If there is a heaven, it’s searching through a crowd for someone you have been separated from, confident they will be there waiting, someone you can’t wait to see.
I used to worry a lot about heaven, as a child – how the complexities of families resolved themselves. There were my grandparents for instance – both on their second marriage. Grandma’s husband died when my mom was just eight, dropping dead of a heart attack with three girls under the age of eight, and leaving a young widow. My grandpa lost his first wife and a daughter in a car accident, leaving him with gentle, wounded eyes and an inability to say no to any of his granddaugthers, ever. I loved them both a lot and fretted about what would happen in heaven – would grandpa go with his other family, the one that pre-existed us? Would grandma even notice, joyfully reunited with the husband she had to live most of her life without (and ah, grandma, how little I understood of your grief).
Eventually I decided if it was heaven all the reunions would happen just as they needed to. Maybe some people would just live together in a big pile, but others would have different versions of themselves completing the vectors they left unfinished in their lives – grandpa could live happily ever after with his first wife and daughter as a young man, while his older self spent long summer days fishing in the creek and picking mulberries with me, the granddaughter of his second family. In heaven we would be ourselves but more than ourselves, we would be the selves that are remembered with the most love.
If there is a heaven for you and me it is a street fair – a homecoming or cultural or music celebration. We’ve been to every form of fest: Puerto Rican Days, Greekfest, Jazz Fest, Strictly Bluegrass (the early days), the broom corn festival, the pork festival, a BDSM festival, Reggaefest, Italian Fest. In heaven there may be other versions of ourselves in other places with other people who love us, but if there is heaven for us it involves beer, and music, and the familiar faces of home.
If there is a heaven for us I am certain on a warm summer night with no mosquitos I will pull up to the town square and park aslant without having to even look for parking (it’s heaven, remember) and then I’ll walk around the orange barricade set up to block traffic. I’ll pass the table for the ladies sodality selling tickets for the cakewalk and the raffle. I’ll pass the food booths, eyeballing the elephant ear piled high with powdered sugar on a flimsy paper plate and picturing the “oooh!” you will make as you spot them and smile to myself.
I’ll go straight to the beer tent, my heart lurching joyfully at the sight of you perhaps standing next to Philip, backs to me, each of you wearing a ball cap, your faces tanned. You are talking animatedly together as you each take clear plastic cups of foamy beer from a guy in a shriner’s fez and a string tie. There will be the sound of a bluegrass band warming up. You will turn around and see me right as I walk up and you will say “There she is!” and your face will light up in that way it always did when your blue eyes fell on me, and I will slip under your raised arm and we will exchange the kind of quick kiss you do when your friend is standing there waiting for his hug, and Phil and I will hold each other just a sketch longer than usual, remembering the sad terrible emptiness of a world without you, a memory of loss that imprints our joy and makes it sweeter than the sugar piled on the elephant ear you say you are going to go get, be right back.
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