Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Worse Than Weird

22, fresh out of college, she moved home last winter. Our dad was living alone and wanted some company and she needed to save money and pay off her credit cards. On a random Thursday morning in June they shared breakfast and idle chit-chat. She smiled and wiped a sleep-induced crusty away from his eye as she kissed him goodbye and left for work. A few hours later he laid down in his bedroom and passed away.

That room is now vacant – though mostly untouched, except to clear out a few old shirts and pants for the garage sales – but my sister continues to live in the house. I think, on some level, it allows her to pretend that he’s just out for a bit, maybe getting coffee or something, a quick trip to the hardware store, he’ll be home any minute. Besides, someone has to live there while we decide what to do with the place. Someone has to water and keep the house up. Collect the mail. Feed the cat.

But the house, that house, is overwhelming for million reasons. There was no way for my sister to live there alone. So her boyfriend – a sweet, wonderful, brilliant boy, madly in love with her – moved in.

He had just finished school himself – grad school, he’s my age – and was, at the time, without a job. My sister, having never paid rent to our father, never thought to ask for rent from her boyfriend when he moved in. It worked out well. But the months passed, and her boyfriend found work, and one day it occurred to my brothers and me that perhaps it was time to start asking for rent. The house, after all, does belong to all of us… and all of us are, technically, paying the mortgage – my oldest brother, who we appointed executor of the estate, as my father had no will, has been making the mortgage payments from our father’s savings account, and technically the money in the savings account now belongs, equally, to the four of us – so perhaps it was unfair to allow my sister and her boyfriend to live there free of charge.

At the first hint of this pondering of fairness, my sister’s boyfriend stepped up and offered us rent money. Wouldn’t take no for an answer, in fact. Wanted to know each of our addresses so he could mail us monthly rent checks. It was very sweet of him. Bumped him up at least 7 notches in my book, especially since I know that that house is not, by any stretch of the imagination, his first, or second, or even fifty-second choice of where to live. He is living there for my sister. To take care of her. To help out where he can.

I do not want his money. This boy is family to me and it just feels weird to take money from family.

But it’s worse than just weird.

I received my first rent check from him last night. It made me cry. I was not prepared. Not at all ready. Not ready to be reminded that my father is no longer the one paying bills at our house. Not ready to accept the fact that he isn’t just out getting coffee, back any minute. Not ready for it all to be so real.

Real is so much worse than weird.

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