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.