death and awe

Posted on: March 4, 2013

One of my husband’s co-workers passed away. I’m sitting in the pew, holding David’s hand and staring at the mourning family’s tear-stained faces. I’ve never had someone close to me die. I’ve imagined it a few times, just to see if it would make me upset, but it really doesn’t. I know if David died, I’d probably throw up and join a convent, but I don’t know if I could deal with hundreds of people telling me how sorry they are. I feel like their condolences would offend his existence and I’d choke someone out.

The dead guy’s name is Henry and his wife is Melissa. She’s wearing black and some fancy old-school veil over her face. She’s standing at a lectern, trying to talk about how Henry was a great husband and a super father, that he will be dearly missed. She’s blubbering so much that spit and snot are pouring from her orifices. Her mother-in-law finally gets up to escort her away as Henry’s dad takes over with red-rimmed eyes. He clears his throat like a thousand times.

The only black dress I have has yellow flowers on it and I kind of feel like it might be a little too festive for the occasion. I keep smoothing it out over my lap and David leans over to ask me if I’m okay. I nod, not making eye contact, hoping that makes me seem more sad. All I want to do is stand up and tell everyone to get over it because people die and that’s just the way it is. Instead, I just count my little yellow flowers and wait for the service to finish so I can eat some pigs-in-a-blanket.

At the reception, everyone is walking up to Melissa, holding both of her hands in theirs and looking deep into her puffy blue eyes as they say sorry. Is she enjoying this? Does she want to be here? I feel like I should walk over there and say, “Look, chick. I know you hate this just as much as I do. Why don’t I take you out for a few drinks until you blackout?” I’m practically stuffing my face with cheese cubes and crackers, trying not to laugh because I’m imagining Melissa drunk and twirling her black cardigan above her head like a lasso.

David touches my right hip and when I turn to look at him, he’s got that look in his eye. No, not the sexy one. The stop-acting-like-a-jackass look and I nearly choke on the pepperjack. He says we don’t have to stay too much longer, he just wants to be polite. I tell him that I understand and watch him make his way over to the punch bowl. Henry’s dad is over there and David pats him on the back. Maybe I should try to be comforting. Maybe I should stop being so weird and act like everybody else.

I refill my plate before disappearing into a small study away from the bustle, leaving the door open just a crack. I turn around to behold a beautiful, red, wingback armchair on the right and a small window to the left, facing the garden. Most of the walls are bookshelves, packed tight with old-looking volumes and antique trinkets. I take a seat and make myself a little cracker, salami, cheese sammy. The room is silent except for the dull hum of those talking just outside.

I chew heartily, reminding myself that cheddar is why I could never be vegan. Suddenly, Melissa barges in, shutting the door behind her. My mouth is half open and she’s looking at me like she’s embarrassed to interrupt, but also mad that I found her hiding spot before she did. She sighs, walking over to the window with her arms folded over her chest. I’m willing her with my mind not to start weeping so I don’t feel like a dumbass. Of course, a bird decides to chirp a cheery little tune outside and Melissa turns on the waterworks.

Her back is to me when I roll my eyes, setting my plate on the desk next to me. I interlace my fingers in my lap and tilt back my head, eyes wandering over to a crinkly-looking white vase holding a few spindly sprigs with tiny leaves. It sits on a side table next to the window and to Melissa’s right. I notice that she’s looking at it too, sniffling and whimpering like a little girl. She wipes her nose with a tissue crumpled in her hand.

“It looks dead,” she whispers. Her brow furrows and she pulls her lips in between her teeth, stifling a sob.

I clear my throat and scratch my head. “You should eat something.” Melissa turns to look at me before I grab my plate and lean forward to hand it to her. She stares at the cheese and crackers like they’re fire ants, but accepts.

I listen to her nibble as I look back at the weird decorative piece, taking note of the droopy leaves and the vase looks like a paper bag that’s been crushed by impatient hands. “My grandma loved fake plants. They were all over her house and I always thought they were so stupid,” I say.

Melissa wipes a few crumbs from her mouth and asks, “Is she still around?”

I’m staring now, tracing the veins of each and every leaf with my eyes as I shake my head. “No, she’s not.”

“I’m so sorry,” Melissa says. She places the empty plate next to the vase on the table.

I look her in the eyes and stand to face her. “No, I’m sorry. I’m kind of a jerk at funerals and I’m sure it’s obvious. I just don’t like how sad people get because it makes it seem like death could have been prevented. That makes people feel guilty. I don’t want you to feel like that.”

Melissa smiles as the right corner of her mouth trembles. “Thank you.”

Photograph by: Whitney Ott
Written by: Natasha Akery

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