I wonder what it feels like to be dead.
How exactly does it work? Does your soul, or spirit or whatever it is that makes up our essence, float around for all eternity? Are you doomed to roam the earth invisible to everyone else? Or do you leave the second your heart stops beating, gone forever to some faraway unknown place, not even getting the chance to stick around for your own funeral? As unfair as it would be to wish eternal boredom on someone, I feverishly wished it was the first one. I wanted Sara to able to see how many people had shown up to her funeral. There were a lot more faces here than I had expected to see. Some I knew, some were completely alien to me, while others I knew but couldn't figure out their connection to Sara.
Mike Rowan, for instance, confused the shit out of me. Mike was the captain of the football team, tall and broad shouldered with the IQ of a caffeinated test monkey. His face, covered with acne and bruises from practice, couldn't even begin to compete with Xander's, the high school pretty boy. Yet, Mike somehow always managed to snag the prettiest girls, at one point including Stacey from the cheerleading squad. I just couldn't figure out what this gorrilla was doing here. He possessed too much of an ego to notice anyone like Sara, who was way below him in the high school food chain. He was the hometown jock hero, she had been the school librarian's assistant; no reason he should mourn her passing. Although.. I felt a tingling in my spine shoot straight into the neurons of my brain and a horrible thought suddenly occurred to me: had he come just because he had wanted to see the body he had so loved to violate in life? I involuntarily clenched my fists and madly blushed while doing it.
I discarded that theory immediately. If I considered it for just a second longer, I would start a fist fight. Maybe he had apologized to Sara near the end of her life for what a dick he had been to her, even if it wouldn't mean anything in comparison to what he had done. Or he just wanted to keep his All-American good guy reputation in town by showing up to her funeral. Whatever the case was, he looked extremely uncomfortable, shifting his weight from foot to foot every three seconds and keeping his eyes averted from everyone. Everyone except Chelsea, his girlfriend who was crying uncontrollably next to him. I kept thinking he was going to throw his arm around her or try to comfort her in some way; all he did was throw looks that could kill in her direction and make exasperated sighs.
Seeing Mike here burned a hole in my stomach, making bile swell uncomfortably in my mouth. I hated him and his stupid little jock strap crew. Especially after the parking lot incident in freshman year. I subconsciously rubbed my left shoulder, my pre-game technique to calm down my nerves before I went up to the mound to pitch. Deep in the middle of the night when the whole house was quiet, I could still hear the squeal of tires coming from the '67 Camaro and the crunch of the pistol in Mike's hand slamming into the side of my head. And Sara screaming as the guys in the car knocked her down on asphalt and broken glass and lifted up the skirt of her dress.
I snapped back to reality, back to a funeral home that smelled like too much bleach and formeldehyde. Out of my peripheral vision, I watched Mike whisper something furiously into Chelsea's ear, probably telling her to shut the fuck up already. Chelsea, like Mike, was another mystery to me. She wasn't a total prick like her boyfriend, but the complete opposite. Short and petite, she resembled one of those pixies you see in fairy tale drawings. Her face was round and soft, sprinkled with light freckles that pointed to her Irish heritage. Her ginger curls blazed whenever the sun was out, giving her the constant appearance of being on fire in the summer. I had never seen her angry or even heard her raise her voice. Actually, she was one of the nicest girls I'd ever met, a rarity in any high school. Yet, I had no idea she had known Sara.
I guess I didn't know alot of things about Sara.
I walked around the small room packed with people in mourning, trying to find my mom and Sarge, suddenly as desperate to leave as Mike was. As I made my way through the sea of black, I passed Sara's mom, Mrs. Crimsen. She was walking away from Sara's open coffin, holding her left hand to her chest. In her right was a picture of Sara, maybe five years old. Her make-up was smeared and her knees wobbled till they suddenly buckled.
"My baby!" she cried out between sobs. She fell to the floor and various people came to her aid. I recognized Mr. Silva, the local butcher, as he was picking her up by her elbows and dragging her away to a corner with a comfy chair. I grimaced as I watched a reasonably attractive thirtysomething woman (did she have to be as beautiful and blonde as Sara had been?) transform into an old woman that had lived through eons and just wanted to sleep and never wake up.
Christ, I'd do anything to be able to erase the image of her dropped down on her knees, screaming and crying and in so much pain that I knew I wasn't old enough to understand, that I'd have to live a few more years to even begin to comprehend what she was going through. As if reading my thoughts, Mrs. Crimsen looked up from the glass of water someone had handed her and right at me. I felt something in my chest constrict, my throat uncomfortably tight. I quickly looked the other way and picked up the pace with countless mumbled "I'm sorry"s and "Excuse me"s to all the people in my way. I was so concentrated on getting away from the disturbing scene Mrs. Crimsen was creating, that I didn't realize I was right in front of Sara's open coffin until I bumped into it, rocking it ever so slightly.
There she was, so alive she looked like she was just taking a nap. Another burning twinge in my chest when it dawned on me that this was the first time I was actually seeing her in maybe a year. The first and last time. Who knew a paradox could be so painful?
I wanted to look away but I just couldn't. I felt like I owed Sara.. no, I knew that I owed Sara and, somehow, by studying her face, by committing it to memory so I could torture myself with her image as some sick form of penance, everything would be forgiven.
My first observance was the most obvious: Sara had changed her hair back to its natural blonde color before she died. It had been a normal, dull brown for the past year. Why she did that, no one knew. Or at least, no one cared to ask her and find out. Sara didn't have alot of friends. She had been my best friend at one time, but that was a long time ago, lifetimes away from where we had both ended up now. I continued my memorization, noting her face had an overall soft look about it, maybe created from the combination of fair skin and peach colored lips. I couldn't help but notice the subtle flush of rogue on her cheekbones.. as if her heart were still pumping blood through her veins. I shook my head, convinced that I was confusing a really good make-up job for living tissue. I knew this was true when I noted the care with which her delicate hands had been placed neatly on her solar plexus. Even her nails had been given attention and been painted a shade of blue that resembled a dark stormy night. My eyes wandered back to her face and I felt stupid for never being able to admit it before.
Sara had been beautiful.
Reaching out to rest my hand on hers, I had this inexplicable feeling that she wasn't really gone, even though her ice cold hand boldly contradicted me. I felt like I should say something, anything. As quietly as I could, I leaned forward slightly and whispered:
"I'm sorry I didn't try to save you."
The car ride home was somewhat bearable after I jammed my ubiquitous white iPod headphones in my ears and turned up the volume as loud as it would go. I decided this was necessary after Lily, my little sister, kept asking Mom: "When will Sarabear come out of her box and come play with me again?" She started to bawl after Mom broke the news that Sara wouldn't be coming back and Sarge went ballistic that Mom didn't lie to her ("For fuck's sake, Mariam, don't tell the baby that!").
As soon as we pulled up to the driveway, I shot out of the car, into the house, up the stairs and into my room. As soon I was through the doorway, I yanked the headphones out, causing my ears to burn from the force, and tossed my iPod onto the bed. I stood in the middle of my room and sighed and ran my fingers through my hair. I felt nothing; was that wrong? Thinking I should take a quick shower and take a nap to shut down for a while, I grabbed my towel and headed to the bathroom on the left.
I undressed and left my clothes where they fell on the floor. I turned the hot water on as blistering as it would go and stepped in, my skin reddening on impact with the steaming droplets. After a funeral, if not during a funeral, most people would cry. That was considered normal and okay. I mulled that over in my mind, tossing it around and letting it sink in. But I just didn't feel like crying. Actually, I didn't feel anything at all. I don't feel anger or denial or loss or pain. I don't feel anything except water on fire (there's an oxymoron for you) mixed with the remains of some generic brand of shampoo running down my back, a result of standing here in the shower, staring at nothing. I can't help but sigh, can't help but be annoyed at myself because I actually thought that Sara wasn't dead, despite seeing her white coffin descend into the ground.
Was that why I felt so weird? Was I holding onto the idea that Sara was still alive when she was so obviously dead and that's why I felt like I didn't need to cry? I rolled my eyes at myself; I was truly one sick and twisted person if I was messing myself up psychologically.
She's dead. She's gone. That's it.
Repeating that in my head so that it would become my personal mantra, I shut the water off and stuck my hand out of the shower curtains, groping for the towel I had left near the bathroom sink. All I felt was my toothbrush and the marble-like surface of the sink. No towel. Maybe I was just aiming in the wrong direction. I pulled back the curtain to see if it had fallen off the sink but I got a bigger shock. The door to the bathroom was wide open when I had shut it. Not only that, but footsteps traced in mud led to and from my room.
The stereo in my room turned on. Some Kelly Clarkson tune was playing on low. Lily was messing with me, I immediately thought. She probably snuck in the bathroom and took my towel and now she was kicking back in my room. Christ, she can be irritating sometimes.
"Lily!" I screamed from inside the shower. "This isn't funny!"
Her response, however, was more distant than should have been possible. "What?" Came her yell, muffled. From the sound of it, she was still downstairs.
The music stopped.
My heart was picking up speed and I was afraid it was about to burst out of my chest and go down the shower drain, forever doomed to keep company with dirty water and tangled hairballs. Soft footsteps made their way from my carpeted bedroom to the adjoining bathroom door, slowly letting it creak open. My mind raced through all the horror movies I've ever watched, ones with axe flinging murderers who waited under their victim's beds until they felt the time was right to brutally kill and then mutilate the bodies afterward. My poor mom, she'd have to buy a black suit to bury me in since I don't have any conveniently laying around in my closet. I had worn black jeans and my favorite Bob Marley shirt to Sara's funeral.
Would I be seeing Sara soon?
Why did that make me so happy?
A silhouette came into view at the same time a pale, wounded hand gripped the dark blue shower curtains, dirt clinging to the underside of fingernails painted in the same shade of blue as the curtains. I braced myself, ready to accept whatever was coming, feeling little flutters of panic in my stomach because I had no idea where that decision had come from.
The curtains were ripped open and there she was.
"Hey Ethan," she happily chirped, as if it had only been natural that she was there and I was not to be shocked. "I'm sorry I took your towel but I spilled some embalming fluid on your stereo while I was changing radio stations and I couldn't find anything to clean it up with so yeah, sorry bout that. Are you okay? You're face is all red. Is it because you're naked? It's okay, I'll cover my eyes." Sara turned around and put her hands over her eyes. "Just tell me when you're done okay?"
Quickly wrapping the towel around my waist, I couldn't choose which was my bigger problem: that Sara, who was supposed to be dead, was standing in my bathroom or that I found this much easier to accept than any sane person would.