I’ve never been the best speaker. It’s a mystery how I’ve managed to get in front of that mic for the last twelve years and counting. So when the pastor (was he a pastor? That’s up for debate after his funeral sermon – more on that later if ever I feel like discussing the rotten side of funerals) asked those in attendance if they had anything to say about the dearly departed, I felt the urge to speak but restrained myself from sharing my stories.
“What’s that?” Kristina, my cousin, asked. We haven’t seen each other in years. The last time is when they came down to the beach one summer and we all stayed at a condo her mother rented.
I tensed up a bit. I carry the beat up quad-page journal everywhere I go. One part security blanket, one part insurance that an idea never escapes my grasp. But it’s 100% for bringing my thoughts into a concrete idea when my head spirals. It’s for the voices in my head (if you’re a writer, you should understand. I hope). Of course, I’m not going to share that tidbit with her. So I simply say, “It’s my journal.”
“For emotions or just ideas?”
“For my thoughts.” It could be for both. I have a hard time adjusting to situations, and this house is booming with a multitude of conversations. Scrawling my thoughts is just a way for me to quiet the madness that churns in me. And I’m not sure if my quietness—this stranger in the crowd wallflower persona—irks others as I sit at the table, looking up from time to time and then return my pen to the page and scribble out some more.
This, of course, leads to the next question. A question with which I’m all too familiar. “Are you writing something? I know you’re always reading, so it’s safe to say that you could be working on something.”
“No,” I said. But what I meant was, “I’m always working on something. But I can never see it through because my mind is a fickle creature. Always jumping from one writing project to the next. And the only thing that I’ve managed to stay consistent with is my blog and this beat up, quad-paged journal.”
In the duration of the wake, I began to scrawl lines of a poem. But my mind kept returning to the funeral services and how I wanted to speak, but couldn’t. I watched my cousin, Alicia, talk about her mother. I saw family members and friends speak from their seats. I listened as Ava, Alicia’s daughter, struggled with her own thoughts. And still, I bit back the urge because I’m in the habit of saying the wrong thing. Crack a joke. And maybe my stories are best kept to myself or shared with the people I’m closest with.
Then again, here we go:
Maybe it’s my adult mind that’s putting this much emphasis on what I’m about to say. And it’s strange to say just that. My adult mind, as if my mind is any different than it was when I was a kid. It’s the same brain. It’s the same mind. Experience aside, there’s not much different from how I think now to how I did then. I still see myself as a child when it comes to referring to people like my uncle and aunt. That’s probably the strangest thing I’ve ever uttered.
I keep thinking about the khaki pants. It’s a memory I hadn’t thought about in ages. It’s funny of all the things to remember the moment I learned about Cookie’s passing was the incident with the pants. One Thanksgiving, back when I was a teen or tween, my aunt bought me an outfit as a present. And you have to understand that I wasn’t ungrateful for the gift. But I was at a very awkward time in my life. The time when kids are still trying to figure out who they are in the this world. And the clothing you wear says a lot about your character—well, at least it does when you’re in junior high or high school. And I wasn’t quite certain that the khaki pants and polo shirt was exactly the person I was trying to be.
I must have made a face, because she knew I didn’t like it. And, let’s face, I’m still not the most subtle person when it comes to things I don’t like. My aunt understood, though. She was always understanding. Rather than being upset about the whole ordeal, she instead offered to take me with her when she returned the clothes so that I could choose something much more my style.
And this is where the whole adult mind thing comes to play. Because after thinking about the khakis, I started thinking about the Star Trek movie. Maybe it was the same time. Maybe it was years later. But the Star Trek incident happened in the autumn of 1994 or 96—I can’t be sure because Star Trek: Generations and Star Trek: First Contact are both movies I wanted to watch that were released during the Thanksgiving holidays. Though my gut tells me it was Generations strictly because I do remember watching Captain Kirk die (sorry if I just ruined a twenty-three-year-old movie for you) with my aunt sitting next to me. Yes, my aunt took me to see Star Trek because I didn’t want to sit through another princess movie with my all-girl cousins. And after some discussion, my aunt decided that my uncle would take the girls to see one movie, and she’d take me to go see the other. And that was what settled it. I saw myself through the lens of my adult mind and I came to the conclusion that I must have been this weird, alien creature to my aunt.
And the more I thought about it, the more this conclusion made sense to me. From the time they picked up my grandma and me at the airport one December (after which, they took us to the visit friends of the family where I happily sang—and poorly, too—’Jingle bells, jingle bells. It’s snowing on my pork chop,’ as I poured salt all over it) to the summer after high school where I watched my (at the time) favorite movie, Green (which she asked me to turn it off after a certain scene), I don’t think there was a time where my aunt understood who her nephew was. And that’s not a bad thing. Because she still tried to understand me. Because when she offered to buy me a graduation present, rather than taking me to a clothes store, she took me to the Waldenbooks where she bought me a copy of Mark Z. Danielewski’s debut novel, House of Leaves.
So to you, Aunt Cookie, I say thank you. Thank you for your patience. Thank you for trying to understand this weird person who just happened to be your nephew. Thank you for the love and the stories and the words that I’ll cherish in my heart. I’ll miss the sound of your voice whenever you call. And if there’s one thing I regret about your passing, it’s that I never got to introduce you to my son, Shaun. You would have loved him. Because he’s really weird. Just like me.
To end, I’ll borrow some words from Henry Scott Holland:
Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is this death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner. All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!
This past weekend would make one interesting short story or even a novella. So that’s why I took down notes, Kris. To remember this weekend not for the sad parts, but for the moments that made me laugh, cringe, jump in fright. For remembering.
It might have just been easier to just tell you that. But I have never been the best speaker.