After 7 years of marriage faithfulness I again crossed the infidelity Rubicon while waiting for my book club meeting. Doing so caused another.
Who am I? crisis.
Despite being post menopause an attractive man wanted me. A little time with him built more self-esteem than any yoga class. I once told a lover there was nothing wrong with him. Now I told myself there was nothing wrong with me. My newest affair re-established my self worth.
The truth was different. I crossed the Rubicon at a funeral for an acquaintance, a minor ghost from the past. She attended Notre Dame high school with me but never rode in my Desoto. She looked me up after she, like me, moved to the Pacific Northwest.
The funeral was a secular memorial despite her Notre Dame diploma. It lacked the propriety spiritual ambience for the mystery of death found in a Catholic religious service, at least for me. The nuns would have been disconsolate if they saw her agnostic service after all their didactic admonishments about hell versus heaven on death.
Reposd in her open coffin, life like, black hair coiffured, finger nails polished pearl white, hands holding a red bouquet, dressed in black and white, the impression was she would rise up, smile and participate with us. Instead she was dead, never to move again dead, a corpse, no longer among us, her body discomposing indecipherably as we stared. The lid, soon to be closed, she so neatly tucked into her coffin, it all to be lowered into damp earth, to rot.
Oh God, my poor brother Rickie, Mom, Dad what do they look like now, in the damp ground?
The dead woman and I weren’t close when attending Norte Dame. The truth, I didn’t like her. She was proud, stuck up and only responded to a cheery hello if in the mood, a corridor passerby ignored by other students as a snob. She had changed when we met over coffee in the Pacific Northwest, bubbly to the point of felicity, no longer stuck up arrogant. As we reminisced of school days, the café door jolted open, a customer waked in, she jerked her gaze away to see who, her shoulder length hair flitted in a flutter, askew. I saw the hearing aid.
Her curiosity of who entered placated, her attention back to me, I spoke slowly in a soft but audible tone.
“You’re hard of hearing, are you not?”
She smiled, looked afar, waited for me to say more and finally replied.
“It’s okay. What do you think?
A few more verbal tests as she fidgeted in ascending anxiety, her insecure replies and attempts to continue a conversation beyond heard grasp confirmed she was bluffing. She was trying to be “normal” when not. She couldn’t hear me. It explained her proud, stuck up, school demeanor. She wasn’t responding because she didn’t hear the hellos. Like at the café she faked her way through school in silence.
How difficult a high school life, such a terrible card dealt, not being in the conversation. Isolated, no one understanding your deaf plight, instead being traduced to classmate scorn, our scathing clever epithet quips trailing her passage through corridors and classrooms. It reminded me again what is, is not what is.
How wrong it was to judge when we knew not. The crude names we assigned her hopefully at least not heard as she passed among the student throng, a persona non grata to the Desoto and slumber parties.
Then another revelation crept up, one about me. Would it have mattered? High school, it’s a time of sycophantic peer pressure. Any association with a pariah is a coup de grace expulsion from the “chosen”. Yes, I had empathy, was an outcast once too. Driving the Desoto for girl’s night out made me among the “chosen.” I loved my accepted status. My sin would be one of omission, secret sympathy but ignoring her plight, enjoying the dive-in and slumber parties instead.
I’ve committed more sins of omission than commission. Don’t worry about what you do, it’s what you don’t you need to change.
With a louder than normal voice we became semi-friends of sorts, exchanged public personas but never knew one another. My funeral attendance was a duty without tears except for my sins of omission. I prayed she could hear wherever she landed in the other world.
During funerals for parents and those of their era my mind dwelt on their life summaries, what they did and didn’t do. For those younger it was their tragedy of a life story cut short, their uncompleted actions. She was of my generation, now beginning to be sporadically called to the other world, a pace which would accelerate. As the sterile macabre service platitudes droned on, my mind wandered to and fro.
Did she have a secret puppet shadow? Who was she? I never knew her secrets, didn’t even know she was so deaf, deaf and dumb, true, she was deaf and I dumb.
Death, it’s final. Tomorrow the world goes on without her, she’ll soon be forgotten, yesterday’s newspaper. Death, the stop button on our life’s tape, soon erased, forgotten, fading memories among those who knew her, probably knew her not, just an evaporating mirage.
I shifted to reminiscing about me.
Soon I’ll be in a coffin, never to move again. Young, I walked through the Mission Cemetery with my one St. Clare’s school friend, to her mother’s grave, awed. The cemetery, row after row, beneath our feet, real people, stuck there, covered under earth, can’t move, they lived but were dead.
We were careful to step around the grave edges, thought they knew if we stepped on them. I stood at their tombstones, read their names, their dates, stared at the photos of the ones with a picture. They stared back from below, in coffins, rotting. What were they trying to say?
The cemetery, its graves composed an undeniable truth of credence to the nun’s admonishments of hell. Closing my eyes I imagined their bodies dressed in goodbye finery below, cold, damp, shriveled, decayed and rotten. It made me morose even after hopping on my bicycle and peddling back into the real world. God’s predestined future fate, imprint retained, followed me home until forgotten by a life distraction such as from TV or play, yet still retained in a mind set frame.
Someday I’m going to die.
Mom’s there now, beneath the grass and tombstone, in her cedar coffin, wearing the special dress I purchased for her, favorite apron next to her where I placed it. Oh God, she’s shriveled, decayed in the cold earth despite the protective vault, the dress and apron ruined.
Dad’s next to her in his favorite suit and tie, his fedora I personally set at the angle he liked, rotten too.What will I wear lying in the cold earth? No, I’m being cremated, who wants to rot in the ground? Better ashes to ashes than dirt to dirt.
Now this woman lies in her satin lined coffin, so still, soon to rot in the cold earth too no matter what she wears, no brush strokes to be added on her life’s portrait. Those departed, they paint no more, even if there’s still blank canvas, no sequel, no happily ever aftering, just gone.
Morbid thoughts racked me; my mind strayed further afield.
With Mom and Dad gone, I’m scheduled next, the natural order of things.
Then my mind tripped a thought mine, the explosion rocked me awake.
I know more dead than alive!
I ran a quick inventory.
The generation before is gone, now mine’s departing, it’s close, maybe true, I know more dead than alive, if not today then next year or the year after!
The revelation wasn’t fear of dying; it was fear of not living. The nun’s hell of burning sulfur pots seared in my young mind was long gone. The worse I could conceive happening on death was, nothing.
I can accept nothing but not my life’s portrait unfinished. I need to splash paint!
Leaving the service I gulped in fresh air, raced home on Interstate 5, radio playing loud, mind churning but with the refrain.
I’m alive! I’m alive! I’m alive, not in that coffin, not next to be transferred to the cold earth beneath the grass. I’m alive!
At home I removed my black mourning garb and evaluated myself, still alive, naked before the mirror.
Still trim, only a few wrinkles, I look ten years younger than the calendar says. Boobs sag a bit but aren’t floppies, they’re like ripe fruit, to be enjoyed. With money to dress well, my hair dresser, makeup I can be a stealth 43. Menopause, and grandchildren, so what? I can still paint, paint with hues unused.
Looking at my eyes in the mirror, her eyes shone back, Succubus, my secret puppet shadow stared back. She had arisen!
After 7 years imprisoned she had broken the silver chains restraining her, she was out, out for a last spree of libidinousness. It was she who agreed to meet the my newest lover; she was in command, my guardian angel now trussed, unable to stop me.
If the worse is nothing, let her roam.
I redressed, in white, then changed and put on a yellow dress, then changed again and again to dispel the funeral’s death shadow. With each change, my rationalizations grew more complex.
Parochial school, poverty, early marriage, children when young, they snuffed out the real me. Who was I? Who could I have been if not suppressed by fate? To know who, without the cards dealt when young, I must roam unfettered by fate’s picture frame.
Lies to excuse what I couldn’t admit, I was afraid of being old, a little old lady, LOL, an unacknowledged passerby with an unfinished painting. I wanted to be a woman; still sought as a woman not as a matron, nana, or granny. All a complex web of delusions spun to deny.
A woman’s appearance determines her rank. After menopause, her rank degrades at an accelerating pace to LOL. The clock is ticking against me.
Handsome, professional, intellectually men will restore my rank, keep me from LOL. They don't need it all, just some, well at least one. With heels, makeup, the right dress I can still proclaim, “Look at me!” and get hit on.
Finally with a mid-calf red skirt, white blouse with lace, a pearl necklace and belly dance hoop earrings I put on 3-inch heels to leave the funeral’s shadow. Smiling before the mirror, hubby walked into the bedroom.
“What happened, a room tornado?”
“No, no, just going through the closet. It needs re-arrangement. I’m sorting things out, what needs to be discarded, what needs replacement. It’s a female midlife crisis, thing. I’ll be down shortly to fix dinner. Anything you want to see me wear?”
“No, I let that be up to you. I like your hair up. Don’t throw any of my old shirts out, especially the flannels; they’re a part of me.”
“Well I’m thinking of getting some clothes, different than you’ve seen me wear. Don’t be shocked to see a new me.”
I bagged my discards; added one of his old paint smeared flannel shirts, went down and fixed diner. I hummed in my renewed age attire, still a woman.
Author Notes: We lie but mostly we lie to ourselves.