My time with the Captain built more self-esteem than confessing to an angel for forgiveness. I told Gabriel there was nothing wrong with him. Now I told myself there was nothing wrong with me. The truth was different.
It was a funeral that caused another.
Who am I?
The memorial was for an acquaintance, a minor ghost from the past. She’d attended Notre Dame with me but never rode in my Desoto. After she moved to the Pacific Northwest, she looked me up. Despite her Notre Dame diploma, her funeral was a secular service that lacked the propriety spiritual ambiance for the mystery of death found in a Catholic religious service, at least for me.
Reposed in her open coffin, lifelike, dyed black coiffured hair, fingernails 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, a corpse, no longer among us, her body discomposing indecipherably as we watched. The lid, soon to be closed, she so neatly tucked into her coffin, it to be lowered into the damp earth, all to rot.
Oh God, poor Rickie, Mom, Dad what do they look like now?
We weren’t close when we attended Norte Dame together. The truth, I didn’t like her. She was proud, stuck up and only responded to a hello if in the mood, a corridor passerby ignored by other students as a snob.
Years later, after she looked me up, we met over coffee in Seattle. She’d changed personality to bubbly, to the point of felicity, no longer stuck up or arrogant. As we reminisced of school days, the café door jolted open, a customer walked in, she jerked her gaze 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, aren’t you?”
She smiled, looked afar, waited for me to say more, became confounded 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, trying to be “normal” when not.
She couldn’t hear me. It explained her proud, stuck up, school demeanor. She didn’t respond because she didn’t hear the hellos. Like at the café, she faked her way through school.
How difficult a life, such a terrible card dealt, not being in the conversation, isolated, no one understanding your deaf plight, instead 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 to judge when we knew not who one is. 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 would have had empathy. But why? Because I was an outcast once too.
Driving the Desoto for girls' night out moved me to among the “chosen.” I loved my accepted status, the slumber parties and learning about makeup. My sin would be one of omission, silent sympathy while ignoring her plight, unwilling to relinquish being among the in group.
I’ve committed more sins of omission than commission. Don’t worry about what you do, it’s what you don’t do you need to change.
With a louder than a normal voice, we became semi-friends of sorts, exchanged public personas but never knew one another close. In middle age, it was too late to connect intimately. 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.
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.
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. This funeral was of my generation, now beginning to be sporadically called to the other world, a pace that would accelerate. As the sterile, macabre platitudes of the secular service droned on, my mind wandered afar.
Death, it’s final. Tomorrow the world goes on without her. She’ll soon be forgotten, like yesterday’s newspaper. Death, the stop button on our life’s tape, a tape soon erased, a fading memory among those who knew her, probably knew her not, now an evaporating mirage.
I shifted to reminiscing about me.
Soon I’ll be in a coffin, never to move again. When young, I walked through the Mission Cemetery with Julie, my one St. Clare’s school friend. We traipsed through the cemetery graves, row after row, beneath our feet or in little stone houses, real people, with life sagas, stuck now, silently rotting away. They can’t move, they lived but are dead, their stories over.
We were careful to step around the grave edges; thought they’d know if we stepped on them. I stood before the graves, read the names, the dates lived, stared at the photos of the ones with a picture. They stared back. In my mind, I visualized them in their coffins, rotten, horrible to look at, unlike their picture. What would they say if they could?
The cemetery, its graves, composed undeniable credence to the nun’s admonishments, death is certain, our fate. Closing my eyes, I imagined their bodies dressed in goodbye finery, cold, damp, shriveled, decayed and rotten. It made me morose. After hopping on my bicycle and peddling back into the real world, their ghosts followed, warning I too was fated to join them and die.
God’s predestined future fate is death. The cemetery’s verification of this truth followed me home until forgotten by the living’s distractions. TV, games, schoolwork, diverted my melancholy, yet I retained death’s mind-set. The funereal resurrected my childhood’s imprint of our death fate and changed its acceptance from knowing it to believing it.
I’m going to die.
Mom’s there now, beneath the grass and dirt, her headstone above. She’s in her cedar coffin, within the concrete vault. She’s wearing the special dress I purchased for her, 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 are to be added to her life's portrait. Those departed, they paint no more. Their remaining blank canvas has no sequel, no happily ever aftering, not a stroke more of their brush. They’re 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 nuns' 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 music playing loud, mind churning and with the mind 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 hairdresser, makeup, I can be a stealth forty-three. Menopause, and grandchildren, so what? I can still paint, paint with hues unused.
Looking at my eyes in the mirror, her occult eyes shone back, Succubus, Lilith, my secret puppet shadow stared back. She’s arisen!.
After seven years imprisoned, she’d broken the silver chains restraining her. She was out, out for a last spree of libidinousness. It was she, who agreed to meet the Captain. She was in command, my guardian angel 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, fear of being old, an unacknowledged passerby with an unfinished painting prior to my death. 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. The clock is ticking against me.
Handsome, professional, intellectual men will restore my rank. 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 three-inch heels to leave the funeral’s shadow. Smiling before the mirror, hubby walked into the bedroom.
“What happened, 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 castoffs; added one of his old paint smeared flannel shirts, went down and fixed dinner. I hummed in my renewed age, still a woman.
The next day I went shopping, shopping for sex.
Author Notes: We lie but mostly we lie to ourselves.