Saturday, August 20, 2005

Judithheartsong's Artsy Essay Contest for August

The subject this month is "I Believe." Link to the contest, HERE.

To illustrate this essay on what I believe, I have posted a photograph of myself taken almost forty years ago, when I believed I was still a technical virgin.

Let's get things started with a paraphrase of Crash Davis in Bull Durham.  

I believe in rock and roll and that my butt looks too fat. I believe I can be easily distracted by the slope of a man's shoulders, the smell of his sweat and the sound of him opening a beer. I believe there's something spiritual in a mountain sunset and a full rainbow across the sky, and that watching the self-absorbed movies of Stanley Kubrick will always be a complete waste of time. I believe Bill Clinton acted like a fool and so do the Bush daughters. I believe there ought to be a law against combovers and black socks with sandals. I believe that the g spot is is a figment of someone's imagination, that chat rooms are the new pornography, that Thanksgiving has always been a better holiday than Christmas, and that if given the choice, I would rather stay in bed and order room service for three long, uninterrupted days.

If you smiled during any of this, then you know that I believe there is humor in everything.  

This was a lesson I learned during the saddest point of my life, when my mother died a month before my twenty-third birthday.

After weeks of driving home from the hospital sobbing in the car and thinking I couldn't be any sadder, I was dropped into a maelstrom of grief that plunged me into total despair when she died. My heart ached so much, it was hard to breathe. I broke out in hives, which my analyst father interpreted as unshed tears. Swallowing became difficult because I had the continuous sensation of a lump in my throat.

My anguish aside, there were arrangements to make. Little did I know what impact they would have.

Soon after my mother passed away, I had my first meeting with the funeral director. Before she died, she had chosen a local funeral home that was very close to where we lived, instead of the fancy one in the next town.

The funeral director's name was Freddy Coffin. C-O-F-F-I-N. Did she know? I already knew Freddy from school, although I never knew what his family's business was. Nobody wanted to get that close to him. I had managed to avoid him until my mother died, because he had been held back a year in fifth grade while the rest of us moved on.

Most funeral directors greet you in a dark suit, a white shirt and a tie. They speak in reverent, hushed tones and refer to the deceased as if he or she were a former head of state.

Freddy was sitting behind a desk in his office, wearing an open collared shirt with a button missing just above his belt, revealing a fat, hairy stomach. He looked and vaguely smelled like he'd just come up from working in the basement. From time to time as we talked, he sipped from a can of soda next to him.

I began to have an out of body experience.  I was no longer sitting in a chair in front of this ghoulish apparition. I was watching from a place on the ceiling.

FREDDY:  Your mom looks pretty bad. She's lost a lot of weight.

ME:  Well, she had cancer, Freddy.

What was he doing with my mother's body?

FREDDY:  I put some red nail polish on her fingernails. I think it looks very nice.

ME:  She never wears red polish, Freddy. Only clear. Take it off.

What was he doing with my mother's body?

I had brought one of her favorite outfits for her to wear. I even had a diagram for how to arrange the scarf on the dress exactly the way she liked it. As I tried to explain all the details of how to accessorize her clothes, I looked up at Freddy and suddenly realized that he didn't care.

Ordinarily I would have gone ballistic because my mother was dead and it felt like her body was being defiled. But in a split second, a strange sense of peace came over me. and the rage that was rising suddenly evaporated.  I heard two words, "It's okay."  I don't know where they came from.

Instead of trying to gain control of what was becoming a living nightmare or some kind of cosmic joke, I let it go and decided just to watch the absurdity unfold.

The next character in this black comedy was my mother's hairdresser. His shop was across the street from the funeral home. Because of the chemo, she had lost her hair and wore wigs. He had washed and styled one of hers and was dying to see how it looked. I agreed to meet him at the funeral home so he could see her laid out in the casket.

We walked up to see her together. He was wearing a baby blue barber's shirt and had his little dog with him. I remember thinking I'd never seen a dog in a funeral home before.

HAIRDRESSER: Oh my gawd, she looks awful! So thin. But the wig looks fabulous!

Then he turned around with a flamboyant flourish and left.

Now it was my turn to look at my mom lying in the casket. Except that I didn't notice her. I only saw the outfit. It looked like it had been put on backwards. I also noticed her nails and I could see traces of the red polish I'd told Freddy Coffin to remove.    

And I heard, "It's okay."

Later, during the wake, one of my mother's friends pulled me aside and said, "How does she look?" I said she looks a little thin. Casting a furtive glance in the direction of her coffin, he said, "I can't look at dead bodies, I just can't."  I told him it was okay.

A few days later someone called from the company that made my mother's wigs.  

"Her new wig is ready for pick up."

"She died last week."

"Well, tell her the wig is ready for pick up."  

I didn't really look for the humor in my mother's death and funeral. The humor hit me like a pie in the face. After she died I began looking for it in any situation.

Finding something funny where nothing funny seems possible can diffuse anger, salve a wound, lift a spirit, break the tension, and even bring someone back from thebrink of despair. It may be slapstick, corny, cerebral, physical, or black, but a funny moment can save the day.

Humor became my way of saying to someone, "It's okay."

Ironically, those were the saddest days of my life.  Nothing was funny then.

Everything is funny now.

I chose the picture above primarily to show you how sad I was most of the time. All the pictures of me from back then are pensive. I never seem to be smiling when caught in repose.


meforevermore said...

lol... I know this is going to sound so sucking up lol... But I swear to god at first I thought that was one of those paintings of an angel lol... That is such a beautiful picture... I mean it.... Maybe it's just because I took photography classes lol...


jevanslink said...

The photographer of this photo was my boyfriend at the time.He just sent this to me a little while ago. After he became my ex, he later married someone else. Her AOL screenname is emmapeeldallas. Now he's her ex.  She has a journal you can link to in my Other Journals area.  Mrs. L

swibirun said...

"Wow, she's [note, not past tense] beautiful!"


jckfrstross said...



screaminremo303 said...

Can I carry this one in my wallet?

sistercdr said...

I love this.  Let me add you're equally beautiful at both ages.

robbush6 said...

Socks, in any color, with sandals are just . . . wrong.

<<raising my pie fork>> To timeless beauties with Reubenesque big butts.

gaboatman said...

Good luck in the contest, Mrs. L.  A great entry and it seems we have many beliefs in common, especially our views of Stanley Kubrick movies.  What a small world.  I've been reading "Talking to myself,"  Emmapeeldallas's journal for a while now and I enjoy the entries.  To find there is a connection between the two of you is an interesting coincidence.  

cneinhorn said...

love this one mrs l.....look forward to more :-)


ann7inflorida said...

I think I must have missed the picture, because it's not showing up ...but this entry is brilliant. Part of me is cracking up {ya gotta love dark humor} & part of me feels very sad. I lost my mom 3 weeks before my 21st birthday so I can relate to a lot of this. When it's all said and done, I agree with your philosophy.

ann7inflorida said...

Ok..I can see your pic now {I'm on dial up - it sucks.-}


tdain2003 said...

The difference in how you look is incredible .... you are more beautiful now... that you can find the humor in anything instead of being pensive.  This is by far your best entry!

heathyrxmarie said...

This is a beautiful entry, Mrs. L.  I've found you by way of Tracy (Tdain2003) and many many others! Stop by and see me sometime!

belfastcowboy75 said...

Great entry, and I love the pic. But my favorite pic is the one of you in the bathroom, trying to cover up. Oh, you didn't know I had that one?

robbush6 said...

We either rise above it or wallow in it. Your mother would not have wanted her death to pull you under. You are a survivor in every sense. And you have done it beautifully.

judithheartsong said...

thank you for this post.... I will try to remember your wise words. You are lovely inside and out and I am so glad that you shared this piece.

missboogerhead said...

At one point I laughed at another I cried.  Honey, you are an amazing woman.  I'm not quite sure how you did it.  
~Miss O

shaz19743 said...

Mrs L ...this entry is simply brilliant in its humour and in its emotion and honesty .
I seen this beautiful but sad face staring out at me from the computer screen before the rest of your entry had been posted and i remember being taken aback by the emotions it evoked  in me ....its almost identical to a photograph i have of my mother taken when she was about 21 , caught unawares in a moment of contemplation she too looked as you did young , vibrant but somehow sad and melancholy .There are times in our lives when we think we will never smile again such is the loss we feel , laughter seems a memory , a frivolus luxury we will never be able to experience again , then gradually we realise its all we have left to ease the pain and most of all its our smiles that ease the pain of others x

dimundntheruf69 said...

beautiful entry and what a beautiful woman you ARE...~christie

pixiedustnme said...

ah, mother's do have a way of teaching us things in unique ways!  Just glad you have learned to look back and laugh, that's probably one of the toughest things to do.  fabulous entry!  -Kelly

mombzbe said...

If it wasn't for a sense of humor, I would've left my lot long ago. ;)
Great entry Mrs L.  Wow, what a photo!

judypearllove said...

Great entry. Been there myself and I also found without humor and laughing at most things people look at me strange for I would not be able to go on. my Mother and Father many Uncles Aunts Cousins Grandparents on both sides both and inlaws have died. my husband and 4 yr old grandson was killed in auto instantly. I  along with my 16 yr old daughter was also in the car. The funeral and the getting ready, the fighting began between family members over everything my husband owed along with his business partners. Yes, I went to hell without leaving earth but you know what save me then and now is laughing at all those fools. I got what was rightfully mine and I'm happy and sane still laughing. come on over and visit. I have felt the saddness you see in your pic more times than I can count but keep on laughing my friend for I will until it's my time to lay down.

grassriver said...

What an entry! So many emotions and directions, but they all end up in the same place. I love it.