Making your bed in the morning is more important than making it to church. Mom used to always say that. For every wrinkled comforter or crooked pillow a President Washington was added to her “Un-Made-Bed Jar.” She was training my brother, Cole, and I for adulthood, and adults make their beds in the morning.
College adults, however, don’t make their beds in the morning. Most eighteen-year-old freshman experimented with rugby guys, cheap vodka shots and Mary Jane (not the blonde who lived two doors down). I experimented with not making my bed. I failed. I couldn’t do it. Even now as a college senior, an unmade bed makes me feel dirty. My roommate never makes her bed in the morning. Or in the afternoon. Or in the evening. Every day at 10:00 AM after my morning closes, I enter dorm 101 the same way:
The lump of sheets on her top bunk is illuminated by the morning sunlight. It resembles a body. Today, I don’t see it breathing. She’s either not in bed, or dead.
Thankful for the privacy, I plop onto the plastic-wrapped mattress of my bottom bunk. I’d stripped the sheets before I left for British Lit. I want to get them washed at home where I don’t have to spend $4.75 to do it.
With my obsolete iPhone only a few inches from my nose, I scroll through Facebook pictures from three years ago. I just need to find the one of Aunt Faye. I don’t know what I’m expecting to happen when I do find the picture. There it is: June 3rd 2012, no likes. I’m sitting in-between my Uncle Russell and Aunt Faye on a picnic table under a tarp. It was supposed to rain that day. I was proud, tall, all dressed up in my graduation gown and hat. My Uncle Russell is on my left side with his arm tightly wrapped around my waist. Like his brother, my dad, Russell’s a big guy with vibrant rosy cheeks. Unlike my dad, Russell’s face from the nose down is full of hair. Russell is a beard guy. In the winter he looks like a mountain man. Also unlike my dad, Russell always has a beer nestled in a can cozy in his hand even when he’s cruising down dirt roads. My dad hasn’t drank alcohol in over 10 years, but he sips an NA every once in a while. Russell was sporting his Club 21 trucker’s hat that day which was the trucking company he drove for at the time. Now, I think he drives for a different one, but I can’t keep track. Aunt Faye sits on the right side of me. Her hands are clasped together and she’s smiling without showing any teeth. She had the most prominent facial features, almost like Elizabeth Taylor. Classically beautiful, but bitchy.
I close my eyes and focus on how this picture makes me feel. Sadness? No. Grief? No. Regret? Hell no. This is the only picture I have with Aunt Faye. It’s also the last time I saw her, the last time I will ever see her. Aunt Faye’s funeral is tomorrow and this picture was my last hope to try and feel the way a normal person would feel after hearing news of a deceased aunt.
Last week, my Uncle Russell found my Aunt Faye dead on the living room floor of their double-wide. The autopsy report found a high amount of opiates in her system. She was on Vicodin for chronic back pain.
Aunt Faye. What is there to say about Aunt Faye? Honestly, I didn’t know Aunt Faye. Her short, heavy body spent its days behind the front desk of a two-star motel in town where she enjoyed the company of I-94’s finest travelers. Every year, she’d stick our family’s most recent
Christmas card on her refrigerator door and leave it up until she got a new one in the mail the next year. She’d only remember my birthday every other year, but when did send a card she was always good for a couple of dollars. Three years ago, she made an appearance at my high school graduation party and dropped a generic congratulatory card in my box. Our relationship was prewritten cards. I didn’t actually know Aunt Faye. She was just Aunt Faye.
So, a couple days ago when Mom called to tell me Aunt Faye had died. She said it like she was proposing a business deal and I could take it or leave it. I wasn’t sad or happy. I never assumed something like this was going to happen, but I wasn’t shocked either. The first thing I asked was whether or not we were still going to have Easter dinner. I’m impartial to rabbits and colored chicken eggs, and I don’t get into religions based on mythical hallucinating, dead, story tellers, but damn do I love Mom’s ham and mashed potatoes. I’ve been eating the diet of a college student for the past three years, so holidays that include home cooked meals are a big deal. I was terrified the turmoil of a family death the day before a major holiday would ruin everything including that honey glazed ham.
Hunger is not an appropriate emotional response to a death.
I click the home button, watching the Facebook picture fade into apps. I need to finish packing.
There is no word that describes being home for me. It’s like that feeling of someone running their fingers through my hair.
My bedroom looks so childish. Eyes from pictures I drew in high school and Precious Moments that fill almost every shelf watch me as I drop my bags in an empty corner of the room. Mom left a pile of fresh, neatly folded sheets on the end of my bed. I grab the fitted sheet and start tucking.
Mom stands in the doorway.
“Happy to be home?”
“Yeah. It’s always weird coming back though.”
She grabs the bottom corner of the throw sheet. “How much sheet do you have on your side?”
“Pull it your way a hair.”
We fold the bottom corners like dog ears, lift the bottom of the mattress and tuck the sheet safely under. I grab the corners of the quilted comforter and watch it as it waves through the open space. It lands on the bed, crooked. We straighten it out and add the final touches; pillows. I have more pillows than one person would ever need.
I collapse on the bed. Mom sits in the tan glider in the corner.
“So, what’s up?” I ask, already knowing what is up.
“Your dad and I went to go see Russell yesterday.”
“The place was a disaster. Dishes piled up in the sink, on the table, on the floor. Shit everywhere. The beds didn’t even have sheets on them, just blankets piled up on a bare mattress.”
“So, sounds like he’s doing okay then?”
“I think the mess was Faye’s and Russell was just left with it.”
“Oh, yes. Interesting theory. Because historically, alcoholics have always been cleaner than drug addicts.”
“When your dad and I first started dating, Russell was always clean. There wouldn’t be a hair out of place at his house. When he met Faye though, the house got harder and harder to manage.”
“Hmmm. Well, love is a battle field. What else is new?”
“Well, we got a Dunkin Donuts.”
“Yeah, there was a line all the way around the block for the grand opening. We also got a new consignment shop downtown.”
“Another one? What does this make now, six?”
“Yeah, well buying used is in now. Oh! Remember that girl you used to go to school with? The short, heavy set one. Emily, maybe? Her mom owned that bridal shop in town.”
“Mom, there were only 100 kids in my whole school. Yeah, I remember Emily.”
“Well, her mom was caught sleeping with her boyfriend, Adam, that grubby boy two years younger than you.”
I laughed, “Are you serious? That’s awesome!”
“No, it’s not. It’s disgusting.”
“It’s kind of funny.”
“Whatever, what are you going to wear tomorrow?”
“Quit being a smart ass.”
“I’m not. That’s a legitimate answer. For Jews, it doesn’t matter what they wear to funerals because they rip their clothes anyway. And, if you’re Hindu, you wear white to a funeral. Not black.”
“Are we Jews?”
“No, but we know a couple.”
Are we Hindus?”
“Not that I know of. We’re Lutheran right?”
“Well, that’s how you were raised, but…”
“But, now we’re hopeless wanderers, roaming the lands in search of meaning and belonging.”
“So, tomorrow you need to be up and ready to go by 9:30. The visitation is at Sonnenburg Family Funeral Home. We need to leave early enough to go pick up your brother. He’s coming with us.”
“Cole’s actually coming?” I am shocked. Cole is my only brother. He’s two years older, yet I was the one doing his chemistry homework in high school. He lives in the house right over the hill from my parents’, yet they almost never see him. Cole doesn’t do family functions. Sure, he shows up for the major holidays, but when it comes to graduation parties, weddings, baby-showers, and especially funerals, he usually has other plans.
“I told him he had to go,” Mom says sounding annoyed.
My mom has two personalities. She doesn’t have a disorder or anything, but she definitely has two distinct personalities. The nurturer personality she uses about 99% of the time especially on me after I fail a test and my life is suddenly going nowhere. The other is the executioner personality. This personality is only unleashed during extreme situations, but should be approached with caution. The Charter cable guys only know this personality. I have only encountered it on one occasion when I lied about not eating breakfast when I was a sixth-grader.
She used liquid soap, not a bar, to wash out my mouth. Cole must have been on the receiving end of the executioner personality recently.
I imagine the visitation: a priest droning on and on and on about Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the camel. My entire Saturday wasted. I roll over onto my back.
“Dad says Faye’s boys are going to speak instead of a pastor.” It’s as if she had just heard everything I was thinking. “You know, since she didn’t have a primary pastor.”
I laughed and sat up again, “Okay, first, is that a thing? A primary pastor? Second, it’s priest. You know, because Faye was Catholic.”
“I don’t know. They could be. They are kind of like primary doctors. You only go and see them when something is wrong, or if you’re dead or dying. And, how do you know she’s Catholic?”
“You’ve never heard Grandma bitch about Faye being Catholic? Grandma despises Catholicism. Her and Martin are like this,” I crossed two fingers.
“I don’t listen to a lot of what your grandma bitches about.”
So, Beau and Lars are going to give the service tomorrow. Suddenly, I am excited for this funeral. Aunt Faye’s boys, Beau and Lars, are not Russell’s biological boys. They are magnificent fuck-ups. I’ve never met Beau or Lars in person. The only time I’ve met them is through the town journal, when their shenanigans have gone public. Beau has spent two occasions in jail. Once he was cuffed for driving under the influence with his sixth-month old daughter in the back seat. The second time was because old man Lester, a neighbor across the street from Beau, heard him yelling and called the cops. Turns out, he was upset with his wife for changing the channel while a non-interrupted feature of 8 mile was on FOX. Lars is the biggest meth head in town. He buys it. He sells it. There isn’t much more to say about Lars.
Sonnenburg Family Funeral Home is a small, ugly robin’s egg blue building. The inside walls are operating room white and are plastered with pictures of the Americanized depiction of Jesus and his bird. Cole and I stick closely together in the funeral home, but get separated by an incoming mob of old women who instantly comment on how rosy Cole’s cheeks are and how tall and handsome he is. My attempt to blend into the rubber plant behind me fails when Ms. Donnelly (the old widow who attends every funeral within a ten mile radius) yells my name. The mob turns. Cole escapes and leaves me behind. It’s all over.
They say all the typical things and ask all the typical questions:
“How is school going?”
“How many more years do you have left?”
“Look how skinny you still are. I remember when I was that skinny. When my granddaughter went off to college she came back 30 pounds heavier.”
“You are still so beautiful. Your dimples haven’t changed.”
“What did you do to your hair? It’s so dark. I liked it better when it was blonde.”
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
Whoop, there it is. The only time I ever want a boyfriend is when I’m asked, “Do you have a boyfriend?”
I smile and stare at the floor, “Nope, I guess I just don’t have time to find a man between my vigorous course schedule and extra-curricular activities.” This isn’t a church, so I’m pretty sure I can lie here.
After deciding against casually claiming I’m a lesbian, I stealthily leave the women. I scan the room for my good-for-nothing brother and spot him seated in a back row of lined banquet chairs. He accidently meets my eyes. Nervously grinning, he pats the chair next to him like he’s been defending it from anyone who asks to sit down.
Awkwardly sitting in the back row, I latch on to conversations happening in different parts of the room. The couple to our right argues about who will clean the guest bathroom today and who will watch the ham tomorrow. Their four rotten kids climb on their chairs like they are state of the art jungle gyms. The older man and young woman sitting two rows ahead of us comment on the decision to cremate Faye’s body instead of a normal burial. They also talk about how rotten the arguing couple’s four kids are. I prefer cremation. It is the safest route to take to avoid returning to life as a zombie. The room falls quiet. The chubbiest of the four rotten kids loses his concentration on the chair and falls face-first. I swear I saw him bounce twice.
Cole elbows me in the rib and laughs through his nose closing his mouth so tightly it looked like his lips had vanished. Confused, I follow his stare and immediately understand his reaction.
Beau and Lars rushed the funeral so family members traveling to the area for Easter could kill two birds with one stone. Not being able to stand up and talk about their mother themselves, they called the closest Catholic Church to find a cheap priest. By the time they called, all the good priests were preoccupied with other Easter engagements, but there was one that was available for hire.
His real name is 17 letters long and 10 of those letters are vowels. His dark skin and abnormally large nose makes heads turn fast. He makes a point to greet every person he comes in contact with as he makes his way up to the podium. His incoherent Indian accent makes conversations end abruptly.
By the time he reaches the podium, the room is as quiet as a graveyard.
“Good afternoon,” he says with a pleasant smile.
Cole lost it. Jaws drop like a beat in a Dr. Dre hit.
He casually scans the white, stunned faces. He opens his travel size Holy Bible and starts praying as if this shit happens every day.
Grinning ear to ear, Cole and I take turns catching glimpses of Grandma’s colorless, aggravated face as the priest carries on with his Catholic service.
“Faye’s dons have written words they would like for me to share with you all this afdernoon,” the priest says as he is handed Faye’s service flier in which Beau and Lars had written on.
“Wait, what did he just say?” Cole asks.
“I think her sons have written something?”
“Faye enjoyed gardening with her husband. She loved cooking and canning produce from her garden. Faye enjoyed being busy around her house. Faye enjoyed practicing her faith. Faye enjoyed her job at the motel. Faye loved her sons. Faye loved her grandchildren. Faye brought great joy to everyone around her.”
I didn’t know Aunt Faye, but I guess I knew her better than her own sons. I look around the funeral home to see if I was the only one calling bullshit on this guy’s spiel. Some heads were dropped to the floor. Some people were closing their eyes. Some people were crying! Crying!
The visitation ends and all 35 people or so pile out of the ugly robin’s egg blue building. I decide last minute that I need to pee. I turn and start heading back to the funeral home.
Just as I turn the final corner of the skinny hallway, I bump into the priest. He excused himself, places his hand on my shoulder and says, “I am sorry for your loss.”
I didn’t stub my toe or fall down two flights of stairs, so why did I need sympathy?
“Oh, thanks, but I’m okay.”
“In my country, people are not sad when someone dies because the soul lives on in a new entity after death.”
“Yeah, reincarnation. I know a little about Hinduism. It’s kind of like coming back to life as a zombie, but you don’t have the urge to eat people and you get a new body instead of the old decrepit one. But, aren’t you Catholic?”
“Yes, but I was raised Hindu.”
“So, do you believe in heaven then?”
“I asked you first.”
“Yes, I believe in Heaven.”
“So you don’t believe people come back to life after they die?”
“No, I believe the soul lives and finds peace.”
“But, the soul could live on just in a different body. You know, according to Hinduism.”
“Yes, it could. Would you like it if Faye’s soul lived on in a different body?”
“Well, it would depend on the body I guess. I mean, let’s say she came back as a leech or a mosquito. No one wants to be those. In that case no. I wouldn’t want Faye to come back. But let’s say she came back as an eagle or a wolf or something, then hell yeah! Reincarnate it up.”
“Your morality defines what you come back as.”
“Well, in that case, Faye definitely isn’t going to be a maid or a chef.” I said laughing under my breath.
“I see. And, what do you think you would come back as?”
I stared at him. I could not think of one animal I knew. I couldn’t think of anything.
“I’m sorry. I should get out of your way. You were trying to use the bathroom, yes?”
“Oh, yeah. No. I don’t have to go anymore.” That was true.
When the final SUV door slams shut, Dad and I met eyes in the rear view mirror. He smiles at me, turns around looking at both Cole and I and says, “If Father Habeeboo does the service at my funeral, I will haunt all of your asses until the day you die.”
“Did you see your mom’s face?” Mom grins staring at my dad.
“I’ve never seen her so white,” he says sporting his usual shit-eating grin.
“Your face was just as white.”
“The only part that was true was the part about Faye liking her job.” Cole says, but I was only half listening to the conversation.
“Yeah,” snorts Dad, “Those interstate folk bring in all the best drugs.”
What would I come back as? Would I prefer Heaven? Sure, I swear from time to time and am sarcastic, but that’s not bad enough to come back as a mosquito is it? No, mosquitos have to be hardcore shitheads. I’m pretty responsible, so that should count for something. What kinds of animals are responsible? Is that even a thing? Maybe a horse? Horses are dependable and people don’t typically eat their horses.
I open up Facebook from my phone. I find the picture of Faye again. I stare at her picture. I still don’t know what I’m expecting to happen.
I fumble with my keys and bags outside of dorm room 101. I open the door, “Allison?” No answer but her sheets and comforter still resemble a body. I feel around on the top bunk this time just to make sure she really isn’t dead.
I take the full Tupperware containers full of leftovers from Easter dinner out of the paper grocery bag. Mashed potatoes. Honey glazed ham. Green bean casserole. Seven layer salad. My fridge is fit for a fucking king now.
I pull the washed, neatly folded sheets for my twin size mattress out of my bag. I pull the fitted sheet from the bottom of the pile, grab the bottom corners and watch it as it waves through the open space.