The service was over, and the guests had left

on

The guests had been given a choice. In their time, they had been given three
choices. Three choices of how to spend what time together. To be together,
to be alone. There was that choice, at least. I liked to think that I was just
a simple boy with simple needs and desires.

“You don’t need to choose, buddy. You might as well choose.” I heard my Dad’s
voice, soft and reassuring. I was standing in front of the casket, my shoulders
high enough that I could just barely feel the weight. I’d already stood at
Grandma’s grave twice, maybe three times, if you counted kneeling. The
service itself wasn’t bad. We all had to stand, of course, but we didn’t have
to stand in a body bag. That would be bad enough.

I stood, but only because I didn’t want to let Mom down. Her body had
transformation powers, which was the least I could do for her. When Dad
suggested I stand up, the last thing I wanted to do was to sit down. It was
a mistake a good, solid boy would make all the time.

“I’ll stand.” I said. That wasn’t quite true. I wanted to sit back down.
I wanted to sit down, but I wanted to stay standing, like that, to show
Dad I wasn’t afraid.

His mouth moved, but I couldn’t see him. His voice said, “Don’t worry about
it, buddy. I’ll help.” I think it’s still a good thing he said that. It was
almost the first thing he’d said to me since I’d lost his love.

I nodded. I could go sit down. I really didn’t want to. I wanted to stand.
Mom would want me to stand. Mom would want me to lean on her. I wanted to be
strong somehow. I kept standing.

“Sit down,” Dad said, even softer. “You’re not a child anymore.”

I thought about the way Mom died, how she’d collapsed on the sidewalk so
hard, her body weight suddenly becoming so heavy we needed to take her to the
hospital.

I thought about the way she was the first person I ever saw in the real world,
a woman who looked like she was in her early twenties but whose body was in
its twenties, as well, not only by age, but by weight. She looked amazing, but
her body was a body on its way to becoming an old one by then.

I thought about how her clothes fit, how her hair was pulled back from her
face, how her eyes looked tired, but I only saw her as she looked before her
death.

“You see her as young,” Dad said, his eyes on my face. “You’re seeing her
as she was. That’s what you remember. That’s it.”

It was one of my favorite memories of Mom, how she and Dad, walking down
Laurel Drive, talking about my dad. Dad’s arm would come up and he’d grip it
tight, like Mom’s hand had. The memory was almost gone, but it was still
there, floating somewhere just off with the memories floating with it like
a mirage.

I wanted that. I didn’t want to forget, I wanted to remember.

Dad made me stand up. He didn’t ask me. He didn’t even tell me it was
OK. He just stood there, looking at me with his eyes soft and warm and
beautiful and kind. He just stood there, and I wanted to lean on him. I wanted
to stand right in front of her again.

Dad hugged me, hard, a hug that was almost a slap to the side of my face. I
thought he was hugging me because Mom was standing there, but it wasn’t. It
was because I didn’t want to go. I felt the way I’d felt when I realized I
wouldn’t be going to Mom’s funeral in person. I felt that way again, but I
felt it for a much different reason.

In real life, I understood why Dad hugged me. I remembered Grandma standing
there, too, in that awkward way people do where Dad had to stand over them
and kiss them, too. Mom had stood just where Dad hugged me, but it was Grandma
who’d come to her friend’s funeral. Dad had hugged her, too, in that
weird, uncomfortable way that people sometimes do and I’d never really
understand why.

I didn’t just want to hug my Dad. I needed to hug him. If he was willing.
I didn’t know what that meant, but I did know it couldn’t just be a hug. It
couldn’t just be the way I’d always wanted to be hugged. It had to be more.

“We’ve got to go,” Dad said, pulling me away. We weren’t standing on the
back of a hearse. We were standing in two cars, one behind the other.

“Yes, Dad, we do.” It was kind of a lie, I guess. It wasn’t really enough
to just be standing on the side of a car. I was kind of afraid that if I
sat down, I’d fall off.

“We’ll be right back,” he said.

“Yes, sir.”

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