"Death of a Republican Grandfather" by Ian Carlos Crawford
My parents, David and Alicia, had just walked in from dinner. The dog was barking and I went over to kiss my mother hello. She put her hand on my arm and in her most serious tone said, "Ian, I have bad news – your grandfather has been given three days to live.”
Great, I thought, this is really going to put a damper on my week.
The next day my parents flew out to Florida to say goodbye to him.
Three days later my grandfather died.
The only real memories I have of grandfather Crawford are:
He was from my dad’s side of the family. The conservative Christian Republican side (they tried their hardest to adhere to every negative stereotype that went along with those labels,) the side that I wasn’t allowed to tell I was gay. What really sucked was that my boyfriend John had not been ‘revealed’ to the whole Crawford clan, and even I’d agree that a funeral isn’t the right time to introduce your conservative relatives to the idea that you enjoy having sex with other men. John had been living with my parents and me for the last year. But the Crawfords never came to visit so it was a non-issue.
Needless to say, John was not accompanying me on this trip. I had to fly by myself, something I had never done before, so I was incredibly nervous. I hated flying. I was even known to throw up before getting on a plane. Flying and being alone when put together were two things that didn’t sit well with Ian Carlos Crawford.
“We’re going to be late. I hate being late. What if you miss you flight?” John was panicking as we sat in stopped traffic on the Ben Franklin Bridge into Philadelphia.
I shrugged, “Ah well.”
I called my dad to tell him I may or may not miss my flight.
John dropped me off at the airport at 11:30 a.m., and my flight departed at 12:05 p.m. As I anti-rushed through security, I kept hearing the song “Run Run Rudolph” (from Home Alone) play out in my head. I kept imagining me somehow ending up in New York and my family being there in Florida. I got to my gate just as they started boarding. Much to my chagrin, my skull & cross bones carry-on bag and I had made it. I was really hoping I’d miss that damned flight.
Upon taking my seat, I entered Snoozeville and didn’t wake up until we landed in West Palm Beach at around 2:45 p.m. The viewing for my grandfather had started at 2 pm and there was a break (I was unaware that viewings had breaks) from 4 to 6.
“Thanks for coming, son,” my dad said after a few minutes of driving in silence. He gave me his half-smile, which meant he was serious.
I know I can be a total brat, but even I knew that your father’s father’s funeral isn’t the time to have a talk about how mad you are at him for not wanting to tell his family that you’re gay.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell them sooner,” he said.
I looked out the window and said, “It’s fine. We’ll talk about it later, David.”
“I promise I’ll tell my mother as soon as all this is over.”
In reality, I was fucking furious. I was going to spend the next two days pretending I wasn’t gay. And I wasn’t good at pretending nor was I any good at not being incredibly gay. David Crawford was fine with me being gay. David Crawford was fine with my boyfriend John living in our house. He was fine with John and I sharing a bed together. What he was not fine with was the Crawfords disowning me and forcing him to pick between his parents and son. My take on it was: Let them disown me— that way I wouldn’t have to give any excuses as to why I couldn’t attend the Crawford family reunions I hated so much. I had come out when I was nineteen years old and had never denied being gay since.
We arrived at the funeral home just as the break was about to begin. My three very pretty, very blonde cousins (Jill, Jessica and Anne) and their parents, my Uncle Tom and Aunt Diana (who once charmingly told my mom, “Tom told me if I ever put on as much weight as you have, he’d divorce me”) came over to greet my dad and me. Every year they send out a Christmas letter. My friends sometimes like to read it aloud at my yearly Christmas party because it’s such a joke. Diana likes to (excuse the phrase) jerk herself off in letter format and send it to everyone she knows. It usually reads something like this:
Dearest Family and Friends,
Jill, Jessica and Anne participated in, and won, the New York marathon. Jessica is in the process of curing AIDS, while Jill is traveling in Europe with Colin Farrell and Anne is taking over as the CEO of Apple.
Tom and I have bought our third house. It came fully furnished. Don’t you just hate poor people?
“Oh Ian, did your hair get stuck straight up like that on the plane?” asked my Aunt Diana with a big smile and squinted eyes.
I gave her the fakest laugh possible, replied with, “oh boy, you got my number,” and walked away. She was so cleverly referring to my spiked hair hairstyle. I used a flat iron, hair spray and hard work to get it to look that good. I was so happy she decided to make it awkward the moment I walked into the viewing. And to think, there was a dead old man lying in a coffin just a few feet away from us.
We all went separate ways – my brother, his fiancée, my dad, mom and Aunt Barb all headed back to Barb and her boyfriend’s house for dinner. I hadn’t eaten all day, so I was the second hungriest I had ever been. Aunt Barb was the only Crawford family member who knew about John, so I had planned on staying with her for the duration of my stay in Florida. She and my father were the liberal black sheep of the Crawford family. David having married a Puerto Rican and Barbara living in sin with her Jewish boyfriend and reading Barack Obama’s autobiography.
“Ian, when we say goodbye to your grandfather – you have to touch his hands,” my mom told me over dinner.
"Mom, are you fucking kidding me? What if his hand falls off?”
After a much needed dinner treat, we went back to the funeral home for more viewing fun. I was full of Italian food and in need of a nap.
My cousin Anne (the blondest, and arguably the prettiest, who is closest to my age) and I were asked to be the greeters at the door. I agreed and stood in silence with Anne for a few awkward moments until she asked what I was doing with myself these days. All I could think was don’t say you’re gay, don’t say you’re gay – so I told her I had graduated in May (it was September). I asked her what she had been up to since graduating.
“Well, I’m actually a manager of the advertising department at a packing company,” she said.
“Oh. Well. I still work at Barnes & Noble,” I said feeling incredibly inadequate.
“Oh cool, you’re a manager there, right?”
“Nope. I used to be a supervisor…but um….I’m, uh, not anymore.”
Then came an awkward pause where I made some kind of background noise, a deep breath or a long exhale. A few 120 year olds walked by and said hello to us. They all made eye contact with my tall hair. We thanked them for coming; they gave us their condolences. Blah Blah Blah.
“Oh, you work at a bookstore so you probably know Dr. Oz, right?”
“Yeah,” I said. Ugh, I thought, what now.
“Well, Jessica works for him!”
“Jessica works for Oprah Winfrey’s personal doctor? Wow. That’s. Great.”
Terrific, I thought, at twenty-five I was where these girls were at twenty. I hated them, but maybe also wanted to live their lives. Turbo rich. Hot. I’d definitely get laid more often if I were a hot blonde. What a bitch.
We all took our seats once the Deacon entered to give his prayer. But before he could start, my Aunt Diana came and sat next to me.
“Ian, I didn’t get a chance to tell you – I just love your shoes.”
They were pretty gay shoes if I do say so myself. Black and white Doc Martens. Bowler shoes but a little more elevated. Picture the shoes Lucy wears in the Peanuts comic but with a touch of Hot Topic. So what she meant by that was, “Ian, those shoes are faggy as hell.”
“Ian, I hear you graduated with an English degree and Writing minor. So what are your favorite books and authors?”
Translation: “Ian, you’re gay as hell and graduated with a gay major.”
“Well, I really like Augusten Burroughs,” I said trying to think of a way to escape. Maybe I could tell her my shoe was filling up with blood and I had to go?
“That’s the book Running With Scissors right? Oh, it was a bit crazy for me. A lot of things going on in that book. Do you think all that…stuff actually happened?”
“Yeah. I love that book. I met him at Drexel University– he spoke and it was pretty great,” I said pretending not to be offended that she was trying to insult my favorite author. I tried not to stare directly into her eyes, so instead I’d look from my gay shoes to her blonde hair avoiding her freckled face and blue eyes.
“So Ian, are all of your friends into ….the arts?”
Translation: “Are all your friends gay like you?”
"Yeah, they are. My friend Erin was even in the same program at Rutgers with me.”
“Oh, that’s just wonderful,” she said.
The Deacon kissed my grandmother on the cheek. She held his hands for a long period of time. I felt like it was an appropriate time to tear up, but I just wasn’t feeling it.
The Deacon began, “God God God, Jesus Jesus Jesus.”
The viewing was over.
We went back to my Aunt Barb’s house. She and her boyfriend lived in one of the nicest houses I had ever seen but it didn’t have the internet. I sat on the floor reading for most of the night. How does one live without internet?
The funeral was at 9 a.m. the next morning. I woke up at 7:30 a.m. and started getting ready right away. I was always late to everything and didn’t want to be the cause of my dad missing his father’s funeral. I made sure to make my hair look as conservative as possible. I tried to make the spikes less spiky.
And because it’s hysterical, the dress pants I had picked up at H&M without trying on were too small. I had somehow picked up the wrong size and was forced into wearing jeans to the funeral. As if I didn’t stick out enough with this group. I guess that was what I got for being such a pessimistic shitbag.
There was a mass before the actual funeral (or maybe it’s considered part of the funeral) – but either way I felt weird. It was the first time I had set foot in a church in many, many years.
So church church church. I remember that the priest guy talking during the service made us ask for forgiveness for our sins. I closed my eyes and thought of what I was going to eat for lunch.
When we had to take communion I told my mom I didn’t want to do it.
My mom grabbed my arm, looked directly into my eyes and said, “Just get the goddamned communion, Ian.”
“I don’t even consider myself Catholic. Or Christian. I’m not even sure what religion it is I’m supposed to be. I don’t even believe in God,” I whispered in my best ‘annoyed’ voice.
“I. Don’t. Care.”
Her eyes were big and she was tightening her grip on my arm. I had a flashback of being forced into CCD classes (a form of Sunday school) as a kid and then getting kicked out because my mom got into a fight with my teacher. She was basically religious in a cultural sense. Puerto Ricans love their Jesus and Mary statues, but they don’t care that much about the prayer and church aspect of religion. I decided not to argue with Alicia Crawford.
So I went up to ‘take communion’ and saw that my cousin Jill stayed seated. I made a mental note to ask her about that later. We got back to our seats and my mom stubbed her foot getting into the pews.
I put my hand over my mouth while chewing on the communion to muffle my laugh.
“Fuck,” my mom whispered to me, “and I have to take a shit too.”
I know it’s very tacky to laugh during a funeral but sometimes one can’t help one's self. I made sure to cover it up with coughing.
The funeral was sad. My dad even got up and gave a speech.
“Religion and work aside – Dad was a great guy. Every time one of the kids smile, I see Dad. He was a loving man who taught us that family means everything.” My dad then placed his hand on the coffin, “I’m going to miss you Dad.”
If I was going to tear up, it would have been then.
After the ceremony, we all drove over to a restaurant for brunch. It was noon and I was starving. My three blonde cousins were over consoling my grandmother, and I felt like now would be the right time for me to join in on the consoling.
“Ian, I’m so glad to see your darling face. I appreciate it so much, and I’m sure so does your grandfather. I know ya’ll had to sacrifice a lot to come,” she said shaky with tears in her eyes.
I was beginning to feel bad for being such an unemotional bastard. Everyone was crying except for me. I cried more at the end of books 5, 6 and 7 of the Harry Potter series than I did at this funeral.
“It was no sacrifice at all grandma, don’t you worry,” I said with a kiss to her forehead.
“Times like this remind me why we have Jesus Christ in our lives. I mean, how can someone say he doesn’t exist? How can one not have their faith? I mean, how would one get through such a tough time without the Lord?”
“Uh. Yeah. Right,” was my awkward reply. I gave her a kiss and made my way towards my table. I was afraid she was going to quiz me on religion and wanted to get the hell out of dodge before that happened. Most of my knowledge of Jesus comes from The Da Vinci Code.
My table was the ‘grandchildren’ table. There was no one of interest for me to talk to. But I remembered that interesting mental note I had made. I turned to my cousin Jill and said, “So Jill, I saw you didn’t get up for communion. Are you not Catholic anymore?” I was so excited for her to tell me something like, I’m an atheist lesbian now or, I’m a hip yuppie Buddhist or even my least favorite, I don’t take part in organized religion, but I’m very spiritual.
“Oh, I’m allergic to wheat,” she said.
Silly me, I thought.
While the three girls made small talk with my brother and his fiancée, I made as many trips to the bathroom to text John as possible. After what was no doubt my 12th trip to the bathroom, my cousin Anne turned to me and said, “So Ian, are you seeing someone?”
My heart started racing and my left armpit started sweating.
That was all I could think of to buy myself some time. Stall what would inevitably an awful and awkward conversation. I knew she could tell I was nervous. She said it again slower.
“Are. You. Seeing. Someone.”
“Well. Um, you see. It’s complicated. Kind of.”
I was sinking. She knew I was gay. She was perfect — a manager of a packing company with perky breasts, so of course she knew I was gay.
“Um, okay, so enlighten me,” she said.
“It’ a long story.”
My armpits were drenched. I was about to have nervous diarrhea all over the white chair I was sitting in. What was I to do?
“We have plenty of time, so tell me the story.”
“I’d rather not,” I said and took a sip from my Sprite. I almost died. I didn’t know what to do. I could have told her I had a boyfriend and by the end of the night I’m sure the Crawfords all would have known. But I chickened out. I just couldn’t do it – I was too afraid she’d tell everyone and it’d ruin the entire day. I felt incredibly frustrated, I had never denied being gay to anyone since coming out but I loved my dad and didn’t want that day to be the day he remembered as ‘my father’s funeral and the day my family disowned my son.’
Afterwards we went to my Aunt Alice’s house, I met her cute twins (my first cousins who were a little over a year old) for the first time. I brought my laptop with me because my aunt had informed me she had the internet at her place.
While sitting on the couch I couldn’t seem to log onto the network. I was pretty sure if I didn’t check my myspace I was going to pass out.
“I think the password is my last name,” Aunt Alice told me.
“I tried it. That didn’t work.”
“Well, just wait until Dave gets home, he’ll know.”
Dave was her second husband whom I had met only three times and felt uncomfortable calling ‘uncle.’
“Lemme take a look Ian,” Dave said once he got home. He took my laptop from me and logged in. “It worked. It was our last name. Did you spell it right? P-a-o-l-e-s-c-h-i,” he said.
“Oh. Right. I thought it was spelled P-o-l-e-s-h-i. My bad,” I said as he handed me back my laptop. Before I had time to feel awkward about not knowing how to spell my aunt’s last name, I realized the only icon on my desktop was a comic of a gay cat called Purple Pussy which had a file name of ‘PurplePussy-IMG2.jpg.’ Whoops I thought that’ll really throw them off.
The next morning we flew home at 8:30 a.m. Never had I been happier to have such an early flight.
On the way back, I sat between David and Alicia. I put my headphones on and tried to sleep but couldn’t.
My dad turned to me and said, “You know son, I really am sorry I never let you tell my parents. I’m sorry you had to leave John at home. I just…wasn’t sure when the right time to tell them would be.”
“No dad,” I said, finally getting choked up, “it’s fine. I promise. I’m not mad at you. I really do understand.”
And I wasn’t mad. How could I be?