Nothing to be done…

April 15, 2009

I forgot how awful funerals were.

A friend of mine died a few days ago.  Well, maybe not friend.  I don’t know what she was.  She was someone who meant something to me for a brief moment of time – a crush or a fascination – something innocent and dirty all at once.

She died in a car accident a week ago – a truck smashed into her car at 70 miles an hour.  I’ve heard conflicting reports about how she died – “at the scene” and “instantly.”  I prefer to think of it as “instantly.”

I drove to the funeral home this morning and stood among a throng of mourners.  Family members wept into handkerchiefs, friends leaned their heads together and cried softly to one another.  Old men in black silently directed them all, and as I watched them, all I could think of were cowboys – mirthless and silent, almost surly in their professionalism, sitting astride their horses driving a lowing herd.

I knew Amy for a brief time in college – and in that time she was bright and vibrant and lovely – her hair always moving, caught by the wind, even when there was no wind at all.  This morning, when I looked down into her coffin, she was drained and waxen – her skin shimmering slightly like a polished apple.  Her hair was dim and dull – yellow rather than gold.

I shook her husband’s hand – they were recently married – and I said something to him that I can’t remember now.  I think it was about my condolences… but for all I know, I could have been commenting on the carpet.  He looked lost – bewildered – like a little boy.  And it broke my fucking heart.

A year ago, while amidst preparations for a book that I’m not writing anymore (big surprise), I surrounded myself with books about embalming and the funeral industry.  I know the restorative process step-by-step.  And it’s grim.  Looking at Amy this morning, I could see every single stitch, every glob of glue.  I’d like nothing more than to unsee that.

I’m at work now – moments before class – and I’ve got to go stand in front of a room full of immortal teenagers.  We’re going over the Romantics – the topic will be death, as usual.  They’ll all bridle and scoff, like they always do.  I’ll probably spend the rest of my afternoon quietly reading… maybe writing.

I think about my students, and then I think about Amy’s students.  She was a middle school teacher.  I saw a lot of them today – scrawny, awkward pre-teens, all of them clutching tight to their shattered mothers.  Amy might have been their first experience with death.  It makes me sad to think that about her – that her life could be reduced down to an event like that in another’s.  But maybe that’s all we ever really are – just events in the lives of those who come in contact with us.

I don’t know.  I have to go teach.

So it goes.


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