Paul was very big, a very fat man. He edited one of the Sams books about dBase, once upon a time. A computer whiz, he graduated from the University of Texas in Austin, took up Scientology, married, had children, and on that day he was very happy because he’d landed a new consulting contract, and for the first time in his life, he had bought a new car.
Yesterday on Valentine’s Day, driving from his consulting meeting, exiting a car lot, he pulled out in front of a truck.
The truck, hell-bent for leather, barrelling along at high speed, and the driver admiring the shiny new cars parked along the side, crushed Paul’s new car, killed Paul.
There was nothing to be done.
Sally, his wife, got a call from the trucking company owner, the driver’s father, whining and crying and feeling so sorry, he said. And he also mentioned that they’d be suing Paul’s insurance for the damage to their truck. I suppose I could have arranged to shoot the negligent trucker, but it wouldn’t bring back Paul. The police called it an accident.
I wasn’t there. I want it to be somebody’s fault. My intuition says it was the trucker’s fault. But let it go.
Paul is gone, and the ceremony, as he’d have wished, is being held at the Church of Scientology in Austin, across from the university, on a very wide street. Everyone is very nice. My brother George, Paul’s older brother, and my younger, will be speaking. He’s minister at a ritzy church in Dallas.
Beforehand, sitting on the veranda at Paul’s house, I see that George has a tiny piece of paper. I nod at the paper.
“What is it?” I ask him. He holds it up, smiles. There are a few tiny words written there.
“My cheat-sheet,” he says. “To help me remember what to say.” I thought this was a good idea, and made some tiny notes for myself.
At the ceremony, no body lying around, no coffin, some flowers, and a woman minister speaking. She reads a ceremony written by L. Ron Hubbard. The mighty L. Ron is gone, too. He died a few years ago, as I read in the San Francisco Chronicle, just after I’d moved back from Texas. I felt so sad, reading it. Toward the end he’d lived, in hiding, on a ranch with white fences for horses, and a helicopter pad. I remembered how I’d seen him on a boat in the harbor in Valencia, Spain. He was eating a steak, and smoking Kool cigarettes. He was so full of life, wearing his Commodore uniform. Gone. Gone.
In the ceremony, the minister spoke of Paul as “our vedette”. A vedette is a scout who ventures far in advance of an army, to find out what’s there. That would be Paul all right. Gone.
My brother George spoke.
Then it was my time. I stood behind the podium. The room was packed. So many people, who knew my brother, people who cared. So many. Who were they? An entire life I’d not known.
“I was not a very good brother to Paul,” I said. I spoke loudly. “We only talked now and then. Sometimes a year or more would go by, and then I’d call him. When he answered I would say, Pabolo Stricklando? and he would say, Yes! This is Pabolo Stricklando! and I would say This is your brother, Arturo Cronoso, do you remember me? and he would say Why, yes, yes I do remember you! and then we would talk, for a while. I know it was goofy, but we liked it.
“I’ve heard it said that healthy families have a lot of jokes. I don’t know how true it is, but the bunch of us had a lot of jokes. For example, George there (nodding toward my brother George) he once saw a Danny Kaye movie where they had an elaborate plot about some poison in a chalice and all through that movie Danny Kaye would say to somebody: Get it? And then they would say: Got it! And then he’d say: Good!
“Except you have to say it real quick: Get it? Got it! Good. See? Or rather perhaps I should say: Get it? Got it! Good!
“I know it’s dumb. But that’s not all. At one point my brothers and I all learned to repeat the entire record of Daffy Duck Flies South. The record wasn’t really made for adolescents, but it was fun. I can’t remember the whole thing now, so you’ll be spared, but Paul thought it was great. We had fun. That was a good time.
“And now, when I think back, about my brother Paul, what I’ll remember is the fun times we had … and one more thing.
“He had a tiny red spot, right here, in the corner of his eye. I don’t remember whether he did it in his chemistry experiment, or the time he blew up the stove, but he did it, and it marked him. Our errors, and our pain, they become a part of who we are. And so it became a part of Paul, of who he was. And for the rest of my life, whenever I think of Paul, what I’ll remember … is that tiny red spot, just there, in his eye.
“You know, we hear people talk about ‘The Gift of Life.’ But that’s not quite right. It’s not a gift.
“It’s a loan. And, no matter how wonderful this life is, no matter who you are, how good you are, whether you’re good or bad, someday you come to the end. And you must give it up.
“There’s no use complaining. That’s the deal. That’s how it is. Life is only a loan, just for a time. Just the wink of an eye, sometime it seems.
“Paul would have understood that. And if he was here, he would be so happy to see you all, all of you today. He would be so happy to see you. But Paul, he came to the end.
“Right, Paul?” And here I turned, and looked up, looked up through the ceiling, up through the building, up into the sky. “Right, Paul?” I said, louder.
“Get it?” I yelled.
Pausing, we could all hear, faintly in the mind: Got it!