After my sister left, I sat there with the Miller in my lap, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to play it. I felt like if I tried to start playing or singing I was just going to cry my eyes out, and that would hurt like hell. I wasn’t ready for it to hurt that much.
So I sat there, without moving, just breathing. In the back of my mind I think I was going over the song, but maybe I was just blank. When I try to meditate, I can never get to that state. Seems unfair, doesn’t it?
Maybe I was just tired. I woke up hours later, lying flat on my back on the couch, the guitar on top of me. I put it in its case and brushed my teeth and crawled into a proper bed and slept, which was merciful, because the previous night I’d just lain awake thinking again and again about Claire’s last moments. I’d cycle through thinking about various things from the past seven months, and then I’d come right back to standing in that room beside her bed. The moments at her bedside stacked up like a deck of cards, each one similar when riffled through and yet unique.
Not this time, though. Maybe I was finally past that? I slept right through until the morning when the phone ringing woke me.
I went to grab it and then my brain locked up. What if it was Patty? Or Ziggy?
Or just Remo wanting to know if I wanted breakfast, which was the most likely option. I picked up the receiver, and croaked out froggily, “Cohen’s Deli and Financial Advisors. Lox or stocks?”
A familiar laugh greeted me. “You nut. I’m looking for a ride from the airport.” Bart!
I wonder if I’d subconsciously known it was him, given the greeting I’d picked. “I’m the nut? You started it.”
“I’m pretty sure Christian started it. He sends his condolences. Michelle’s here, too. And Colin.”
Oh. Wow. It hadn’t occurred to me so many people were showing up. “Um, let me see. You’re not renting a car?”
“Court seemed to think we wouldn’t need one.”
“Aha.” I looked around for the car keys and didn’t see them. “I think maybe she’s already on the way to pick you up, but let me–”
“Whup! Never mind. Michelle sees her. See you in a bit.”
“Yeah, bye.” If Court had told me who was showing up, I didn’t remember. I recalled her saying Claire didn’t want the church too empty for her memorial service, but if my sister had given me names, they’d gone in one ear and out the other.
But my friends weren’t really there for Claire’s sake. They were there for mine, to support me. I really didn’t know what that meant. I guess I was glad they were there, even if there wasn’t anything I could really say I needed from them specifically. Carynne came on a later flight, and Alan Mazel (but not Alex). And so the next thing you know I spent that entire day and evening with people coming and going and getting meals and so on, and the next thing you know it was midnight and way too late to practice without waking people up.
It’s funny. A couple more people asked where Ziggy was. I guess I’d perfected the “he had something to do” line because they all just nodded like it was okay. Or maybe they took their cues from me. As long as I seemed to be okay with it, it must be okay? Or maybe there were enough subjects being avoided that it was merely another one.
People act weird about death sometimes. I suppose that’s to be expected. I mean, when it comes to things that freak people out, death is high on the list. Everyone’s trying not to say the wrong thing, trying not to add to the pain, but then everyone’s got their own issues, too. It meant being with people constantly for two days leading up to the actual memorial service was not exactly low-stress socializing, even with people I knew. The good part about having all these folks around was that they insulated me from my older sisters somewhat, which I think was generally good for my health.
Flip and Chief showed up the next day. Flip quickly cut me out of the herd. “You look like you need something.”
“We don’t have the trailer, but I’ve got–” He stopped mid-sentence, reading my face. “How’s your hand?”
I held them both up. “Getting there. But Zig and I wrote a song the other night. He was supposed to sing it. But he’s… not here, and so I’m trying to get up the nerve to sing it myself and it is just not happening.”
“You mean tonight at the church?” Flip ran his meaty hand through his hair, which was currently somewhat spiky on top and short all over. “Can you teach it to Remo?”
“It’s for a high tenor,” I said. “So that means Ziggy. Or me, I guess.”
Flip didn’t know about Priss’s repeated insistence that, actually, my voice and Ziggy’s were very much alike. Or they could be if I strengthened the transition from my chest voice to my head voice. I felt a pang of loss over the routine I’d been in when Ziggy and I had first set up house in Boston, last year, when I’d been doing all my exercises and singing the hymns Priss had given me and working my fingers with the rubber bands… If only I’d kept it up, by now I’d surely be in great shape.
But I hadn’t.
“I’ll figure something out,” I finally told him. “I know Remo’s going to do a song, too. There’s a whole agenda. It’ll be fine.”
“You sure? I can always step in and do an acoustic ‘Amazing Grace’ or something.”
“You want to?”
“I saw Bela Fleck and the Flecktones do it and had to work it out for myself,” he said. “But if anyone is going to be doing any shredding up there, it should be you. And Reem,” he added. “This is about you expressing how you feel about losing her through your performance.”
“Huh. I figure I’m doing it because it was one of her dying wishes. But you’re probably right.” How I felt about her was complicated. How I felt about losing her was equally complicated.
Just thinking about it, I started to break down. Next thing you know I had both Flip and Colin holding me up in a kind of three-way hug while I bawled a bit. Soundcheck was only a few hours away; it was almost like old times. After that, they even got me dressed in a black suit with a black shirt, and I buckled my belt on the side so I wouldn’t scratch the back of the Miller.
More and more people showed up at the church who I hadn’t seen at the hotel. I caught sight of Jake with Landon on his hip. And there was Rose, good old Rose. (“Damn it, boy, she beat me to it. Oh damn, I said damn in a church.”) Lots of folks I didn’t know were there, too, but who I assumed were parishioners at the church.
Soundcheck was really more of a stage walk through than anything else, since there was only the one microphone right below the pulpit and so we were only going to use it for introductions. The music would be in plain air. The casket would be in front of the altar.
They call this kind of memorial service “The Reception of the Body.” I don’t know how other churches do it, but the way this was arranged, there would be three different services. This one was the “big” one, with the readings she chose and the performances, and where her embalmed body would be on display. On Sunday during the regular mass there would also be a reading and a presentation. And when her ashes were interred, there would be a short one at the graveyard.
Claire had at first insisted that she didn’t care what we did with her ashes. The church is kind of down on people keeping their loved ones remains on their mantelpieces or whatever, though. In the end she’d told us about the family plot in a cemetery in Westchester, where her own mother was buried.
Talk about things I’d never really thought about: Claire’s own mother died well before I was born. There had been a portrait photo of her and my grandfather hanging in the stairwell of the house where I grew up, but no one ever mentioned her or talked about her. My grandfather hardly ever said a word when he’d come to dinner on Sundays when I was a child (and then he stopped coming to
those). He was a gruff, distant, joyless man.
I wondered if he was still alive and if anyone had contacted him. I did not bring it up.
You know that priests have to have somewhere to hang their fancy robes and put their props, right? That means every church has a green room, only they call it a sacristy, which made me feel like maybe they were making an exception to let a heathen sinner like myself tune my guitar in there. The one in this church was on the south side with arched windows facing the setting sun. If I ignored the parking lot there was an okay view of some green hills.
Performing at your own mother’s memorial service doesn’t have to mean you spend the whole thing in the dressing room, but that’s where I spent mine. Remo and Flip were there for the first couple of minutes with me and then they joined the congregation and left me alone.
I sat with the guitar in my lap, my hand over the strings to keep them quiet, listening through the open door. I couldn’t really make out the words of the Bible verses being read, not very clearly, and did it matter? At my funeral they better not read from the Bible. They’ll have to find some other solemn and cryptic ancient text to read. Maybe some King Crimson lyrics.
I should have been thinking about Claire, I suppose. But all I could think about was the fact that Ziggy wasn’t there. As the sun sank over the parking lot, reality set in. He really wasn’t there.
I was going to have to do this alone.
If I could stop crying.