We first met as she lay in her coffin. I gently bent down, whispered some small pleasantries in her ear, and continued along the line.
I was depressed, of course, it had been a very hard day for me. With the service over I walked out of the church and passed through the mourners, each in assorted stages of bereavement, as a hearse idled at the curb.
But, God I never felt so alive. It was a blessing indeed, that in my state, so out of sorts and disheartened, that I happened upon someone, yes a stranger, whose sad final chapter had been written. Whatever thoughts I had about the human condition, mine specifically, it beats being a sack in the back.
Morbid, you say? No. Depraved, sick, unabashed? No, no and no. Their end was a way to my means – of staying afloat in a sea of uncertainly and chaos. I took medication, dabbled in meditation, even medicinal masturbation (don’t ask) but nothing calmed me like a funeral, anyone’s.
I had tried going to weddings but it didn’t work out. While the payoff – the food, the drinks and music, the fights and the flirts – made for a near perfect evening, it was a hard ticket to get walking in off the street. Funerals, though, were full of secrets and sobbing and rarely did anyone think to discourage someone who may be privy to the deceased.
Of course, I had on occasion been questioned about my relationship to the departed. When I would say ‘an acquaintance’ or ‘someone I met briefly’ I almost felt a kinship to Tom, Dick, Mary or whoever was lying about. I felt no joy in their passing; it was certainly nothing personal, although an objective ear such as mine found that there were often those in attendance who felt differently. The dead do tell tales, my friend, it’s just not them doing the talking.
Whenever my mood shifted into low it was time for me to get out to a ‘watering and planting’, as I called funerals, and find the nearest service to help lift my spirits. I had told my realtor when I was looking that I was seeking an apartment surrounded by houses of worship. So it was written and so it was done.
Two plus years ago I came into a sizeable inheritance that allowed me to first, find my own place and second, get a divorce. My wife and I had been renting so the only monies were in some stocks and cash; it was a fairly easy mathematical calculation. I kept the inherited annuity and gave her a liberal settlement of the remaining assets.
In the beginning our marriage was ideal with smooching, hugging and incoherent murmurings of love. As the years past though, what was once cute became quirky and then annoying. The one consistent in our relationship was sex but, alas, eventually it was not with each other. Moments of indiscretion become habits and when our willful ignorance of each other’s deceit was no longer working it was only a matter of time and circumstance.
And that’s when someone’s untimely passing, for them anyway, reared its fortuitous head and I was able to escape not just unscathed but in better shape than ever. But my funds, as generous as they were, had a shelf life of three years before they were all paid out. I decided to leave my job as a customer service doormat and pursue my ambition as a writer and bon vivant with gusto. I would be a success in no time.
Well, I’m finding out that ‘no time’ is when it will likely happen. Here I am approaching the finish line of my three-year ‘plan’ and what do I have to show for it? Rejected short, medium and long stories, a bar bill that leaves me shaken and stirred and the inevitable eviction. I’m afraid that for one such as myself, full of promises yet void of talent, the end is near.
I’m not doing so well.
So, I ask, is it so wrong to seek out those moments that remind me that life is worth living. No, of course not.
The obituary pages are a good start if you want to read the ‘back story’ first. I like to play a game with myself as to what sorts will be attending the service by the life’s work of the deceased. I’ve had the good fortune, unlike the guest of honor, to recall many moments of sheer joy their burial provided me.
The average Joe, that’s a mixed bag because someone in the family always needs money – badly. And someone else kinda does too, but brother, there just ain’t enough to go around. Cheap liquor brings out the stories but bounty brings out the knives and they’re rarely dull.
When it’s the big money guys, well that delivers those wearing suits to the service and those filing them in court because death is a zero sum game; one big loser and plenty of perspective winners. And don’t be fooled, low tones brings high drama, believe me I’ve heard it.
I remember at one service for a man of industry someone said that ‘six feet of dirt isn’t going to be enough to stop the SOB”, and that was the pastor speaking. I was asked to be a pallbearer at that event because they were short one guy. Of course I did. What a great day.
Still, there’s something to be said for serendipity, sometimes I’d just wander along ‘death valley’ as I call the stretch of nearby churches and parlors native to that trade. In a short time, though, I’ll be out of gas money (not that I have a car anymore) and being close to the ‘action’ is ever more important.
It’s getting difficult.
My needs for reassurance is no longer confided to ‘viewing hours’ and so more and more I go looking for a candlelight vigil or, if it’s super late, a street memorial. There’s anger and angst all around them, bad mojo for sure, but such is life and it fills in the gaps.
Now, as each day brings me closer to ruin my doubts, my regrets and my fix are becoming overwhelming. I’m making plans to move to an abandoned property overlooking potter’s field when my money is gone.
Soon it will be hard to maintain what little sanity I have left. It will be, I now know, all I can do to fend off the utter despair that comes with abject poverty and hopelessness.
And then, my friends, I fear I’ll have little choice but to wander day and night, night and day, through cemeteries and catacombs seeking salvation until that time comes when I join all of those poor bastards.
But until then, it could be worse.
Gil Prowler writes political and social commentary
This story first appeared in The Offbeat Literary Journal