• The Death of Cliff Huxtable / Chapter 4: Sondra

    The day falls into night.

    Strangers and family continue to drift in and out of the Huxtable house, offering their love and condolences to all of the present Huxtable family members…all except Denise, who hasn't made it back from the cemetery. Sondra might worry about her if it wasn't the regular sort of thing Denise loves to do. Sondra has always been the more responsible and considerate of the two eldest siblings. Despite her desire to be a bit more adventurous, Sondra would never be the wild, uninhibited one Denise excelled at being. Her version of wild and uninhibited came off stiff and staged. She too wanted to see the world and fly off to the ends of the earth, but Sondra never stepped off the ledge for that sort of thing.

    Her dad was the only one who thought her jokes were funny. He made Sondra feel special that way. Despite being the oldest, Sondra could never shake the feeling of being an after thought. Often, Sondra felt like the child who didn’t exist…the one without a childhood. Sandra spent her entire life as an adult. Being a child was lost on Sondra.

    Sitting in far off corners and crying on the shoulders of her friends were not an option for Sondra. She had to be the Claire Proxy. The second mother of the house, the grown one among the ones who will always be more impetuous and forever younger. No one reserved youth for Sondra.

    Standing on the front stoop of the family home, Sondra takes a rare moment for herself. She sits on the top step, leaving room for…whoever wanted to sit with her for a bit. No one comes. No one reaches for Sondra on the front stoop, crying hidden tears as not to make a fuss. More guest step up with a brief, “Oh Sondra…I’m so sorry for your loss,” as they continue into the house with warm jazz spilling out when the door cracks open. Sandra sits alone…and no one notices.

    (press play, lower volume, keep reading)

    A rain drop falls out of the sky, landing on Sondra’s right knee, at the same time a tear fell from her left eye. A sprinkle of tears fell upon her as her father’s favorite song, John Coltrane’s “After The Rain”, found open cracks in the doors, windows and walls of the their home, serenading Sondra on the front stoop. The delicate rain and the soft saxophone was proof, beyond a reasonable doubt for the second Huxtable attorney, that her father was present…with her. She made room for her father, and he showed up…for her.

    The front door swings open as friends from Claire’s book club make their way out on to the porch, down the stairs and to the street. Having paid their respects and set dates for a long overdue book discussion, Claire walks the ladies out and bid them good night. Once the women all clear the stoop, Claire notices her eldest,
         “Sitting in the rain…you’ll catch cold. Come inside.”
         “The rain will let up. It always does.” 
    Claire looks out onto the darkening neighborhood,
         “Did your sister say where she was going…or if she was coming back here? And where is Rudy? I haven’t seen her in a while either.”
    Sondra, annoyed she must answer for her sisters, again, gives no answer. Unlike Sondra to ignore Claire, Claire presses again,
         “Sondra…did you hear me ask you…?”
         “I heard you mother,” interrupts Sondra. Surprising herself with her snap back, Sondra attempts to fix the rude exchange, “I’m sorry Mom. I…I…need you to see that I am hurting too. I need you to see me hurt first.”

    Claire is left towering over Sondra, at a loss for words. Sondra is rarely defiant. This was a tone Claire would expect from Vanessa, perhaps even Rudy, but never Sondra. Softly, Claire continues,
         “Mother. I need to be broken. Even if it’s just for this one moment, I need to be broken. I need to let someone else have an answer or know where a sibling is or try the case or feed the husband or raise the kids or be perfect! I’m not you! I need to be broken! I need…”

    Sondra’s tears break free, finally. Claire swoops down and envelops her daughter in her arms, shielding her from the light rain that picks up slightly.
         “You don’t have to be perfect baby. We are not perfect and it is in our imperfection will we find grace You are graceful. You are not perfect. You are full of grace. You give of your time and your care. You helped me raise your siblings. Your father and I never forgot you or overlooked you…ever.  I am so sorry you ever felt that way. That falls on my shoulders. That falls on your father’s shoulders. But you should never, ever believe we love you less. We have loved you the longest.”

    Sondra grabs her mother closer and the most selfishly she has ever in her life. Claire clings to Sondra as desperately. Sondra weeps into her mother’s chest,
         “I have never wanted to disappoint you. My whole life, I have worked to make sure you didn’t forget me. I fell behind Denise, the wild one, and Theo, the male one, and Vanessa, the smart one, and Rudy, the youngest one. I thought by being a lawyer, you would see me…that by marrying an aspiring doctor, just as you had, you would see me. I met Elvin and even Elvin and his chauvinistic views on women overstepped me for your attention. YOU changed Elvin. And then the twins came along and it’s been about my family since then. Rudy became the attorney you thought I should have been. Elvin became the doctor Dad was most proud of and I became a law professor…”
         “Continuing to grace people with your generosity and wisdom,” finishes Claire. “You shape the lives, the character, the future of not only your own children but the children of countless other families. That is your gift, Sondra.”

    Sondra can hear her mother’s pride. Claire wipes tears and raindrops from Sondra’s face and continues,
         “My dear child. My sweet eldest, you can never lose favor in my eyes. You cried in my arms when the house was silent with the echo of solitude. You were my company when your father worked 24 and 36 hour rotations. You have always been my best friend. You, more than anyone, prepared me to be the courtroom attorney I became, for you were the only one who would sit and let me practice my opening and closing arguments.” In quintessential Attorney Claire Huxtable fashion for emphasis and Sondra’s entertainment, “Let the record show…that you have been the greatest and most important partner this lawyer has ever had. You are an angel…my angel. My eldest love of my many loves in that room. No one…no one…can replace you. Ever.”

    The rain slows to a stop. The two women take a moment to look up and smile, as if at Cliff, sitting high above them. 
         “There was a night, many years ago, when you came home from Princeton. I remember you knocking at the door and Cliff, in his excitement, hopped up, looked out window and yelled, “Who is it?!”
         “Yeah…he did that nearly every time I came home and forgot my key.”
         “Yes, well, he loved replaying that joke every time you came home. He loved it because every time you answered, you would giggle a girlish laugh and said, ‘Daddy!’ He lived for that. Every…time. He lived for it. You were Daddy’s first girl…and he lived for you.

    Sondra regresses to eight years old, begins crying again and falls into her mother’s arms again. In this moment, just as Coltrane promised, after the rain, Sondra knew she was loved.

    Next: Chapter 5: Vanessa...Trigger Warning.

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