A Wake to Remember

This is a true story, I promise.  A strange anecdote to follow.  It’s so socially awkward and silly that I am inclined to convince you of its authenticity.  I almost feel like what happened was a fictitious event that I created in my head.  Like one of those days when imagination replaces boredom and goes into bewildering territories, where insecurities – the deepest rooted fears – mingle with idealized events, creating imaginary challenges that one can overcome without ever taking any action.  Anyway – check this story out:

Is there anyone else who has an appreciation of funerals for old people?  Just say, “Yes, of course!  I can’t think of a more lively event!”  You liar.  I am the only person, as far as I can tell, who has this peculiar fondness of old people’s funerals.  There’s something special about celebrating an old person’s life, because he or she actually lived through so much – starting with diapers and eventually, as the cycle goes, ending up in diapers. “Gross!” you might respond.  Yeah, I agree a return to diapers is life’s version of ego-demolition; but this notion of coming full circle is a remarkable feat, one that deserves recognition and celebratory gestures.

So, yes: I get all emotional and introspective and focused at these old-timers events, and I cannot handle a lot of person-to-person communication.  Dagnabbit, please don’t bother me with superficial commentary at an old person’s funeral – I am likely to bite your head off, kick you in the crotch, and while you lay on the ground grimacing in pain, my authoritative fingers incessantly waves.  Hint: Not right now, fella.  I should be more courteous to my fellow mourners, I know it.  Then I realize that the funeral isn’t about me, but is dedicated the old man or woman that can truly boast of MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!  I MADE IT, FUCKERS!  Lordy Be, I need to get with the program.

All of this, a serious digression that’s probably left you scratching your head.  I’m not done yet, stick with me, keep reading – this damn story is coming … NOW!

My great-great aunt died a month ago.  I hadn’t seen my mother in several months, so we figured the funeral would be a great excuse to meet up in Dallas, Texas, where I am originally from.  Our motives, pure – we also wanted to pay respect to this amazing lady that I didn’t know very well.  Any relative with a “great-great” distinction is usually too old, or too far removed from my life, for me to know with any real significance.  I spent, probably, a total of 3-4 days (an aggressive hourly total) with Great-Great Aunt Ellen – and that’s it, like in my entire life.  But like I said earlier, I enjoy funerals for old people.  I was game, ready for the momentous occasion, and hell-bent on catching some glimpse of self-truth in all of this.

Finally.  Time for the wake, which was done with an old school twist – at my great-great aunt’s last place of comfort, her lovely house in the Forest Hills neighborhood near White Rock Lake, in East Dallas.  (If you have sinus problems, stay far away from this area.  You were warned!)  The problem with at-home wakes is that all the family members are packed into fairly small areas, so it’s tough to avoid boring conversations with your second generation cousin, who was recently released from the city jail – having served his “time” for intentionally pissing on his boss, who was having a long conversation with corporate about said cousin’s petulant behavior in the work environment.

Yes, this is absolutely a true story.  I keep pinching myself, praying I imagined the whole thing.  But – it gets worse.  Not understanding the concept of personal boundaries, Steve, my second generation cousin, tells me the story in its entirety – how he was “pissed off” at his boss for cutting his hours at the local pet shop store.  So he pissed on his boss, the only appropriate measure he could think of.  It didn’t help that his mind, soiled by two nights of chemically-inspired fun, wasn’t exactly ticking with the rest of the clocks on the wall, but this guy – wow, he seemed convinced that justice was served, bringing new literal interpretation to the idea of “It’s better to get pissed off than pissed on.” He got two weeks of jail time when the district attorney office viewed the pissing match as a type of bodily assault.

About the time that Steve started describing his cell mates, my mother inched toward the living room.  We hadn’t arrived together, so this was the first time I saw her at the wake.  I quickly interrupted Steve, waving at my mother – the code signal for Get! Your! Ass! Over! Here! – while at the same time validating poor Steve, confirming that I related to his perilous fight against The Man.  Unfortunately, my mother remembered Steve from his earlier years, I guess, when he had curly red hair and a habit of grabbing, scratching his ass without concern for his surroundings.  My mother, I tell you.  She mentioned this in front of Steve while I was standing there, and the poor guy, having been through enough recently, smiled and started waving at someone across the room.  He knows the drill: escape!

“Did I say something upsetting, Heather?”

“No, mother.  You only embarrassed the hell out of guy with an already declining self-esteem.  The Man’s got him down, but I suspect after all of this, he’ll include The Woman on his life’s list of resentments.  Other than that, I think he appreciated the ‘scratching ass’ comment.”

“Everyone, dear – and I mean, everyone – has those quirky habits as a child.  Maybe not <i>that</i> habit, but certainly one that’s similar.  In fact, you used to massage your putty when you were four or five.  There’s noth –”

“Wait a damn minute, Mom.  Not here, not now, not ever.  Imagine if someone heard you!  My God.  Seriously.  Why?”

“I see, I see.  Miss Sex Toy Reviewer seems to be ashamed of her early childhood sexual exploits.  You do realize that all children explore genitalia, trying to see what those ‘things’ are down there? You of all people – the sex toy expert – should know how natural it is.  So Steve grabbed and scratched his ass during the same phase of development.  All natural.  Your children will do the same thing.”

Fuck sakes.  At this point, I might wave at Steve to come back and tell me about his baby’s mama or his collection of fingernails, hidden in a tin can buried in the backyard. (Oh, and if you haven’t figured it out yet, the “putty” my crazy mother mentioned – well, that’s my kitty-kitty.  My mother hates the word “vagina”, so she made up this strange word to replace it.)

“Fine.  I get it.  By the way, you haven’t told anyone that I review sex toys, right?  I asked you to keep that a secret, so if you did … I am going to be super-bitchy pissed at you.”

“I may have told a few people, but no one of importance.  I think it’s funny, and there’s nothing wrong with it – so what does it matter?  Most women play with some kind of sex toy.  Hell, my first vibrator was the nifty massager shower nozzle in my bathroom.  Younger people always assume that parents don’t have a sex life.

“I am going to puke.  Thanks for that.  Too much information, mother.  And you sure are flaunting this information rather loudly, don’t you think – as if this is the usual conversation held at a WAKE!”

My mother blankly stared at me, as if she could see beyond my response.  That’s what happens when your mother is a well-known shrink.  Analyze, analyze.  I could tell she was convinced that I was being too dramatic and my response must be symptomatic of something deeper, dirtier – like a real secret. Body language, which my mother has mastered,  is more effective than verbal communication.

“Clock out, Mom.  Off the job training, unnecessary.”

She ignored the comment, turning her head and walking into the room of all rooms, the one with the casket.  Right as a person’s foot crossed the invisible line separating the living room from my great-great aunts bedroom, the collective disposition changed – in dramatic ways, too.  The loud squawkers, incessant talkers suddenly listened to an internal voice that screamed, “Shut the hell up.  For a minute at least, to pay respects.”  A rhythmic shuffling of feet, echoed in the room.  Mixed in with some deep breaths.

My mother was directly in front of me, starting to lean over the casket when Steve bumped his way to the front, and then, unbelievably asked me:

“I hear that you are some kind of sex worker.  Or that you do something with sex toys.  I’d like to talk to you about my girlfriend before you leave.  Please, don’t leave until we’ve talked.  This is really, really fucking import – ”

“Steve.  Look, right now is not the appropriate moment to discuss my profession, habits – really anything unrelated to the funeral.  Maybe you could emai – ”

“I understand.  There’s no reason to be embarrassed.  No one cares what you do for a living, not in a bad way.  I could use your expertise, in the worst way possible – I mean, good way.  Whatever, you know what I mean.”

“Are you sure we are related, Steve O?  Because if we are, my genetic composition is seriously tainted.  Fuck, fine.  We can talk AFTER! the wake and funeral.”

It seems that my mother, who had sipped three too many drinks before attending the wake, told my Aunt Jackie about my sex toy reviews.  Screwed.  Cooked.  Done.  My Aunt Jackie is our family’s very own Perez Hilton.  Mouth always moving, sometimes exposing morning’s breakfast, with sprays of excited spit traveling from the speaker’s mouth to the listener’s unwelcoming eyes – Yes, that’s my sweet Aunt Jackie releasing the caged gossip queen.

Wrong person to reveal that kind of information.  Before I knew it, even Steve, the social outcast, had the 911 on some of my personal activities.  Wonder-fucking-ful.  And it didn’t help that Steve made no effort to conceal his opportunistic agenda.  My poor great-great Aunt that I barely knew.  I blame my mother, Aunt Jackie and Steve – plus the rest of those busy-bodied family members, who were – I swear – looking at me differently than they had when I first arrived at the house.  Or was I being paranoid?  Not sure, but that’s how I felt.

What did Steve ask me?  I wouldn’t know.  After the funeral I booked it out there.  I didn’t say a word to anyone.  I called an old high school friend, explained the situation, and told her to pick me up at the stop sign.  I left my rental car for my mother to drive.  (She arrived at the funeral with … You guessed it!  My Aunt Jackie.)

Somehow I felt guilty because of these jerk offs running their collective mouths at the wrong time.  I felt kinda dirty inside – not because I do review sex toys, but because I related to yesterday’s biological waste.  Am I being too judgmental?