pallbearers. It took forever for all the mourners to make their way over to us. We laid Bram to rest. And then we went back to the church for the meal the church ladies had prepared. Adam was beside me from the moment I got out of the car at the cemetery until the end of the church reception. It felt like I was hugged by every single person in Minot. 

Nick said his best friend Thomas was there and he wanted to take Nick home. Adam said he’d take care of me and told Nick to go. Monica called her boyfriend who was supposed to be watching the animals in Reno. She couldn’t get hold of him so she called my student/friend April and asked her to go take care of the animals. Then she told Adam she was going to go spend time with her childhood best friend. He said he’d take care of me.

I walked out of the church with Adam and Farrah. A bunch of Bram’s friends were milling around on the sidewalk, unwilling to have this be the end. Joe said, “Let’s go to the Blue before we go home.” So a crowd of us walked down to the Blue. The Blue was closed. Joe suggested the Icebox, a seedy bar, but in walking distance. Twenty-thirty of us walked into this tiny bar, just tiny. They opened the basement seating for us and gave us our own waitress; treated it like a private party. We had a wake for Bram.

We all sat around talking about Bram and how we knew him and how he’d changed our lives. We drank toasts and sang for him. It was a good ending to a bad day: all of Bram’s friends sitting around, celebrating his life.

Monica, Nick and I flew back to Reno the next day, Bramless. 


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