“Thank you,” I say, holding her shoulder. For some reason, I don’t need to rest my head on it right now. “It’s beautiful.”
Ana shrugs, her head sinking slightly as her shoulders sag in. “are you sure? It’s not too much? It’s not too . . . macabre?”
I don’t actually know what macabre means, so I just shake my head. Whatever bad thing she thinks this gift might be, she is wrong. Given the circumstances, I love it.
“You are a friend that I could never . . .” I choke on the words, unable to look her in the eye. “no one deserves a friend as wonderful as you,” I say. “except maybe you.”
Ana smiles and seizes my temporarily not-miserable mood to slap the back of my thighs. “What can I say, kid? I love ya. always have.”
“Should I try on the whole thing?” I ask, suddenly somewhat eager for an old-fashioned game of dressup. ana and I used to play dress-up in college, each of us going into the bathroom to try to come up with the most ridiculous outfits for the other one to wear.this is different; this is much, much sadder, but . . . this type of dress-up is where life has taken us and ana is on board.
“Do it. I’ll wait out here.”
I run into my bedroom to see that she’s set aside my dress and shoes. I put them on quickly, adding a pair of black panty hose to complete the ensemble and mitigate the inherent sexiness of the veil and bare legs.
“Is it appropriate to be a sexy widow?” I call out to her while I put on my second shoe.
Ana laughs. “I’ve never actually seen one in person,” she re plies.
I step out of the door and into the hallway. When I do, I slip on the heel of my shoe and my ankle gives in. I fall flat on my ass. there is a moment when ana stares at me not knowing what to do. she doesn’t know if I’m going to laugh or cry. I think she’s petrified that I will cry because this is certainly something to cry about, but I don’t want to cry right now. as I look back at her, I can feel the laugh starting in my belly. I can feel it ripple through my body and then, here it is. It overtakes me. “oh God,” I say through tears and sharp breaths. “oh!” ana starts laughing loudly now too. “BaHHaHaHHHaHaHa!” she cackles. she throws herself on the floor next to me. “I don’t know why,” she says and breathes in sharply. “I don’t know why that was so funny.”
“Oh, but it was,” I say as I laugh with her. I think if she wasn’t here, I would have been able to stop laughing sooner, but hearing her laugh makes me laugh. My laugh grows wild and unpredictable. It grows loud and free. she is wiping her eyes and gaining her composure, but as she looks me in the eye she loses it again. When I finally get ahold of myself, I’m light-headed.
“Oooh,” I say, trying to cool down. It feels so good. I can feel it in my abdomen and my back. then I get a glimpse of myself in the mirror again and I remember why I’m here. Why I’m in the middle of the floor on a Friday afternoon dressed in black. Ben is gone. and I hate myself for laughing. I hate myself for forgetting, even for ten seconds, the man I have lost. ana can tell the mood has shifted; the vacation from our misery has ended and I, once again, need to be maintained.
She gets up off the floor first, dusting her ass off, and gives me a hand. I rise awkwardly, flashing my underwear at her while trying to stand up like a lady. no, like a lady isn’t enough. like a widow. Widows require even more poise. Widows don’t accidentally flash their underwear at anyone.
It doesn’t get much shittier than this.
It’s hot in the morning when ana and I leave los angeles. It feels even hotter in orange County. It feels stickier, sweatier, more terrible in every way. southern California is always warmer than the rest of the country, and it’s supposed to be less humid. But on this June morning, it’s hot as hell and I’m dressed in all black.
We weren’t late arriving here, but we weren’t early. We weren’t the type of early that you imagine the wife of the deceased to be. susan stares at me as I make my way graveside. she was probably a full forty-five minutes early. What I want to tell her is that we aren’t early because I almost didn’t come, because I refused to get into the car. Because I threw myself on my own front lawn and told ana that I honestly believed that if I went to his funeral, Ben would never come back. I told her, black mascara running down my face, that I wanted to stay there and wait. “I can’t give up on him,” I said to her, as if attending his funeral would be a betrayal and not a commemoration.
The only reason we were on time is that ana picked me up off the ground, looked me in the eyes, and said to me, “He’s never coming back. Whether you go or you don’t go. so get in the car, because this is the last thing you can do with him.”
Ana now stands next to me, wearing a black pantsuit. I would hazard to guess she did this to allow me to shine today, as if this were my wedding. susan is wearing a black sweater and black skirt. she is surrounded by young men in black suits and a few older women in black or navy dresses. We are standing outside in the grass. the heels of my high heels are digging into the grass, making me sink into the ground as if on quicksand. Moving my legs means pulling the heels up out of the ground as if they were mini-shovels. I’m aerating the graveyard grounds.
I can hear the pastor speaking; rather, I can hear that he is speaking, but I cannot make out the words. I believe he is the pastor that tended to Ben’s father’s service a few years ago. I do not know his denomination. I do not know how religious susan really is. I just know he’s speaking about an afterlife I’m not sure I believe in, about a God I don’t trust. I am standing with my head down, glancing furtively at the people around me I don’t know. I don’t think I ever imagined attending my husband’s funeral, whether it was specifically Ben’s or the fictional idea of a husband I held on to until I met Ben. But if I did, I would have expected to know the people at the funeral.
I look over and see people I can only assume are aunts and uncles, cousins or neighbors. I stop trying to guess who they are because guessing makes me feel like I didn’t know Ben. But I did know Ben, I just hadn’t met this part of him yet.
My side of the funeral looks like a frat at a school dance. It’s Ben’s friends and former roommate. It’s men who have one nice suit, who eat pizza every night, and play video games until they go to bed. that’s who Ben was when he was here, it’s who Ben surrounded himself with. It’s good that they are here now, however nameless and faceless they feel in this crowd. ana stands next to me, one of the only women our age in attendance. Ben wasn’t friends with a lot of women, and ex-girlfriends would be out of place. some of my friends offered to come, the ones that had met him a few times or gone out with us. I had told ana to tell them, “thanks, but no thanks.” I wasn’t sure how to react to them in this context. I wasn’t sure how to be their host at a place where I felt like a guest.
As the pastor’s voice dies down, I can sense that my turn to speak is coming. I am relieved when his hand gestures first to susan.
Susan moves toward the top of the grave and opens a manila folder. should I have brought a manila folder? I barely prepared anything. thinking of what to say was so awful, so ulcer-inducing, that I simply didn’t do it. I couldn’t do it. I decided I was going to wing it. Because nothing could be worse than lying in bed thinking of what to say over your husband’s dead body, right? at least that’s what I thought until I saw susan’s perfectly preserved manila folder. she hadn’t cried on it or ripped it up. she hadn’t folded the corners over and over out of fear. It is straight as a board. I bet the paper inside isn’t even scribbled on. I bet it’s typed.
“I want to start by saying thank you to everyone in attendance today. I know this is not the way anyone wants to spend a saturday morning.” she half chuckles to herself, and the rest of us make a noise resembling a snort so that she can move on. “some of you were with me a few years ago when Ben and I buried steven, and I know I said then that steven would have wanted us to enjoy this day. He would have wanted us to smile. I happened to have known that for a fact because steven and I talked about it before he passed.We lay in the hospital together, when we knew it wasn’t going to get any better, when we knew the end was near, and he told me, as I told you then, ‘Make it fun, susie. My life was fun, make this fun too.’ I wasn’t able to spend Ben’s last moments with him.” Her face starts to scrunch and she looks down. she regains her composure. “But in many ways he took after his father, and I can tell you, Ben would have wanted the same thing. He had fun in life, and we should do our best to find the fun in his death. It’s senseless and painful, but it can be happy and I promise to try to make today a day of celebration of who he was. I thank God for every day I had with him, with both of them. We can lament that Ben is gone, but I’m trying to, I’m choosing to, I’m . . .” she laughs a rueful laugh. “I’m doing my best to instead think of Ben’s time in my life as a gift from God. one that was shorter than I’d like, but miraculous nonetheless.” she makes eye contact with me for a short period of time, long enough for both of us to notice, and then her eyes are back to the page. “no matter how many days we had with him, they were a gift. so in the spirit of celebration, I wanted to tell you all a story about one of my favorite, favorite Ben moments.