Thursday, September 01, 2005

Glenda's surprise

When we reach her street, Glenda balks. Doesn't want to go into her house. Sees the looming piles of carpet that Dad & I dragged onto her lawn. Sees the new mounds of her neighbors' ruins heaped on every curb. Says she wants to see David & Ricky, her neighbors, first.

Gives her a few more minutes to compose herself, I think.

But she's never going to be ready.

And then it is a big crash of trembling, sweaty bodies as David and Ricky and Carla (friend) and Phyllis (friend) and Glenda and I come together in a dank mound of hugs and tears and stuttered have comments about love and god and still having each other.

Out of nowhere, with a bright Cheshire smile, David starts singing. Then Carla. And Phyllis. Glenda is just shaking her head and hugging David. And I'm a few heartbeats behind as the song registers in my head like a cold sledgehammer:

Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday, Dear Glenda,
Happy Birthday to you!

I think she'll forgive me, but I forgot Glenda turned 60. Yesterday. August 31st, 1945. The strength of the blow shakes me.

Hurricane Camille came calling for Glenda's 24th birthday. 1969. Cindy was 4yrs old. They lived in the same house that Hurricane Katrina visited for Glenda's 60th birthday.

My stomach lurches. Anger? Despair? I don't know. It keeps getting worse.

There won't be any party hats or cake this year. But David explains over Glenda's sweaty protests that they were going to fly her to New York City. (No! she says!) To see Broadway. (No!) To go shopping. (No!). Her son, Darren, was going to surprise her there. (No! No!) Cindy was going to do the same. And they'd all celebrate her birthday. (No, you didn't!)

But Katrina took that away from us.

As Glenda's crying and laughing, I'm looking for some place to throw up. Doubled over by the cars. Thinking about everything Glenda has lost. And my dry heave. The ruined trip. A second violent spasm. I'm trying to keep quiet. Taking huge gulps of air and wiping my eyes. God damned storm! A third retch catches me as my own mantra takes hold: This too shall pass. This too shall pass. This too shall pass!

Jon? calls Glenda.

I wipe spit and snot off my face with my shirt and limp back to the group.

Jon? Are you okay? she asks.

I'm good. Just getting some air.

Everyone is happier now that their tears are out. Glenda's smiling. Her friends are alive. They've been feeding her cats. David says she can sleep in their camper tonight, in the air conditioning. Everyone is going to rebuild. Together.

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