It’s June 26 in America. It’s Ellen’s birthday; she would have been 72 years young. It was on June 27, 2015 that a memorial was held for her at Fernwood Cemetary in Mill Valley, her final “resting place.” I recall that in March, 2015 ahead of her never realized 70th birthday I had arranged a three night stay at a beautiful house on the beach at The Sea Ranch community on the Sonoma Coast about a hundred miles north of San Francisco. It was to be a very laidback, low-key adventure featuring lots of downtime and elegant homecooked meals. The house was “dog friendly” as I wanted to bring her beloved dog, Harper (aka: “Mutt”) along instead of the usual boarding, when we went out of town. Of course, it was supposed to be a surprise. We all know, all too well, the nasty surprise the Universe had in store for us, instead.
I continue to miss her and love her, everyday.
This year there is an additional morosity (yes, that is a word) to this sad anniversary. I was informed two days ago that my brother who is three years older than I, died in his sleep. He was 63. His wife found him, lifeless in bed, in the morning. That must have been awful for her. Than again, going to bed and simply not waking up is a death that would be one that most people would opt for, especially when you consider all of the ghastly ways most lives have been ended throughout human history.
Up until now, I would, from time to time, marvel at the fact that five brothers, born in the 1940’s and 1950’s had all managed to stay alive with no serious incidents all these decades. Growing up in a major American city (Los Angeles) during the tumult of the 1960’s when three of my brothers became eligible as “cannon fodder” for the Vietnam War, it’s remarkable we all stumbled through, until 2017, no worse for wear. My brother-Jan- who just died, apparently survived some crazy incidents as well. There’s the apocryphal story of his driving an ambulance in a war zone in the 1970’s during the long-running, South African Border War when a mine exploded under the vehicle, shattering one of his legs. How on earth did he end up there? I still have no idea.
I’ve often pondered my own mortality and my still being alive today, two days shy of my 60th birthday. I have serendipity to thank for this (so far) outcome. I am the living embodiment of not being “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” I’m pretty sure I told my daughter, Sophie, at some point, that she is lucky to have been born, given the times I put myself in mortal danger, but again, absent the wrong place at the wrong time. I could have easily been the brother who never made it to adulthood through blindingly stupid moments during my teens years of driving so drunk that it would be fair to say my alcohol had blood in it. Perhaps it could have been that infamous night in January, 1974 when I left a party at my friend David’s house in Santa Monica, dead drunk, only to be yanked from my stopped car at the intersection of Wilshire Blvd and Beverly Glen in Westwood by the Los Angeles police. Had they not pulled me out of the car, perhaps “the wrong place at the wrong time” was just up ahead at the next traffic light. Today I might only be a mere footnote as an entry in the 1974 edition of “Red Asphalt”, the film shown in Driver Education classes throughout America, showcasing gruesome car accidents to 15 year olds, as a reminder of what 2 tons of glass and steel can do to a human body. Or it could have been the “wrong place at the wrong time” when I somehow concluded on at least two occasions, that driving under the influence of hallucinogenics seemed like a pretty good idea. Or that time when I was also under said influence, traipsing through Joshua Tree National Monument (basically, a desert) with my friends, in the middle of the night (helps with the hallucinations) and I walked right into a unseen hole in the rock formation, falling about five feet, only) Nothing sobers you up more quickly, than such an immediate shock to the mind and body. I clearly realized that the hole could have gone a lot further and there could have been a lot of boulders awaiting my head, if I had gone into a freefall instead of landing on my feet after a mere five foot drop. And with any of those or other incidents bearing their poisoned fruit, my daughter Sophie, would never have been born. Sobering? Oh, a tad.
Looking back over the years, I have often thought that I should have been the first brother to shuffle off this mortal coil as a result of my own reckless behavior. As serendipity had it, for me, it was simply a matter of not being in the wrong place at the wrong time. As it turned out, it was another brother who became the first death among the five of us by simply going to sleep and never waking up. I suppose dying in your bed isn’t a case of the wrong place. It’s just that at 63, it’s the wrong time. But than again, so is two months shy of your 70th birthday.