My grandmother’s funeral had been a small, gravesite service with little fanfare and only a handful of people. Afterwards, my sister and her husband, my mother and her gentleman friend, my cousin, and I all went back to my sister and her husband’s hotel suite for afternoon cocktails, in respect to both Irish Catholic traditions and fear of the deceased.
The afternoon grew increasingly weary and morbid as most chose to recriminate, condemn, and frankly bitch. By late afternoon, the most positive emotion emanating within those confines was sorrow and grief, most probably from only me. My brother-in-law Scott, who was cast out a decade later for immeasurable sins, pulled me aside and suggested that perhaps we escape the increasingly maudlin rantings and informal eulogies.
I reminded him that his hotel was on “P” Street, in the thick of the District’s gay ghetto. Although there were innumerable options within a quick walk, our best destination would most likely be a gay bar. Despite Scott’s many sociopathic traits, which didn’t surface until years later, he was still a very non-judgmental man. Moments later, we were across the street at Friends, a lively piano bar, both savoring our first cocktail of the day … well first made by someone who hadn’t been to a funeral earlier.
A few hours passed. Our tab had swelled far beyond both prudence and appropriateness . We awaited my sister, who was to join us when the others went finally went home. In the meantime, we played several rounds of “arcade trivia”, which I handily and rather effortlessly won.
My sister finally arrived and, while she and I compared notes about family behaving badly, Scott went to get her a libation. Yes, at some point, wailing and moaning had ensued, the dysfunction reaching new heights, even for my family. I was relieved I had missed that portion of the show.
Scott eventually returned, beer for Polly in hand, accompanied by a half dozen assorted homosexuals. It seems, enterprising scoundrel that he was, Scott was taking wagers, placing odds, and daring challengers to beat me at that blasted video machine.
By ten or so, a crowd of at least twenty had gathered … all cheering, daring, and drinking with abandon. Yet my streak was intact and Scott was developing quite a bulge in his pocket. In the background, one man was jumping up and down, straining to get a view. In fact, he looked a great deal like Scott, except perhaps a few inches shorter. But he even had the early signs of that dreaded and early “male pattern baldness”! The whole scenario was getting more and more absurd, yet it showed no sign of slowing down. Except perhaps that an hour later, the crowd had thinned a bit and the “jumper” had finally made his way to us and was engaging Scott in conversation.
It seems his name was George, he was a banker, and he lived across the river in Arlington. At least that was all I retained from our introduction. We eventually abandoned our games and retired to a different wall, where the four of us politely chatted and listened to showtunes from the piano player, whom up until them we had ignored and tuned out. George and I flirted a great deal as the chemistry between us had its own energy.
At one point, George quite aggressively and arrogantly leaned over and asked my sister permission to take me home, his being such a proper Southern gentleman. She presumed that he meant to give me a lift to my grandmother’s house just outside DC along the Potomac banks on the Maryland side. He corrected her, stating that he wanted to take me to his house in Arlington, in Virginia … to which I promptly said “no, thank you!” Naturally, my sister and her husband need only eventually cross the street to return to their lodgings.
We continued to drink, albeit at a slower and more dignified pace, and at times even sang a few showtunes among the crowd of men who had filled Friends. Scott, my sister, and I had long forgotten about the anxieties, morbidity, and drama of an Irish Catholic family at its own funeral aftermath. Scott and I went back to the trivia machine eventually, while Polly and George repositioned themselves by the window to enjoy a cigarette.
The next morning, I awakened, a bit disoriented, exhausted, and, yes, more than a little hung-over. I looked around the room which seemed unfamiliar and gazed to my left. All I could really distinguish was a clump of dark brown hair and the hint of a bald spot. Oh my God, I slept with my brother-in-law, I deduced.
Panicked, I started imagining the end of any and all familial ties I had remaining. Certainly, my sister will never, ever speak to me again. What havoc had this evening of alcohol and gamesmanship wreaked? Surely, if my sister had any say-so, there’d be yet another Irish Catholic funeral in the offing.
The body stirred, slowly turned around, and I gasped. I had indeed slept with the anti-Christ, the name I less than fondly gave him years later. But that morning I simply called him George. And I quickly got dressed, demanded coffee, and made him drive me home … to the other side of the river.
I needed to get my day jump-started. I had a lot of “Hail Maries” to get out of my system. Of course that was almost twenty-five years ago and a full five years before any inevitable revelation. My own personal apocalypse was yet to unfold. It indeed, however, began that night at Friends, on an eventful night that demanded attention and atonement.
Such a purge, in fact, took years.
(Image: “Die Brücke” by Wolfgang Lettl, 1978.)