Corb drove me to the funeral home, and dutifully waited outside in the parking lot during the half hour that the immediate family had the room to themselves. Prior to getting there, there had been an awful lot of talking and worrying whether we should go together. Would this upset my parents? They hadn't met Corb yet, and, in fact, Mom had said to me that she didn't want to "until I was divorced from Josie." But then again, everyone else had their significant other by their side. My sister Laurie's partner Jennifer was more than welcome. That request bordered on the irrational, and in the end, we decided that yes, Corbett would be going, and yes, the whole time, and if people wanted to see him as a friend, that was fine, and if they wanted to dig deeper, that was fine, too.
I was the first one there, aside from my parents and dad's brother. Imagine, me, timely, for once in my life. The funeral home was lovely, all Victorian trim, quaint nooks and crannies for mourners, fancy chandeliers, and gold encrusted frames bearing certificates of inspection by the Health board. Truly, I would be happy to live out my days in this quaint mansion on Newport Avenue, were it not for the unsettling thought that thousands of dead people had made this place a pit stop on the way to the boneyard.
Uncle Chris approached me as I entered. "Why don't you go take a look at her?" he asked me, after he was done shaking my hand and exchanging pleasantries.
I think I visibly flinched. "Right now?"
"Come on, get it over with," he said. "It's fine, once you get over the initial shock."
So I gritted my teeth and made my way over to the empty open casket.
I avoided direct contact until I kneeled down in front of the casket, and then, bracing myself for the worst, looked up.
There she was, my Nana. Her gray hair had been carefully permed and set in place, and her lips were covered in a soft pink lipstick that she never would have used in real life. She was dressed up in a purple sequined dress mom had bought her last winter, and her hands held a beautiful crucifix that Laurie had purchased for her.
She looked amazingly lifelike, save for a set to her jaw that didn't look lifelike at all. Nana never scowled. Yet her teeth seemed on edge, as though she were gritting her teeth. Save for that, when looking at her beautiful, sturdy, Irish face, I honestly half-expected her to open her eyes at any minute.
I sat down and prayed, and went over the moments of our life together, and went over everything I wanted to say to her. Nana thank you for everything thank you for all that you've done for me you made me so happy through the years I always knew that I could come to you that I could find a safe haven that I could relax and sit next you and everything would be okay and I'm so sorry nana, I'm so sorry that I hadn't been there that much these past two years I just wish I had been able to give you the comfort that you gave me that I had been there twice as much as I had been and Nana, oh Nana, I love you, I truly love you so much...
No tears. I said a prayer and then moved away, giving someone else a chance.
And then, I moved into the receiving line, next to my sister Kerrie. The line of immediate family you pass as you make your way past the coffin, and shake hands with, and always feel slightly unsure what to say, exactly. (And if you're like me, you always end up saying the wrong thing, too. I once said to a high school friend of mine, after the death of his mother, in the receiving line, "Gee, you've lost a litle hair on top, eh, Steven? And there you said it'd never happen to you!" I know, it was awful, but I was slightly nervous, and besides, I had always been in love with him.)
And in this line, I discovered that there would be no wailing or gnashing of teeth on my part. Instead, I moved into show mode. I smiled, muttered nice pleasantries, and made stupid jokes whenever I thought it was appropriate. I became an entertainer, playing the part of the bereaved struggling to maintain a good attitide. That a boy.
I wasn't the only one. My dad assumed principal mode. He addressed everyone by their first name, introduced those who were strangers to the family, and hid from public view that scared, sad man that I had seen that Monday night at Nana's apartment.
I only lost it twice: once, with Josie's mother in the line, and later, when Pauline and Mary Beth came in. And Corb was there during the entire time, dutifully sitting, keeping a careful eye out for me. "Corb, you were there for Ted more than my husband was for me," Kerrie said to us, later. It was true. Clark was out in the parking lot most of the time, directing traffic.
Josie was there a good long time, too. And she told me a story, one that she had promised Nana she would never tell while she was alive. It must have looked really strange, to see me sitting between Corb and Josie, trying not to laugh hysterically, practically to the point of crying, over this really funny thing Nana had said to Josie, so many years ago, that only saw the light of day this afternoon. (Of course, I can't repeat it here...yet.) We talked about Josie's date Friday night, and I am happy to see it went well.
After the wake, my parents took the immediate family to dinner. And yes, Corbett did go. He's my man, he's my future, he's who I love, and I'm not hiding him, not any more. And everyone was very nice. Dad was a bit quiet. Mom was lovely.
"Your sister Laurie seems really nice," said Corbett, as we drove to the restaurant.
"Did you talk to her?" I asked, keeping my eyes on the cars in front of me.
"A little. Remember, she introduced herself? But I also noticed that you two stayed clear of each other the entire time. Why do you hate her so much?"
"I don't! But a lot of stuff has taken place, and..."
"Maybe it's all just a misunderstanding."
"No, she was a real bitch growing up, and really mean to me. But that all got resolved, really, it's just..." I sighed. Uncovering the past seems so futile sometimes, so long and involved. "When I started trying to face up to who I was, I wrote a long, really personal story about a relationship I had with a guy named Damon. I let Laurie read it. I thought she might understand. I thought it might bring us closer together. But instead, she totally ripped it apart. I wasn't looking for a critique, I was looking for someone to talk to. But she always did stuff like that, always hated everything I've ever done."
"Maybe she didn't mean to rip you apart. Maybe that wasn't what she meant to do at all. My mom didn't talk to her brother for ten years, due to a stupid misunderstanding at a wedding. Why don't you just go up and give her a hug?"
I grimaced at the thought. "Corb, I love you, but it's just not going to happen."
Corb shrugged. "Ted, you're being stubborn."
I shook my head and stared out the window.
We pulled up at the restaurant and made our way out of the car. Tommy was next to us, with Laurie in his car. I spoke to Tommy and Laurie tactfully made her way to Mom. We entered the restaurant. Corb and I made our way to the left, by Kerrie. Laurie stayed on the right, by Mom. "Go up and talk to your Mom, that'll get the conversation going," whispered Corb.
We all joined together a few minutes later, waiting for our tables. The conversation turned to Christmas presents and shopping. "I don't think I can take you tonight, Laurie. I'm too tired," Kerrie was saying.
"I just want to go home and rest for tomorrow."
I glanced over at Corb. His face was impassive, listening to the conversation. "Why am I going to do this?" I thought, but I knew I was going to say it, I knew it for a good three minutes as the conversation continued and finally I looked Laurie's way and said,
"Corb and I are going shopping later on. If you want, you can come with us."