Brendan was a gifted child who matured into a young man of great accomplishment. In high school he was captain of several sports, chairman of many civic and charitable organizations and at the top of every academic category known to civilized man. As a biology major considering medical school, he spent his junior year in Mercedes, Uruguay. Dartmouth loved sending its more motivated students to out-of-the-way locales. The more downtrodden the country and people, the more exotic the resume, the better the job offers later on.
Between sympathizing with Uruguay's ongoing political disputes with the neighboring bullies of Argentina and Brazil and apologizing for America's war-mongering behavior, he studied the yerba mate plant from cultivation to its final stages as a natural elixir. Towards the end of his sabbatical, he and four friends drove one thousand miles across Argentina to the Chilean border. Their objective was to climb some of the lesser Andean peaks surrounding Mt. Aconcagua. Of the five, only Gabrielle Cerracatto, the fiancée of Brendan's best friend, survived the surprise blizzard and subsequent avalanches. She lost several toes, fingers and her nose to frostbite. Two bodies were recovered; Brendan's was not one of them.
Ed proudly served his nation in the army quartermaster corps during the Viet Nam conflict. In 1970 he took the postal worker exam. Thanks to his military service, he moved up the list and was posted to Brattleboro, Vermont where he delivered mail on foot to the downtown business district. In 1990, due to lower back issues, he transferred to a motor route, even going so far as buying a used, right-hand drive vehicle to make his life easier. The glory years were when Brendan was the star athlete on the gridiron, basketball court and baseball diamond for Brattleboro High. Every day, as he delivered the mail, he basked in parental glory. When Brendan gave the valedictorian address, he defied tradition and had his parents stand next to him as he extolled their sacrifices for him.
Brendan's mother met Ed at a contra dance on the final night of the Cheshire County Fair. She joked that he had two left feet, but she had two right ones so they were a matched pair. She worked the supermarket checkout stations for many years until Shur-Fine was bought out by Hannaford, who then promoted her to the deli department. She loved the assignment, but sometimes the pressure during the holidays got to her. Customers had the audacity to come right up to the counter and want a party platter for twelve on the spot. They had no idea how much time it took to prepare something like that. So, when Brendan left high school, she transferred back to checkout where she could banter with her friends and neighbors and cut down on her hours.
When word of Brendan's death came via cell phone from the State Department, Ed was delivering on Marlboro Road. Somehow he finished the route and then went home to break the news to Rose.
In the third grade he received a certificate of participation for his role at the end of year field day games in Prospect Park. Brendan's brother's father glued it to an eight by ten inch piece of plywood, then layered it with coats of shellac. In two weeks it turned yellow, evolved to orange after a month before finally settling on a dark brown. In high school there were some perfect attendance awards, but no accolades for sports, music, clubs or academics. When Brendan was fifteen he received a new mountain bike. Brendan's twelve year-old brother was given Brendan's old bicycle.
In the room they shared, Brendan's brother watched Brendan's wall slowly succumb, like a mold gone wild, to many plaques and row upon row of trophies and college pennants, tokens of esteem from schools anticipating his choosing them.
The year Brendan died, Brendan's brother entered Green Mountain Community College. Of five courses, he failed three and earned a "D" in two others. The lone bright spot was a "B+" in an elective, College Success Strategies, a one-credit course intended to ease the transition from high school to college. The main requirement was attendance, something at which Brendan's brother excelled.
Brendan's death was difficult, but Ed and Rose coped with it stoically, though depression was a near constant companion. The hardest part was that no body was ever recovered. There was the news of his death, and three months later a battered box of his personal effects was delivered by UPS. Thought was given to a memorial service, but it never materialized, possibly because Rose always held out hope that one day Brendan would come limping through the door, having been rescued by some natives who had nursed him back to health. To compound their grief, there was the Brendan's brother who, though never a success, was now in a downward spiral of "unaccomplishment", which, though not a dictionary word, certainly applies in this instance.
Since leaving Green Mountain, his daily itinerary was a trek from the bedroom to the couch and back to bedroom with occasional use of the kitchen and bath. He seemed happy with this arrangement, perturbed only when discussion of potential employment or education reared its ugly head. After four months of frustration a family meeting was declared.
Ed led off the discussion. "We want you to know that you're still our son."
"And we love you," Rose was quick to add.
"These past few months have been very hard on your mother and me. We've tried our best. You might think that we always doted on Brendan, and that's probably true, and, if we have, well, that's water over the dam. The point is that some things have to change around here." Ed glanced at Rose, gratified by her emphatic nod.
"First, we don't like what's going on in Brendan's room. That online gaming material is starting to take over. Your mother says that his bed is now a dumping ground for your dirty clothes and computer junk. So, we think it best if you move out. Mother wants to put Brendan's room back into pristine condition, just like it was when he was with us. Call it a shrine if you want, but that's what's going to happen. You are welcome to use the living room couch until you find a place of your own."
"We always go to bed by nine-thirty anyway, so you can watch TV or read all night if you want; it won't bother us," Rose added cheerfully.
"If you need a down payment or security deposit, we can help out. It goes without saying that the bed and desk on one side of the room is yours to take with you.
Rose, ever the diplomat, added a tag line. "Once you have your own place and are settled in with a job, you might consider going back to school. We could help out again."
Rose's last comment was given a disapproving look by Ed. "What your mother means is that, if you have some success, then we might see our way clear to support that in some way." Ed paused, waiting for some reaction or reply.
Brendan's brother stood up. His parents' message was loud and clear. He moved across the room to the stairs, stopped and turned, "I'm going to Uruguay on the next tramp steamer."
"Oh, Jesus God! " Rose's face was contorted as if she was having another kidney stone attack.
"I'm taking Tiffany Eddy with me; I think we're in love."
Ed went to the wing back chair to comfort Rose. "Tiffany Eddy is underage, a sophomore in high school for god's sake and always on the honor roll. I'm phoning Sam just to call your bluff."
"Tiffany hasn't told anyone about us. She failed algebra this year. She was thinking of suicide, but I talked her out of it online. That's how we became so close. No one can stop our love once we get to South America."
"You are killing your mother. Do you know that! As if she hasn't suffered enough these past months; as if we all haven't! What possesses you to say such hurtful things?"
Brendan's brother began a slow climb up the stairs. "I'm going to get into the yerba mate business down there, then import the drink into the States. Sell it from kiosks in malls like Orange Julius. It will be all the rage."
"We want you out of this house right now! I don't care where you go. You're not fit to sleep under this roof. How can you mock his memory!" The vein in Ed's forehead had turned dark purple, like a day-old bruise. He was torn between hating Brendan's brother and tending to Rose, who was having difficulty breathing. Upstairs, out of sight but with hearing range, came an even-toned monologue, as if thinking out loud.
"I won't take too much. It's summer down there. They say water goes down the drain counterclockwise. Tiffany and I will start a family. A boy and a girl would be great, but you can't always have what you want. We'll see what Montevideo is like. Tramp steamers can't be that much. If I have to, I'll work. Maybe they have a Sears; that will do until I have my yerba franchise set up. I can always send for Tiffany once I've established a beachhead . . . ."
Downstairs each sentence was like a burst from an automatic weapon that riddled the two lifeless forms on the couch that clutched each other for protection. There were hostages with no hope of rescue on the immediate horizon.
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