The Guinness beers we ordered weren’t going down as quickly as usual.
Our conversation was hardly engrossing either, with both of us looking around at the seemingly lifeless pub while our beers stared at us as if they knew something. As if they were waiting for my phone to ring.
Richard and I had pounded beers at The Flying Shamrock dozens of Friday nights before, but the atmosphere was sterile that night, even though there was a live band and a crowd of people around us.
It was only about 10:30 p.m. when my phone rang and before I even checked, I knew who it was and why she was calling.
It was my mother.
I stepped back into the back of the bar down a hallway I only go down when I’m having serious phone conversations to hear my mom tell me to head to the emergency room.
“Yes ma’am,” I said, before hanging up.
I’m sure it looked weak as my arms flailed a bit as I punched the air, but it was all I could do to prevent throwing my phone against the cinder block wall like so many ballpoint pens I’ve thrown in newsrooms.
The beers had been hard to choke down because our night wasn’t going to end in downtown Goldsboro.
We finished off the lukewarm drinks and I paid the tab before taking Richard back to his house on the way to the hospital where I was born, my dad cheated death and, just minutes prior, my Meme had been pronounced dead.
My father’s mother, I had always grown angry when people called her my grandmother. She was my Meme (mee-mee). My oldest cousin had christened her that in the mid-1980s and it had never occurred to me to call her anything else.
I parked outside the emergency room and headed toward the new wing of the hospital, passing a dark hearse.
“God fucking dammit,” I huffed into the night.
My mom met me outside the door and put her arm around me. That was the first sob, but when my eyesight focused, I saw the rest of my family in the emergency room waiting area as well, eyes all puffy from endless sobbing.
I pressed down with my left incisor into the end of my tongue as I often do to ward off tears. Now was the time to be strong.
I was the only one who felt this way, clearly.
I learned later that Meme had a heart attack at home and had no cardiac activity when paramedics arrived on the scene, but that didn’t stop one of my uncles, who kept whispering prayers and telling everyone that she would be OK, even as everyone else was insisting she was in a better place.
I’ve always seen religion as a nuisance, but that night was when I first saw the evils of its dichotomy.
Somewhere between Meme being “called home” and my uncle’s prayers for healing, her heart stopped.
So often the shock of prayers not working gives way to delusional glee at our loved ones arriving at their heavenly homes so quickly that we never notice the juxtaposition of the two.
But there I stood, eyeing the chasm between my aunt’s “in a better place” calls on my left and my uncle’s murmured prayers being lifted up to my right.
The chasm seemed to widen further as time passed leaving me silently awaiting the doctor’s arrival to deliver the news that most everyone there had accepted, albeit with a spoonful of Christian theology.
The door handle shook and the door opened to a man in a lab coat and a pretty nurse.
He told us Meme had died and the others began sobbing again, drowning out the ripping sound of two contradicting theologies somehow ripping apart and joining together again as a single religious doctrine.
I didn’t cry.
The hope, the shock that prayers weren’t answered, the promise of seeing her again; these thoughts were foreign to me because I hadn’t delved into that sorcery.
I don’t feel cheated by some god nor do I feel comforted by him because I need neither regret nor sympathy.
The memories. The love. That is enough for me.