BY MAEGAN M. DUFFY I NOVEMBER 2, 2008
Alright. Let me set the scene for you. I don't think it was snowing when I woke up, but there was a definite frost in the air, like Mother Nature was one frigid bitch. It was a hard day, from not being able to sleep the night before to having to drive myself to that same terrible building we had your mother's wake at. You told me that when Grandma died it was like your life ended, and here we are now, exactly 49 months to the day you and I both sat here lamenting over lost time with your mother, that I'm doing the same about you with my sisters. Somehow this felt completely different from anything I could have prepared myself for.
Well, I, being the eternal optimist of the family, prepared for the earth shattering scene of seeing you cold, dead, and with a painted on face that looked nothing like you because the resident mortician thought that 'natural' meant 'street corner floozy' . But I also walked into the lobby of the funeral home with the thought that I'm not supposed to be in a room with you lying in some box with a picture of a younger, more alive you, or at least I'm not supposed to be doing it when I'm 22 years old.
How could a situation like this not be devastating? Why wasn't I crying? Me sitting there in a mismatched costume consisting of a black tuxedo shirt and pin striped slacks with checkered vans, flanked by my youngest sister who refuses to acknowledge you're gone and the middle one who was more concerned about her make-up than your level of morphine during that last week.
This isn't the most absurd picture of devastation ever created. That comes later.
When I was getting dressed this morning I committed my last act of daughterly devotion, I didn't put my hair in the Mohawk you hated. I know you hated my hair and my clothes and my general demeanor, and I thought if any day would be the day to not use sculpting clay to mold my hair, it would be today.
Right now I'm trying to focus on the different floral arrangements and who sent the biggest one. I almost wish there was another wake going on so I could wander among their people and see if everything that I was doing was normal. Because in this little packed room there's not much to do besides accept hugs and condolences from the few people who can recognize me, half of them don't. I consider this a good thing. The less I have to talk the slimmer the chance of anyone smelling the pint of whiskey on my breath.
Most of these people I recognize from my childhood spent sitting in torn vinyl restaurant booths, building towers from individual packets of creamer and knocking them down while you waited tables for 10 hours a day so I could have the newest video game or bicycle. Or my asshole sister could have her goddamn Disney movies. There aren't many surprises here today, everyone was expected to crawl out of their corner of obscurity to mourn the loss of the bitchiest friend they ever had. Gina's here, I haven't seen her in probably 10 years. And there's Cathy and Lisa, people who you hadn't spoke to in a good five years. You would have thought cancer and a stroke would have made these people come visit, but I suppose you hooked up to oxygen in an ICU room isn't as glamorous as hobnobbing around an open casket.
Somehow this is different than I expected it to be, not that I had any real expectation. There are no stories of you beating up boys or running the streets with your sisters like your own version of the Hell's Angels. They're not even playing any Michael Bolton No one really thought out the music for the wake. My dad did send some kind of plant with a note that said 'No they're not roses...RIP smart ass', and your husband did put a sign in the box with you that said 'Cowboy up!', that's kind of fucked up if you ask me, but if I was expecting anything, it was that.
About halfway through the night I had to go find some diazepam to lull myself back into an emotionless state. And lets be honest here, it's not like it was difficult to get any kind of pharmaceutical I wanted in this room. Your sister is carrying around in her Prada clutch a Ziploc bag of your painkillers and anti-anxiety pills she swiped from your cabinet at home, and your cousin has 4 bottles of the stuff I'm looking for shoved into her pockets with snotty tissues and scrunchies, I pretty much have all the pills I'll need for the weekend in a span of 30 seconds.
But really, no one is too concerned about me, I'm the face of sullen introverted despair, if I don't draw attention to myself everyone will leave me alone. I think of myself as a 1950s debutante who just caught her escort banging her mom in the bathroom, smile for the rotary club and drown your sorrows in gin when you get home sweetie. 'The portrait of a woman is to show her feelings to no one but herself,' whenever you would say that to me I would try to figure out what Lifetime movie you got it from.
The rest of the night was more of the same; nod, accept hug, take pill, repeat.
Then my friends showed up. I'm actually upset that you never really got to know any of them except for the occasional drunk dial and offers of dinner dates at Outback. The only break in monotony I got was watching the obvious tension between the newly reattached but not to each other Puke and Kwan. And I know you were always wary of me associating with girls who allowed themselves to be named after regurgitation or who proudly wore sweatshirts with the name Dinger or Stoner emblazoned on them, but they're all good people. I really think they're going to be there for me through all of this, and you of all people know I'm not the easiest to talk to or figure out. Hell, in the last 423 days of your life you didn't even see me cry.
Now your nieces and nephews are playing 'Find the lesbian', its like Where's Waldo and it happens whenever anyone is in the presence of a girls' rugby team. Except this isn't like a pride parade or a softball game, no one is wearing nametags or t-shirts denoting which one plays for the pink team. I guess my friends are letting them take their mind off what's in the box, except little Earl is being the kind of guy who hits on girls at a funeral home; a creepy one.
Now it's time to close up shop and go out for drinks with my friends to forget about what's in that box, well drinks for me anyways. Guess I'll see you in the morning.
See, now this is what it's supposed to be like; oversleep, fall down the stairs on some ice, bust my ass on the concrete, and not be able to read my eulogy. It's supposed to be the worst day of my life, so it has to start with a panic attack and a series of unfortunate but expected events. Thank god you gave birth to my sister who's devoid of emotion, and can read small sentences. It also helped that she held the attention of an entire room, she ate that shit up.
Now remember that extremely absurd picture of devastation I was talking about earlier? This is it now. Aunt Eileen in some hippie-esque hoop skirt and hiking boots, Aunt Midge dressed to the nines as the poster girl for classy grief, Aunt Fran crying softly right along with Aunt Nani who has that glossed over look in her eye like they upped her risperdol, and me and Shay wedged right in the middle on some faux Victorian era couch, her in Juicy Couture and me in the same wrinkled outfit from the night before smelling like bar and deodorant. I'm sure you're thinking to yourself right now the same thing I am...how is it possible we are all from the same tree?
I bet you're wondering where your other daughter and your missing brother and sister are; in the hallway obviously. Paige doesn't accept the fact that you're in that box, and neither does Aunt Lyn or Uncle Earl. So they're sitting on some equally uncomfortable faux antique couch in the lobby playing cards and drinking coffee. So while I listen to your niece talk about some homeless guy who only got an orange for Christmas, and how you always ate your orange, yeah I'm not entirely sure what she's talking about either, I curse to myself that I didn't put some Jameson into my coffee, all this talk of oranges and homelessness isn't the picture I want in my mind during the last moments I'll ever see you. Ah, alright, time to do the final walk-by; kind of like a drive-by but without the AKs and Ice-T.
We sit until everyone else walks by, immediate family goes last, I remember this from Grandma's. So I'll just sit here looking at my hands until it's my turn to get up, I can do this. Oh shit, 'Hero' by Enrique Iglesias. Should it have started all loud and abrupt like that? I'm so sorry I laughed; I know that's not appropriate etiquette in this situation but seriously what was I supposed to do? How am I supposed to react when that's what they decide to put on and I'm wedged onto a couch in some weird Deliverance version of a Norman Rockwell, contemplating what I'm going to tell my kids about their grandmother and they put on Enrique. Fucking. Iglesias. Of course I'm going to laugh. I know that wouldn't have been your choice, but that's what happens, other people pick your box and other people pick the song I will forever associate with you being carried out of a funeral parlor in a box by your nephews and brothers.
I guess this is the end, my running narrative of these events didn't really do them justice, or you for that matter. Either way this is the beginning of my story to you, or maybe I've got the timeline mixed up, maybe this all started 427 days ago when you first uttered the words 'malignant tumor' and all my birthday debauchery suddenly became drinking to forget and took the backseat to making up for 20 years of trying to hate you. I don't hate you, I never really did.
Or maybe this all started when I was four and you put all my Dr. Seuss books and my Ninja Turtle t-shirts into a hefty bag and made me sit on the porch of your house, in the rain, because I was bothering you about when Dad was picking me up to take me to the zoo.
Do you remember what you told me?
Of course you do, because you apologized for it 2 weeks before you died.