Another Dead Republican

an excerpt

The phone rang. The digital clock read two thirty-seven in the morning. Heart hammering, I grabbed for the receiver. Some family tragedy, mine or Scott's, awful news, that's the only kind of call one gets at that hour of the morning, or a wrong number.

I said, "Hello?"

Between sobs my sister Veronica's frantic voice screeched at me. I couldn't understand her. She was so loud, I was forced to hold the phone away from my ear.

Scott lifted himself on one elbow and looked at me.

Veronica gasped for breath.

I said, "Veronica?"

She said, "Edgar is dead."

Edgar was her husband.

I sat up and swung my legs over the side of the bed.

She sobbed. I let her. What else was there to do?

Veronica and I were close. We talked frequently, and of all of us kids, she was the one closest to mom. She and Edgar had three kids; six, ten, and thirteen years old.

Her crying eased, and she gulped several breaths. She spoke between heaving gasps. "Tom. He. Was. Murdered." She wept some more.

"What is it?" Scott murmured.

I put my hand over the receiver. "Veronica. She says Edgar has been murdered."

Scott edged over to me and rested on his elbow, his other arm around me, his chin nuzzling my shoulder, and his breath on my neck.

I hated Edgar.

The first and only time my brother-in-law, Edgar, used the n-word in my presence was at the dinner table Christmas fifteen years ago. At the time he was Veronica's boy friend. It was my home, my turn to host the holiday dinner. The whole family had gathered as was traditional. It was Edgar's first time at a family event.

When he dropped the n-bomb, all conversation ceased. A dreadful silence fell, the kind that falls after the ignorant perpetrate an offense on the decent.

While the silence built, Edgar glared at everyone. Finally, he said, "I have a First Amendment right to say what I want."

I said, "No one has suggested that we get Congress to pass a law forbidding you to make a despicably ignorant statement at my dinner table in my home."

"See," he said.

I said, "What I am saying is that I find the use of that word offensive. I am saying that I will not have it at my dinner table. I will not have it in my home. You can exercise what you misunderstand to be a First Amendment right, but not in my home."

"The First Amendment says," he began.

I cut him off. "I know precisely what the First Amendment says." I quoted it to him verbatim. "You don't get to redefine what it means. You don't get to use it as an excuse to trumpet bigotry and prejudice, not in my home. Don't do it again." I used my nastiest teacher glare on him. For years, it had stopped hordes of rampaging teenagers at Grover Cleveland High School where I taught. If looks could maim, he'd have left on a hospital gurney.

My sister said, "Now, Tom."

I gave her the same icy look and said, "This is my home. Other people can have whatever rules they want in their homes."

I couldn't believe she would even remotely begin the slightest attempt to defend him. We'd discussed prejudice in my family often, frowned upon it, and condemned it long before I came out as gay and added another dimension to the dynamic of tolerance. However, I had just violated one of the cardinal rules in my mom's family tradition. My mom always taught that the guest was king in our home.

Mom's holiday rules were weird like that. For example, start with the candy dish or nuts or hors d'oeuvres set out on an end table for guests on a holiday. My mother's rule was that in our home, we, the kids, were never to eat those treats because they were for the guests, but if we were the guests in someone else's home, we were still not to eat them because they were there for decoration or not to be eaten because it would ruin our dinner. Home or away, we never got the goodies.

Same with conversation: the rule was to swallow your feelings, your sensibilities, and your manners if the guest was in your home. The major goal was to have the guest be comfortable. Or if you were a guest in someone else's home, you were to remain silent because it was their home, and we were to follow their rules.

No possible way for us to eat or enjoy the good stuff or say what we thought or felt.

Yeah, well, I love my mom, but as far as I could see, her holiday rules were full of shit. The candy or nuts or hors d'oeuvres would never be eaten by anyone.

The rules of politeness extend both ways. In my home, there were limits, and Edgar had reached his.

The first time I met him, I'd taken an instant dislike to him. The first sentence he spoke included a racist comment.

Edgar and his family were involved in Republican party politics up to their well-filled martini glasses.

At that holiday dinner, after glaring Veronica to silence, I turned my steely gaze back to her eventual husband. He finally lowered his eyes and mumbled, "Okay."

My mother jumped in and began a conversation with my oldest brother, Lionel, about one of his son's hockey games and talk drifted off.

Edgar was just such a shit. My brother-in-law never let up in a real way.