The snapshots are random and sometimes paired with dialogue, but it’s a mess
of moments frozen in motion. Before the wake, I remember holding Cheryl’s
hand at one point. It’s possible we held hands in the back seat of Jimmy’s
or Scott’s car as we drove back from Delaware, but I find it difficult to
trust my memory. It could have been in the funeral home, but I spent most of the
time in the bathroom with my friends. There’s a good chance I never held
Cheryl’s hand because I remember I felt deserted by her. I was the only one
that couldn’t cry. At the funeral home, I held no one’s hand; everyone
had betrayed me.
I remember moments from the night before the wake. Momma took Cheryl and me to the
mall for dresses. I rarely wore dresses then and if I did, it would have been a
mint green polyester floral print, but mint green wasn’t a dark enough color
for a funeral. I remember being jealous of my sister because Momma picked out a
black velvet dress for her and she bought the matching dress in a deep purple for
me. I hated things that were purple, but for some reason I found it difficult to
talk that day. I remember when I tried to speak there was a tightness around the
inside of my throat. Each word seemed like an enemy ready to betray my real emotions.
It’s possible that I knew if I tried to say, “I hate the color
purple,” grief would have substituted “hate” for
It could have been the night or day before the wake, but I remember Father Dave,
the priest at our church, called Dad’s parents. I met his parents only once, and
all I remember was Mr. Wilson’s shiny, bald head and pale yellow button-down shirt.
It’s possible that Mrs. Wilson had a full head of white, soft curls, but I never
liked her enough to want to remember any part of her. They never spoke to my father
during my childhood or bothered to send any of us birthday cards so they were dead
in my mind. They were dead until Father Dave said they would not attend the general
wake, nor would they pay for a private viewing. I know I realized at that moment
that all of us abandoned my father to let his insanity fend for itself. Is it possible
the guilt forced me never to let go of the grief?
I salvaged one memory from the night of my father’s wake. I couldn’t
stand to be near the coffin or hear “I’m so sorry for your loss”
one more time. Two of my friends from school came and provided the perfect excuse
to disappear from the viewing. I remember we stood in the center hallway where friends
gathered for the two wakes, so the bathroom seemed like a safe place to talk. We
stood against the sinks, barely leaving room for women to walk past to a stall or
to wash their hands. I stared at Melissa’s perfectly aligned teeth as she
described her fantasies regarding the Spanish teacher and watched her friend nod
and smile. As they talked about sex and the orgasms they never had, I stared at
the pale, pink roses on the wallpaper. I searched for the edge of each sheet and
tried to see if all the stems aligned. I remember wondering if they ever remodeled
the bathroom. I even questioned if my father was really under the same roof in a
casket. Then I recalled Momma chose the most expensive casket, it was the color
of bronze, but not too bronze. It wasn’t until Mrs. Swannick, my next-door
neighbor, walked out of a stall that I realized Melissa was still talking about
sex. I forgot where I was, but I felt that I laughed only to convince my two friends
that I was listening. Guilt crept up on me in the bathroom. I knew Mrs. Swannick
thought I was coldhearted for hiding in the wallpapered haven with toilets flushing
as the background music, instead of comforting my mother with the sound of deep
inhalations of those in disbelief over my father’s death. I felt uncomfortable
even saying hi to her. I even considered how I was supposed to say “Hello.”
Was I supposed to sound happy or depressed?
The rest of the night effaced itself from my memory. Sometimes I wonder if I really
slept. I know at some point after my father’s suicide I used to fall asleep
to thoughts of the last night he spent alone. I would envision him with a glass
of vodka, or no vodka, dressed in his favorite pinstripe suit, and staring into
the mirror until he disappeared and the only thing left in the reflection was the
wallpaper. I would always think he believed the room, world, looked better without
him in it. It’s possible he never looked into the mirror that night at the
Courtyard Marriot on Route 10 in East Hanover, New Jersey. Or was it Hanover Township?
My thoughts always scattered after the image of my father staring into the mirror.
How could a man hang himself with his own belt? Why didn’t the belt break
under the weight of his body? I knew when I was fourteen I wasn’t supposed
to think of my father, alone, in a hotel room, in the midst of a divorce, moments
before his suicide, but I needed to know if he even thought of me. I suppose I felt
deserted. I hated that he was so weak that he felt it was better to give up. My
thoughts would always skip past the moment where he secured the belt around his
neck and I would sharpen my eyes on the note he left behind, the one the police
lost. I would stretch my eyes to read it, and spell out the words “I love
you all,” but who knows if he mentioned that he loved us because they lost
the note. They lost the note! How could they have lost the fucking note?!?!
The next morning, the day of the funeral, is almost completely gone from my mind.
I do remember being picked up by a black limousine that drove us back to the funeral
parlor. I don’t even remember how we all squeezed on the back seat to embrace
Momma. I remember she cried and there wasn’t anything we could do to ease
her pain. There are stills of her cheek in my mind, a detail shot of a tear, and
her black mascara balled up on the edge of each lash. I know I thought of how grief
makes you not care about your appearance. Momma always spent at least thirty minutes
beautifying herself for work, but whatever effort she put forth that morning was
lost, in tissues that collected at her feet. I even have an image of Jimmy taking
the top of his hand to wipe Momma’s right eye, but his attempt was fruitless
for the tears wouldn’t stop. I felt lost not being able to cry with everyone.
I know they wondered if I was a depressive, just like Dad.
The drive to the funeral parlor must have taken only twenty minutes. At some point
we got out of the limousine, but I can’t even hear the words we spoke to Momma
as we exited the blackness of the backseat. Everyone probably cried as I remained
silent. I’m not sure how it even happened, but we were given moments alone
with our father before they placed his coffin in the back of the hearse. Even if
I wanted to, I could never forget the image of Momma seated in front of the coffin.
She couldn’t or wouldn’t stand to see Dad for the last time. I knelt
down in front of her, stared at her hands; with my forefinger I followed the blue
vein that stemmed from her middle finger and felt it until it disappeared into her
wrist. Nothing was more perfect and rounded than that vein and I watched as a single
tear fell upon it and spread its moistness to christen the top of her hand. Maybe
it wasn’t just her, maybe all of us weren’t ready to let go of Dad.
All of us sat around her and cradled each other in the silence. It could have been
Jimmy or Cheryl, but someone slowly whispered, “It’s time to say goodbye,
Momma.” Simultaneously we all stood, with our hands interlocked, we walked
over to the coffin.
I stared at the bronze of the coffin and my hand moved towards the eggshell-white
velvet that lined it. The velvet felt stiff and too rough. I stared at my father’s
hands glazed with a tan makeup that created a hard edge around each finger nail.
I remember thinking that my father’s hands never looked like that, caked with
makeup. I felt his chest for some sign of him, but instead I found a hollow stiffness.
I couldn’t feel Cheryl or Scott’s arm around me. I could only see everyone
crying. The stillness pervaded the room and the silence smothered me. Momma took
out a family photo of us and placed her hand over it to feel it for the last time.
The photo was of us in Hawaii. The darkness of the cave we had been visiting in
the picture contrasted our happiness. Hawaii was a part of the good days, the time
in between my father’s illness and the arguing. She stared down at it and
not even her tears could wash that memory away. We all looked down to see our family,
all six of us, for the last time. Momma felt Dad’s chest to find a place to
slip our last good memory into his suit. I realized then, Dad really was gone, and
he was never coming back.
I erased the images of us in the limousine following the hearse to the church. I
do remember feeling the softness of my mother’s hand. It could have been my
anxiety, but I remember a dark silence devoured everything in my vision and Momma’s
deep moans enveloped everything. I heard myself inhale and then exhale, but I couldn’t
see anyone. I could feel Momma’s tears, I heard everyone whisper, “I
love you Momma,” but I couldn’t find myself amongst them. I didn’t
escape the dark until we walked into the church and sat in the second pew. The seconds
didn’t crawl by as they did in the funeral parlor. I remember the pallbearers
walking up the center aisle with the coffin. I watched as each foot stepped on the
crack between each tan tile in the church. I stared at the end of each pew until
the blonde grain of each disappeared into one another. Scott sat next to me and
I stared at the redness that took over everyone’s face. I still hadn’t
cried and I felt alone. Just as the silent blackness started to cover everything,
Scott leaned over and breathed the words, “It’s okay to cry, Jenissa.
It’s okay. He loved all of us. Cry, Jenissa.”
All I heard was the sound of my moans. I started to shake in Scott’s arms.
I realized that a year earlier, a few pews back, I stood with my father as the church
said the Our Father and instead of our hands interlocked, I stood with my hands
on his back and stomach. I stood there trying to prevent the medicated swaying.
Just a year earlier, I stood in the same church, trying to secure his madness, and
mask the evidence of his drinking or the effects of lithium. I was too young or
too embarrassed to diagnose the cause for swaying in church. Now I was a few pews
ahead of where we stood then, and now I was the one swaying and shaking. Scott tried
to soothe me, but I was too lost even to find myself. I couldn’t escape the
church, my father’s death, or the crying.
It probably wasn’t until days later, but I realized I never said goodbye to
Dad. I wasn’t ready for the Christmas without him. I didn’t want 1994
to disappear on New Year’s because I knew I was moving further away from him.
Was raised in Randolph, New Jersey and migrated thirty-one minutes east
to Montclair where she resides with her other half and their cat. She is a
Creative Nonfiction MFA student at Fairleigh Dickinson University and is
currently working on her memoir.
When she isn’t writing, she is either photographing landscapes or abandoned
buildings, reading, cooking, traveling, or “simply” teaching ninth-grade