Anchor

Ryan Henneberry

 

I can’t understand him. For one of many reasons, he is speaking not-English, while I am speaking very well articulated English. He doesn’t understand me needing my suit by seven, whereas I don’t understand why he can’t just have it done by seven. I retract by eating a gyro from the Greasey Grossy Hut and wait for my suit to be done. I’m already having so much fun today. My mom has called me for the 17 th time asking when I will be at my Grandma’s house and I just drove to pick up my brother. My brother who makes good choices. My brother who days earlier threw a “blow-out” (as the kids might say) New Year’s Eve party and more-or-less trashed our house as if we lived on the corner of Teen Movie Avenue and it’s-the-night-after-graduation. He threw this debauch even though he knew what my mom had been doing for the past five days and he could have guessed that she probably didn’t want to clean the stale party smell of beer and pee out of her carpet. He makes good choices and we all love him for that. We will all be together for the next three days because my Grandpa died last week. Tomorrow is his funeral.

 

Funeral. Gross, who wants that? No one. So, I promise that if you don’t shut down at the thought of a sad and probably boring funeral, I will promise up front to keep this as far away from a sad and probably boring funeral. I might have just lied; it may still be sad – but just for me. You didn’t know my Grandpa, so you couldn’t and shouldn’t get torn up.

 

It’s probably bad genetic-inheritor-code-of-conduct to call someone’s funeral boring. Your nearly last thoughts about anyone should not include the word boring, but that’s what funerals are. Plus, he is the one who made me short and probably bald and perhaps instilled the gene to find it necessary to cut my grass 4 times a week in my old age, so maybe more respect is due than boring.

 

I loved my Grandpa, but so what? I’m sure I will be sad at his funeral. Who isn’t sad at their Grandpa’s funeral? Well, I’ve devoted much of my life to trying to be “unique” and so far I seem to be really run of the mill.

 

Unique? Different? Like that time I showed up in a habit to my 6 th grade Halloween party and no other student thought it was very funny? “I don’t get it,” was echoed all over the room and “I don’t get it,” was forever tattooed in my brain. The teachers got it, but I knew then I would have trouble getting my peers to get me. As I stood on stage receiving the teacher decided award for best costume, with hundreds of dead eyes from ninjas, doctors, gumball machines looking back at me, I knew I had unique down pat.

 

As such, how does me being sad at my grandpa’s funeral make me unique? Well, I spent the five days before his funeral terrified that I would not actually be sad at his funeral. So far I’ve used two words I don’t know if I’m okay with: boring and now unique. I am not a 3 rd grade vocabulary teacher. Who says unique? Anyhow, because I was so nervous about actually looking like the Tin Man (the Scarecrow? I don’t remember) at my Grandpa’s shindig, I tried a variance of exercises before leaving my house.

 

Exercise 1: I tried to make myself cry. I thought of my mom, Grandma, aunts, uncles, cousins all being horribly devastated at what we had to endure. I picture them sobbing at the kitchen table, looking a mess at the funeral, completely inconsolable. The more I tried to stuff my head with thoughts of how emotional and miserable the next few days should be, the more I thought of something hysterical that took my mind elsewhere. For example, when I start thinking that I should churning out tears an ocean a minute, I for some reason cannot stop thinking of dogs doing human things. I’m trying to think of my life without my grandfather and create the tears that are necessary to keep up with my cousins, but my mind won’t sidetrack from Chihuahuas in business suits. I think I use humor as a defense mechanism. Exercise 1: FAILED. Emotions, apparently, do not affect me. Chihuahuas just trying to get by, however, do.

 

Exercise 2: I stopped all thoughts about my grandfather, and just focused on physically making myself cry. I would not allow myself to blink until my eyes were good and red and watering on their own. This took a long time and involved me looking dumb for many minutes. This is dumb. I am dumb – I shouldn’t have to make myself cry just for the sake of everyone else, but I know that I will look unfeeling. I will stand there while people try to hug me and tell me that everything will be alright. I will give them a stiff armed hug and tell them, “Everything is already alright. Please get over this,” and I will offer them Cheetos or some insensitive snack food. Often times I don’t care about appearing emotional in any form, but I think that a funeral is one of the last places I want to come off as cold, so I keep going. I think about putting eye drops in my eyes. Not worth the burn. Exercise 2: FAILED. I have no proven to be too uncaring as well as too weak to cry.

 

Exercise 3: I think about things that have made me cry in the past. Most notably I think of a story, The Department of Nothing , that has made me cry many times before. This story, coincidentally, is about a boy whose Grandmother dies and his problems with living without her…that story makes me cry, but the direct parallel has done nothing to my tear ducts or even made me feel anything. How does this fictional family that I know nothing more about than the 15 pages they cover in one book triumph over the things that are actually important to me in my life? It has to be clear, that I am not just trying to cry, but rather feel something so that I can even manage to look genuine, but I just can’t do it. And I think that if you are worried about looking genuine, you are already too far off from genuine that it is not worth it in the end. When distant relatives who I hardly know ask me if I’m doing okay, I will be able to give them a confident yes, and I don’t know if I want to be able to do that. Exercise 3: FAILED. As I continue to drive to my grandmother’s house, I consider being checked to see if I am made of stone.

 

My brother and I are driving along and I realize that I have not talked to him since I picked him up. I decide I should check in on him, just to make sure he is going okay – show much I am here for him.

 

“Just so you know, throwing that party was probably the dumbest thing you could have done. It’s shocking how little you care about anyone but yourself. Once mom finally stops crying, ya know, because her dad died, she’ll probably have the time to clean up after your beer and piss and slutty teenage hormone juices. I commend you on being so selfish during a time when people are going through so much.”

 

I can’t get this party out of my head. The floor is covered from wall to wall in beer, water, mud, garbage. Our mint green carpet has turned a nice light black color from all of the mud that has been tracked in. There are bobby pins all over the floor, probably from where some cheerleader just rolled around on the floor. I was a nun and my brother is a drunk hoochie. Seriously. This is my life.

 

When we finally get to my grandma’s house, I delay getting out of the car. I am not ready to deal with everyone and I’m sure that they are not ready to deal with me. I just want to watch TV and not exchange a single, “I’m so sorry.” For a moment, in my head, I think that maybe everyone will have this approach and we will all just watch Grey’s Anatomy. Not the case. As I walk in the door, the house is overflowing with tears and Kleenex and small talk and hugging. I hug everyone. I should also note: not only do I not like crying and feelings, I also don’t really like touching. I tell them, “I’m okay; Thanks, but I hate my hair cut; Traffic was fine.”

 

Finally, everyone trickles out of my grandma’s two bedroom, too small house, and I am left with a blanket on the couch. As I lie in the living room, I have only the light from the computer and my thoughts to keep me awake. Suddenly, everything in the day floods back to me and I feel awful about myself and do not look forward to tomorrow. I see myself getting mad at the dry cleaner, as if he has any idea why I am in a hurry. Who am I to comment on what language he should be speaking? I picked up my brother and yell at him. I do not regret that, but do regret that I told him not to talk to me. I nullified his feelings towards everything because I am upset at myself for not caring enough. My closed eyelids become a canvas where I see my grandma crying, as she is now lost. Earlier today, I said to myself, “Well, she won’t spend her whole day watching him smoke and heating up coffee in the microwave.” But maybe that’s what she wanted to do. That’s how she feels found. My stomach hurts from the way I’ve acted today. Her floral couch is a sinking boat as I lie and try to stay afloat in my thoughts. Each thought is an anchor, though, pulling me further down into this lake of my own destructive notions. I feel like a weird sailor. I have to go to sleep.

 

I wake up the next morning to my mom, telling me it is time to go, and that I’m going to be late. I like this. What? No one is going anywhere, specifically not my Grandpa. But, waking up late means everyone is in a frenzy, and we don’t have time to focus on everything else happening in our lives. There is make-up everywhere, shirts, ties, people are running and brushing their teeth in the kitchen. This chaos means that we will be okay. As my uncle spits his Colgate in to the sink, I realize that I will be okay because everyone else is turning their attention else where. While black becomes the only color in the house, I remember that I am “unique” and only have a blue shirt with a silver tie. From floor to ceiling, the house and everyone in it reeks of mourning. However, because I’ve never worn black, because I don’t like it, my outfit only further personifies my attitude towards all of this.

 

I watch people file in the funeral home – more people than I even imagined. This ritual is strange. With each movement, my head follows individuals: get in line, shake the hands of others, comment on how sad today is, look at the body, hug my mom, aunt, grandma, and try to tell them something as if their input is relevant on a day like this. All three of them are painfully pleasant, but still loaded with tissue. They send a sympathetic and knowing gaze at my row and carry on. This ritual pushes me farther away from tears as I think it is creepy and weird. Each person does the same thing, praying in front of the casket. As the crowd gets bigger the tension starts to break. I don’t understand why this is all working this way.

 

I remember, at this exact moment, that my grandpa never wanted a funeral or wake. Rather, he wanted to be cremated and wanted “none of this bullshit.” I’m sure he has said that a hundred times. Why are we doing this? The last thing that he wanted before he was either placed underground or turned to ash was to not be looked at. However, for us to satisfy our own emotional needs, we still did it. My mind continues to be blown by the oddities of today and each segment throughout the day only pushes me from visually caring.

 

I, for the first time, am thinking about my grandpa. All he ever did was ask me how my car was running. I always told him, “Fine,” and our conversational needs were satiated for our entire time together. That is all I can remember. I am having a panic attack because maybe I cannot cry because I don’t remember anything. I’m trying to remember what he looks like and for some reason, I am drawing a blank. How did it take me so long to think of the guest of honor?

 

At the church we sit in the pews and the ceremony begins. I zone out for most of it. I am telling myself to pay attention. I know how important it is to remember this, but I cannot focus. It is finally my time to speak; I’m doing the readings which I don’t want to do. As I go, the words flow out of my mouth so easily. I am stuttering, but I always stutter. I take a pause and look forward and everyone is crying. Crying tears that I don’t have. I stand up there and soak in this moment while I look at my grandmother having a break down and everyone trying to help her. I look at my mom, who is crying harder than my grandma. I finish the reading, not remembering a word I just said because I was so focused on capturing in this scene.

 

Something I was not expecting was a gun salute. Another obstacle in the way of crying, I’m sure – the military. The pallbearers all stood away from the tent while everyone else crammed under it. From tallest to shortest we lined up, not on purpose, and I looked around. Everyone is ugly crying. My grandma crying different than she has all day, a cry of defeat rather than sadness. All day she kept saying, “He’ll come back to us.” I think she’s realizing that he won’t. My mom, inconsolable. Aunts, covered in tears. Brothers and cousins are sharing a single Kleenex. People I don’t know crying. Crying. Tears everywhere. I look at my grandma one more time and realize that everything she has known for the past fifty years is gone and somehow, she has to wake up tomorrow and start over. Her tears are masked in a renewal that she doesn’t want. I look at slut brother and release everything in me. Tears that I have been unable to produce are suddenly gushing from my face. I didn’t think that this would happen to me, but I am crying for everything I haven’t been able to cry for in the past five days. I am ugly. My sunglasses hide nothing, and I’m glad that they don’t because I would just be further burying myself. I can’t decide if I am happy or not that my face is covered in wetness, but I do know that I can’t make it stop. I remember why I’m crying and it’s because I won’t see my grandpa again, and I am crying harder. My face shows every emotion I have, and I am shocked and strangely pleased that it does.

 

I waited five days to cry and when I finally did, I let out everything in me. As I eat the lasagna at the restaurant we all go to after the burial, I remember that we’ve got to keep going. That cry may have been enough for me, while the rest of my family cries for the entire day, but those five minutes in the cemetery are all I have been waiting for.

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