When I first wrote about Alex in the January 19 Political Fix he was curled up in an ICU bed de-toxing with liver damage. Roo, the dog he always wanted, had just died at a very young age. But I felt certain this was the end of a string of bad luck for Alex and that he was going to live. Roo, tail wagging furiously at heaven’s gate, was just going to have to wait.
Alex lived long enough to come home for about six weeks before landing back into the ICU. When he was home, I naively thought he was going to get better every day and had secured him a space in an alcohol rehabilitation center for when he was able to go.
Alex never got well enough to go to rehab. He fought for his life for nine days in the ICU and died Sunday March 12 of liver failure. By the time you read this column he will be buried.
I didn’t think it was fair he died so young, as most parents who lose a child are destined to believe. I didn’t think it was fair that my son never got a chance to live as an adult without the chains of alcohol. With counseling and rehab maybe he would have stopped drinking or maybe not, but at only 28, I thought the guy deserved a second chance.
He didn’t drink for fun and he didn’t start drinking every day until he was in his 20’s. He suffered from either bipolar or manic depression and drank to keep the demons at bay. Sometimes it worked and sometimes id didn’t
When Alex’s liver stopped working and the doctor took him off the ventilator he lasted for about two and a half hours. Joseph, I, his siblings, his fiancé, and friends stood around his bed and held him. After he took his last breath Chuck, his older brother, gave him a kiss on the forehead and cried. At that moment I wasn’t sad for myself but for Chuck who lost his best friend in the world. I felt sad for Amanda, his fiancé who would never be his wife and bear his children. I was sad for Alex because he was never allowed to live to his potential, or just have a normal life, like you and me.
But this is also a story about how he lived.
On a very hot morning in August back in 1988, without the luxury of air conditioning, I started feeling contractions. My labor progressed so quickly that my husband and I delivered Alex ourselves on the bathroom floor. Joseph tied and cut the cord so he could hold the baby as I shuffled to bed. Alex had been delivered so fast that his little cheeks were pink and slightly bruised from his abrupt entry into the world.
“Chuck” was Alex’s first word. They fed each other their food, shared a bunk bed, played with each other’s toys and went to the same schools through junior high. I remember climbing up to the top bunk to make their bed and discovered a hole through the mattress. I asked Chuck why he dug a hole through the mattress and he said he wanted to watch Alex as he slept and pass him toys at night.
From the day of his birth Alex was a worry wart and cautious. But Chuck paid no heed, cajoling him into dangerous but typical boyhood adventures that I learned about many years later. Alex started talking before he could walk, and unlike his finicky brother, was an easy going eater. As he grew he was just as an easy going traveler and was my road trip buddy when we lived in Cabo San Lucas. We took weekend road trips, while listening to Shakira and Disney tunes, to La Paz, El Triunfo, Todos Santos and isolated beaches.
During grade school, Alex was our best student. He was the only one of our kids who we didn’t get “the call” from the head mistress about while attending a strict private school in Cabo.
Even though they were so close in age, they had their own set of friends. But it was a given that Chuck’s best friends would be Alex’s best friends and vice versa, which resulted in many a full dinner table on Friday and Saturday nights.
As an adult Alex was not just the life of the party but authentically quick-witted. For most of his friends Alex was the funniest person they knew. He always came in first for trivia night and did stand- up comedy at Barmaggedon in Tulare. He played the piano and guitar, playing cover songs and his own compositions.
Alex’s sense of humor, amazing hair and beautiful green eyes lead to the inevitable – he was a chick magnet. In his short life he had four serious girlfriends and trysts in between. Towards the end he was ready to settle down, buy a home, and marry Amanda, the woman who spent every day by his bed in the hospital. She slept in a metal chair in the ICU until the nurses threw her out.
You can separate people into two camps–takers and givers–and Alex was a giver. He didn’t have much but whatever he had he shared. He said he couldn’t even remember how many people he helped move houses or apartments. It was just a given that when someone needed a favor they knew Alex would help.
When 2014 rolled around I felt like the Universe was trying to erase Alex’s existence. For reasons we still do not understand, his grandparents kicked us out of our Lemon Cove house. Alex talked about bringing his children, our grandchildren, to his childhood home to spend the summers and holidays. Instead he was packing up, or throwing away, his own childhood belongings and leaving.
About a year after we had moved to a house in Exeter, his little room that was separate from the main house burned to the ground. He lost everything except the shorts he was wearing. He lost his childhood memorabilia, a cartoon strip he hoped to publish, and a huge portfolio of his artwork. He lost the engagement ring he hid from Amanda in the rafters.
A little after Christmas he turned yellow and unbeknownst to any of us his liver was failing. Then on December 31, the dog he loved, Roo, was run over and killed by a neighbor. By the time he went to the hospital he didn’t have much left in the way of material things.
It would be a stretch to say that the eviction from his home in Lemon Cove hastened his death, but it’s just as true to say that he should have spent the end of his life in his home instead of a rental with nothing.
The Universe was not kind but did not erase him. His father is wearing white to his funeral to symbolize that Alex was pure and good. Alex left an imprint on the hearts of his siblings, friends and dozens of strangers with whom he crossed paths on train trips, parties, concerts, or just out on walks.
And Roo didn’t have to wait after all.
I’ll always have five children even after March 12. The difference is that it’s going to take a long time to get over that nagging feeling that someone is missing when we sit down at the dinner table.
I love you Alex.