9:23 am . . .
I woke up early, giving myself plenty of time to properly dress for Jesse’s funeral. Outside it’s getting bright and sunny, not at all like I imagined it would be for a funeral. This is all very strange for me, seeing the human side of death. I’m used to witnessing the passing, itself, not the aftermath. And in my six months of awareness I have become almost desensitized to death. Inoculated against any kind of sadness that might come with it.
Death Lite. Same great death, half the emotional calories.
Ricky says we’re all just objects. Things. Pieces of slowly cooling meat. And part of me obviously sees it his way. I wonder, does that make me more than mortal . . . or less than human?
Ricky’s standing next to me staring at us in a floor to ceiling mirror as I struggle with a tie. He’s not helping me, mind you, just watching.
I say, It’s easier to die than it is to tie a damned tie.
His reflection turns toward mine, and he puts his hands up like he’s going to help me. “For a funeral with a bunch of people you’ve never met,” he says rather flatly, yanking away my tie, “you don’t need to wear one of these.”
I turn back to our reflections. Ricky’s is wearing silver board shorts with black stripes down the sides of the legs, a white tank top, and some green flip-flops. My reflection is dressed in a solid black Hugo Boss suit, a dark grey button-up shirt, and white socks that come to my lower ankles.
“Put your shoes on,” Ricky says, “and walk your girlfriend through this mess.”
She’s strong, I say in her defense.
“They’re different than we are, Jack,” he says, referring to people who don’t deal with death the way we do on a frighteningly regular basis. “For most people,” he adds, “ . . . it’s easier not to know what’s going on behind the cameras.”
I shake my head. I’m really not looking forward to this funeral. “What happens if I get there and there are spooks all over the place? What do I say?”
“You say nothing.”
What if they’re standing next to one of Angela’s parents, or some of Jesse’s relatives?
“Nothing, Jack. You keep quiet.”
How can you be so cold and cruel about dying?
“What’s more cruel,” he asks as he goes to my closet and pulls out a pair of expensive black shoes that I don’t even remember the name of, “to see that somebody’s going to die, or to tell them in advance?”
But if they knew they were going to—
“It makes no difference. Don’t you see that, yet?” He set the shoes in front of my feet so that my reflection seemed to be wearing them. “You can’t save them. You’re not supposed to.”
My reflection is dressed and ready to go. The two-dimensional me looks solid. Strong. He has his shit together.
If Hal’s right, I’m staring into the face of evil. The everyday kind. If Ricky’s right, I’m an accidental servant of the Land of Sorrows. A skip tracer from a place worse than Hell. A bounty hunter. Just some thug that comes from the darkness to snatch away the life that Evil stole back.
And me, I don’t have any idea who I actually am. Am I this suit . . . this $800, hand sewn suit? Am I my $260 shirt with fabric so soft it might have been designed by Angels? Am I this pair of expensive-but-forgettable shoes?
“No,” Ricky answers, “ . . . you’re none of those things.”
Then what the Hell am I? Who are we?
Ricky’s got this dark half smile on his face. You know, where just his mouth is smiling, but the rest of his face is distant and hollow. And he shakes his head a few times. “One thing I’ve learned from years of movies, video games, comic books, and working in the field of medicine, is that not all heroes are the good kind.”
So that’s me, the bad kind of hero? I’m an anti-hero?
He shrugs, his hands fluttering briefly. “We are who we are, Jack.”
I slip my shoes on. They’re KennethCole, by the way.
And all at once my phone starts chirping, somebody is knocking at the front door, the refrigerator is shuffling ice, the air conditioner kicks on, and Ricky says, “Burn off, dude. Stand by your girlfriend—”
We haven’t used that term, yet, I remind him.
“Just hold her hand, nod, and keep your mouth shut, even if you see spooks having a grand old time. If you have to say anything, say . . . say, ‘I’m deeply sorry for your loss,’ and then look down at the ground.”
All the noise in the loft is pushing me out. I might not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but I can take a hint. I take one last look at the unlikely anti-hero face of my own evil, and then I leave.
Restland Memorial Cemetery, Greenville & Walnut Hill, Dallas.
42 quiet minutes later . . .
Angela and I are walking behind her parents, who are following behind Jesse’s family, towards this pearlescent silver casket that is suspended over this rectangular hole in the ground. The hole, it looks cut by anything other than the hand of man. A machine or freak lightening, some other tool. It looks forced, this perfectly cut ditch, and it bothers me.
There are bright colored flowers all around, contrasting sharply with the black suits, dresses, and veils that take the place of the rain and clouds I had expected. Of course, my only funeral experience is through movies and television. There it’s always raining and dark, the drops of rain falling with people’s tears. Then the casket gets slowly lowered into the moist soil as beads of water gather and roll off of the shiny box.
It’s in the mid-80s out, and dry as the desert. The sun is shining down. This is probably going to turn out to be a wonderful day for everyone who isn’t burying a family member.
We gathered around the hole, Angela clutching my hand as if to let go would leave her to fall into some abyss from which she might never escape. Still, we haven’t spoken a single word to each other.
Angela, in her thin black dress tied at the waist by a dark silk sash, she’s looking like she should be on the glossy cover of a magazine, or in movies. She’s that pretty. I know that makes me the creep of all time, but there it is.
As the preacher gives his eulogy I keep my eyes cast downward. I can’t explain why, exactly, but I have this uneasy feeling that some religious types—like priests and such—can see that I’m different. The way I have random moments of death-vision, maybe they do too. Divinely inspired undead-vision, or something.
Angela’s crying again. And even though I know for a fact that it’s not my fault, I still feel just awful. The priest continues to tell us polite and comforting things about Jesse Taylor’s life that he couldn’t have possibly known firsthand. The family members, friends, and those oddballs that just show up to funerals, they’re all doing that persistent, occasional crying that comes after days and days of crying and sadness. As if their bodies can’t work up the energy to give it the full-on, shoulder bouncing, head-bobbling variety of crying . . . but they try anyway.
Angela leans her head against my right shoulder and I can feel her sobs resonating through the right side of my body. I wish I could give her a pill to take away all the pain she must be feeling. My psychiatrist probably could, but he’d say that people need to grieve. They have to feel this pain so that they can get closure and move on. But seeing all these people like this—the other side of the deadside—I’m not so certain.
These people are the human side of death.
These are the actors with their faces swollen and their make-up running in black streaks.
This is the painting after someone had thrown a cup of paint thinner onto the canvas.
Angela keeps sobbing. The priest keeps empowering and consoling, in that half emotional state they preach in at funerals. The sun keeps on shining. The wind keeps on blowing. And me, I just stare at that casket.
Because, see . . . I know what’s really going on. I know where Jesse is, right now.
For me, a place like this isn’t a final resting spot, it’s a cheap motel. Just another place to slow down before the ugly things come out. And I make a promise to myself that I will crossover and find Jesse Taylor. I will tell her that she still has people who really care about her. I’ll do that.
I’m going to do what no priest could ever do for her. I can’t give her peace. But at least she’ll know why she’s stuck in the darkness. I owe Angela that.