Death, and a Salesman

“Are you a model?” the man on the FlyAway bus asks me.

It’s 5:32 a.m., and I’ve just put a quick dab of Burt’s Bee’s cocoa lip tint on, partially to moisturize my tired, chapped lips, and partially because I realize that I forgot to brush my teeth, and the vague mint scent might help mask my morning breath.

I glance at the beefy, 60-something-year-old man sitting next to me. The heat being thrown from his off-season tweed blazer already bothers me.

Later he’ll tell me that he’s from Minnesota, which excuses him from any further interrogation by the fashion police.

But right now I can’t believe my horrible misfortune to start my day of travels with a chatty seatmate. When he hands me his business card with his name and “SALESMAN” proudly proclaimed on it, I know I’m doomed.

I am in no mood to speak. Not because it’s so early, although the hour is definitely an impediment. But because the journey I’m on is one I’ve planned for, yet am not truly ready for.

The father of my college BBFs – twin sisters, actually – has passed away. It’s been a long time coming; his cancer battle went on for a decade, and rumors of his imminent demise have been intensifying in recent years.

So his death was not shocking, and yet, it still feels unbelievable.

I am going, as I told my kids, not just to honor the man, but also to be there for my friends.

Those who are left behind.

That’s who funerals really are for, after all.

And so, I am going back East to stand with my girls. In a twisted way, I know it will be a good time. It always is when we’re together. A lot of laughs.

No doubt I’ll tell the story for the 1,587,062nd time about when I first met my BBFs’ dad. It was spring break freshman year, and we were headed to NYC for a long weekend.

As we left, my BBFs’ dad pulled me aside and said, “Now, dear, please make sure that my daughter doesn’t leave her purse in a cab. Also, when you get to Penn Station, there will be men that will grab your suitcases. Don’t let them do it; they’re not real porters and they won’t give your bag back unless you give them a big tip. Now go, and have a good time.”

I’d never been given such specific instructions by anyone’s dad other than my own, and my BBF and I laughed about it all the way into the City.

That is until she left her purse on the train, and a faux porter made off with both of our suitcases and I was stuck handing $20 to a random dude (a lot of cash in those days!) just to get our stuff back. And we still had to schlep our bags up the gigantic escalators ourselves.

This is just one of the times when father knew best. He weathered a ton of nonsense from all of us girls with humor and patience. And thanks to him, I always keep a hold of my suitcase and an eye on my purse.

I shift in my seat and realize that my gabby seatmate has moved on to talk to the guy sitting across the aisle. They are chatting about their kids, and I hear unmistakable pride in the man’s voice as he talks about his sons, both of whom are now retired from the military.

Now I’m thinking about how he must’ve held his breath, praying that his sons were surrounded by comrades in arms that would do anything to protect his babies.

We may be grown-ups — retired even — but we are still our parents’ children.

I ache for my friends, their loss, and for my own, too.

And then I say a quick prayer of gratitude that my parents are alive, well, and safeguarding not just me, but also my children, so that I can get away to hold my BBFs’ hands and encircle them with love and support.

My seatmate taps me on the shoulder, bumping me out of my reverie, and says, “Hey, kid, do you wanna hear a joke?”

I realize I could use a laugh, and perhaps a couple of one-liners to share wouldn’t be such a bad thing to bring with me to the funeral.

I give him a model-caliber smile, and say, “Absolutely. But first, tell me, how was your visit with your sons?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” he says, leaning back in his seat.

I’m still not ready for this ride, but I realize I’m glad for the company. And maybe, after all, that’s what life’s really all about.

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