Michele Fritzler is the sister of my first love, Barry Henriot who died of a brain aneurysm when I was 22 and he was 25 back in 1982. After his death I "adopted" his mom (Ruth) and father (Al) and had dinner with them every Sunday for a few years until Ruth and Al moved up to Oregon to be closer to their daughter, Michele, in 1991. Barry and Michele's dad, Al died in 1994.The rain came down in heavy drops and in only moments, Michele’s hair and clothes were drenched. Living in Oregon you’d think by now she would always be prepared with a ready umbrella but she had rushed out of the house today late and distracted by all the things she needed to get done.
Even though I have only seen Michele less than a hand full of few times, we have come to accept each other as "sisters" because of our mutual love for her family and especially Barry. He has been gone for so long that there is barely anyone remaining in her life that ever knew him; making his existence in the past that much more unreal. It was with panic last December that I realized that I had lost her mom's mailing address and phone number and was desperately hoping that I would get her annual Christmas card so I could tell her that my book was going to be published with a dedication in it to Barry that I had put in there more almost 30 years ago.
Now rivulets of cold rain water were beginning to run down inside her collar and drench her from the inside out. She needed to take cover. To her right was a revolving door leading into a restaurant and without a second thought she ducked in for a quick respite and a cup of hot chocolate to warm her up.
The site that greeted her eyes paralyzed and completely disoriented her. She blinked, rubbed her eyes and shook her head, her mouth gaping as her surroundings refused to change back into reality. Before her was the living room of her Huntington Beach home the way it looked when she had lived there with her brother, Barry. Immediately tears sprang into her eyes with the familiar ache that clutched her heart.
“Is that you Michele?” sang a voice from the kitchen. The beloved voice sent a thrill through her heart and her voice caught in her throat. Had she fallen unconscious? Was she having a dream? Having received no response, Ruth poked her head through the doorway. “Cat got your tongue?” she grinned at her dumbstruck daughter.
Michele’s mouth moved but no sound would come out as she stared at the face of her dear mother who had passed away just under a year ago. At that moment a figure walked up behind her and pinched her in the ribs, making her scream. She whirled around and standing there alive and as if he had never aged, was her brother Barry.
He grinned at her and gave her a bear hug but there was no feedback from the hearing aids he used to always wear. He stepped back and pointed at his head with a lopsided grin. “I hear great now!”
Michele’s eyes traveled hungrily up and down the length of him. Same wavy brown hair, twinkly eyes, mischievous grin, dimples and plaid flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up as if 25 plus years had never passed. The tears now spilled down her cheeks unabated and a sob of joy caught in her throat. With a look of understanding compassion on his face, Barry enfolded her into his arms and let her sob. Michele could barely hear the familiar footsteps behind her on the floor and then her mom’s arms were about her.
“Al, just don’t sit there watching the game, get in here!” Ruth yelled. At that, Michele pulled back and turned around to see her father stride towards them, his arms held out wide. She flew into them, crying even harder.
“There now,” soothed her mom in her wonderful accent. “Do you really want to spend your entire visit with us crying? You’re scaring Sonny!”
“Meooooww!” agreed the gorgeous Himalayan cat, entering the room. This was all just too much!
“I don’t understand!” was all Michele could manage, shaking uncontrollably. Al, Ruth, Barry and even Sonny all stared at her in sympathy. “Am I dreaming or dead?”
“Neither!” chorused all (except Sonny) in unison. “This is a gift, sis.” Explained Barry gesturing to the family dinner table laden with a Thanksgiving turkey and all the fixings. “The Lord thought you’d enjoy one more day and meal with us all together again.”
Michele clutched at her heart. It was all too much to take in and yet she couldn’t deny it was what she had secretly longed for more often than she could say but there was still something missing. A lot of “somethings”. As if on cue, the doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it!” cried Barry with a wink in his sister’s direction and bounded over to the door. He opened it up to reveal Michele’s husband, Dave, and all their kids.
“Uncle Barry!” they all shrieked, not the least bit shocked or bewildered. Barry hugged and pounded Dave on the back with glee and hugged each of Michele’s kids in turn as if he had known them all his life. They in turn hugged his neck with equal glee and then everyone circled around the table and grabbed each other’s hands.
“Barry, would you lead us all in thanks to the Lord?” smiled Ruth, winking at Michele.
“I was hoping you’d ask!” Barry grinned. At that everyone bowed their heads as Michele’s beloved brother led them all in a prayer of thanksgiving for a reunited family that was separated only by the very thinnest veil of eternity.