It’s an autumn day; one of those afternoons when the trees will color code themselves: red for maples, yellow for birch and so on. It’s one of those schizophrenic weather days when my skin lays damp under my sweatshirt because the hot sun is beating down on me, but my eyes are watering from the chill in the wind. All in all, it’s a pleasant day to talk to the dead.
I drove up to Spring Hill Cemetery, with its iconic golden arch entryway, and it’s beautiful view of the skyline of Downtown Pittsburgh, and walked up the main pathway, and stopped by a small magnolia tree. I m looking down at a round grave marker that reads: LIZZIE POWERS, 1976-1996 BELOVED SISTER AND FRIEND.
This is all I have to remember Lizzie. She wasn’t only my best friend, but she was my sister. I was with her that day when she died, and I remember it as if it were yesterday.
It was a humid august day; one of those days when only a Pittsburgher could endure the humidity. Lizzie and I were swimming, when it started getting cloudy. Thunder began rumbling in the distance.
Lizzie rolled over and said to me, “C’mon Jimmy, it’s gonna’ storm! We better head inside!”
I looked at her and said, “No it’s not. It’s going to blow over, see!” I pointed to a spot in the clouds where blue sky was still showing
We decided to stay a little longer. Lizzie was a pretty girl; thin and taller, with long brown hair and milk chocolate brown eyes. My friends all thought I was nuts for wanting to hang around my sister, but I didn’t care. She was all I had.
After about 15 minutes Lizzie got out to go to the bathroom. As she walked across the yard something weird happened. Her hair started to lift upwards, all by itself. I yelled to her, “Lizzie, something’s up with your hair!”
She stopped, turned around and looked at me with a puzzled expression. Then, BANG! A light brighter than the surface of the sun made me slam myself down onto the pool deck, and it was immediately followed by a thunderous sound so loud it was deafening. After it was over I looked up to see Lizzie lying face-down on the grass.
I ran over to her and picked her up and screamed, “Lizzie! No! Wake Up! Do you hear me?!”
I started panicking. I ran inside the house and dialed 911. I screamed into the phone, “Help! My sister’s hurt! She’s not moving! I think she was hit by lightning! HELP!”
The operator asked me our address and I screamed it into the receiver. Less than five minutes later the paramedics and the firemen came. They ran right to her, and started giving her CPR. I had a bad feeling in my heart, like someone had torn a piece of it off, and threw it away.
Lizzie was pronounced dead at the scene. By this time my neighbors started coming over, wondering what all of the commotion was about. I screamed, and cried. Meanwhile, my father was nowhere to be found. I really didn’t care. The only thing he could’ve done at this point was make everything worse.
The funeral was hard. We had her laid out at Seskey’s Funeral Home, not 2 blocks from our house, the same place where we had my mother’s funeral. All around her casket were Magnolia blossoms, which she loved. In the casket was her favorite book, a crucifix, and her favorite stuffed animal from when she was little, a small teddy bear that mom gave her. She was wearing mom’s heart necklace, and the fake diamond bracelet I got her last year for Christmas. It said “Sis” on it.
I never stood more than 5 feet away from her casket. I never really was the emotional type, but I cried. All I did was cry.
My Grandma and my Aunt Rita planned her funeral mass for 10AM at St. Boniface Church. Father Dan served the mass, and afterwards we went to Spring Hill Cemetery to bury her.
I look at the tombstone and sigh. I cry, and as I’m crying I say to her, “Lizzie, forgive me. We should’ve gone back inside, Lizzie Bear. Even now, all these years later, I wish you were here, so you could meet your wonderful nephew, Dillon and your niece, Lizzie.”
I drop to my knees, crying; not something you should expect for a 40 yr old man. I take the roses that are in my hand, and set them on the grave.
I say, “Happy 36th birthday, Lizzie Bear.” I get up and head to my car. It wasn’t bad enough that I had to deal with her dying, but what happened after the funeral was even worse.
After everyone left and the house was silent, I was lost. I’d sit in my room watching TV. I hadn’t talked to anyone in days, and I hardly came out of my room in a week. The next day I walked downstairs to get something to drink. My father stumbled through the front door yelling, “Jimmy, where the hell is your sister?”
I didn’t know what to tell him. Didn’t he know? He grabbed me up, looked me in the eye, and said to me, “Boy, look at me when I talk to you! Where the hell is Lizzie?!”
His breath smelled like straight beer and booze. I knew what was coming. He slammed me down, and punched me. He threw me into the refrigerator, and slammed me into the wall. I had had enough. I yelled in his face, “Get off of me you disgusting, fat drunk!”
I then did something I never expected myself to do. I punched him right in the face. He hit the floor screaming. His nose gushed blood. I screamed at him, “What kind of fat piece of shit doesn’t even show up to his daughter’s funeral? Huh?” Getting angrier, I kicked him and screamed, “You’ve done nothing but hurt us, and beat us since mom died, not to mention what you did to Lizzie!”
The next thing I did was something I wanted to do for years. I did it for Lizzie. I kicked him so hard in his private area that he squealed like a pig. I yelled in his face, “That’s for Lizzie and Mom you disgusting bastard!”
I ran upstairs and grabbed the little key that was taped to the back of my bed’s headboard, and then I ran out the door.
I ran the 3 miles to my grandma’s house in Troy Hill at a full sprint. When I walked up the steps, I heard her voice coming from the living room because the window was open. I put the key in the slot and turned it, opening the door. I walked inside, and found my grandmother crying softly. I walked up to her, sat down and said, “Grammy, whats wrong?”
She said, “It’s okay dear. I just miss Lizzie.” My grandmother and Lizzie were very close. She wiped her eyes with a Kleenex and looked at me. She said, “Jimmy, are you all right? You look like you’ve been hit by a PAT bus.” I sighed and told her the whole story. It only seemed to work her up. She got up and said, shaking, “Oh god. This is enough. I told your mother that he was screwed up.” She seemed to be talking to herself, but after a couple minutes she calmed down and sighed. Then, she walked over to the phone and called the police. Without saying another word I walked upstairs to the spare bedroom where Lizzie and me used to spend the night. I pulled a set of clothes out of the dresser, got changed and laid on the bed.
As I turn onto the Parkway North, I see the skyline of Pittsburgh disappear in my rearview mirror. On my right side I see St. Boniface Church, where we had Lizzie’s funeral. I remember when we were kids we used to walk to the big festival that the church held every July. I remember that last carnival that we went to, in July of ’96.
“Lizzie, it’s too hot to walk,” I moaned. I wasn’t in the mood to walk all the way down to the fair in 90 degree weather.
Suddenly, I heard dad’s motorcycle start up. The thing hadn’t worked since I was six. Now Lizzie was peeling around the corner of the house and stopped right in front of me.
She threw me a helmet and said, “C’mon, let’s go!”
I just stood there dumbfounded. She said, “My boyfriend knows how to fix motorcycles. His dad owns a shop.”
I nodded and threw the helmet on. I jumped on the back of the bike, and we sped off. We flew through the side streets of Spring Hill, and sped through the projects. When we got onto East Street, she flew in between traffic. I had never seen her like that. It was fun. When we arrived at the fair we met our friends and we went to have fun.
Lizzie always had a knack for singing, so of course she signed up for karaoke. What I didn’t expect was her pulling me up on stage to sing our favorite song, Thriller by Michael Jackson. Lizzie always told me I had a beautiful voice, but I preferred to dance. We both got up there and had the whole festival dancing and singing along.
We had a great time. We rocked that whole stage; her long brown hair floating behind her like a tail and me flowing across the stage like a river. Her voice was like an angel next to mine, but afterwards she told me I sounded very good. After karaoke we decided to take a motorcycle ride to Mt. Washington, my mother’s home neighborhood.
We flew through downtown and across the Smithfield Street Bridge, and then we blasted up PJ McArdle Roadway to Mt. Washington. We stopped at one of the overlooks, then we visited mom’s grave at Mt. Washington Cemetery.
Lizzie knelt down beside the grave and put a couple of mountain laurels and a rose on her tombstone. What was weird about that moment is that we didn’t cry. I think it was because we physically couldn’t cry anymore.
When Lizzie and me returned home, there were two cop cars out front. We both looked at each other as if to say, ‘Not again’.
We walked in the house and found 2 Pittsburgh Police officers standing in the hallway. The one officer turned to Lizzie and said, “Ms. Powers?”
She sucked in a deep breath and said, “Derek, what did my dad do now?” By then we knew all of the Zone 1 police officers by first name. However, that was no ordinary officer. That officer was our cousin, Derek Morgan.
He said, “Lizzie, I’m afraid your father is in a lot of trouble. He assaulted a bartender at Lambro’s, stole a car, and resisted arrest. Not to mention that he attacked two police officers.”
We just looked at each other. This was a usual occurrence, especially after mom died. He went on one of his drinking rampages, and ended up getting put in jail.
Lizzie asked Derek, “How long is he gonna’ be held for, Derek? I mean, I have Jimmy here, and I don’t want to have to stay here by ourselves.”