Salt water is bad for wood. You don’t want to know what tears did to the varnish on the top of the Miller. Okay, I’m being dramatic. It wasn’t any worse than the spot on the body where the sleeve of my flannel shirt wore it thin. We all get scars on our skin from the things that hurt us as we get through life. Wear them with pride.
As the sun set, I could see my reflection in the glass of the sacristy window. Court had packed these clothes for me months ago. I had hung the suit jacket over a chair. Black tie, black shirt, black pants, black boots that would have looked a bit odd in Boston but were just very Johnny Cash here in Tennessee. Huh. My hair was back in a ponytail and the red stripes were pretty much invisible.
You’re supposed to let go of people who die, I think. I think that’s what the common wisdom says. Funerals are so you can say goodbye.
I realized, standing there, looking at a transparent image of myself that I barely recognized, that I had never said goodbye to Jordan. Was that because I didn’t go to his memorial? Or was it because I just… didn’t? And was that because I still didn’t accept that he was gone?
I don’t think so. I think it was that I had subconsciously decided not to “let go” but to hang on. Jordan was gone, but what he meant to me wasn’t. I wasn’t going to say goodbye to Jordan because he was part of who I was, part of who I had become.
And Claire? A parent is pretty much by definition a part of who you are. The people who needed to let go–Remo, most of all–that’s who the funeral was for. Not for Claire and not for me.
I know. I’m weird. But coming to realize that made me feel better. I stopped crying. I made my peace with death by realizing that I didn’t make peace with it at all. And that was fine.
Flip was at the door, beckoning me. Time to go on. Jeezus.
I took the guitar and went out into the church. I was forcibly reminded of the power of silence. Like that day in New York when the entire marching crowd of hundreds of thousands of people went silent in remembrance of the dead, here in the church it was like the entire crowd was holding their collective breath. The shape of the vaulted roof magnified the sound of my boot heels on the floor as I crossed the side aisle to take my place. Every little sound, every tiny cough or rustle of paper, was audible through the entire space.
No wonder people believed angels could hear a pin drop.
From where I was standing I could not see into the casket, but I knew what dress she was wearing. I could hear my own breath as I realized I hadn’t even warmed up my voice. Every eye in the place was pointed right at me.
The microphone was also staring me right in the face. Remo, who had sung the song before me, had introduced me, so I didn’t have to say anything, but since I couldn’t seem to make myself start a song, maybe I should say a few words. But what? Hi. She was my mother. We didn’t get along for my whole life until six months ago and even then…
No. How about… A wise man sitting in the audience once told me you don’t spend a lot of time holding someone’s hair while they puke and not develop strong feelings for that person…
Yeah, no. Just shut up and sing, Daron.
But I was frozen. Starting to hyperventilate. I could feel the sweat of my palm against the neck of the guitar.
Come on, Daron. This is what you do. This is what you supposedly were put on Earth to do.
I started to think about that midnight mass I played at all those years ago. Was I fourteen then? Remo wasn’t there: he’d already left for Los Angeles. But my mother–
I couldn’t think about that now or I was really going to lose it in front of all these people. Loss hurts. It just hurts, you know?
I pretended to check my tuning, and the sound of the picked strings reverberated all the way from the far wall of the church back to me, a wave of sound that threatened to knock me right over. It wasn’t loud, but it seemed like it by contrast with the silence.
I looked up and saw someone who looked just like Patty in the audience. Oh, shit. Either she was actually here, or I was cracking under the pressure.
Open your mouth, Daron. Time to sing. Time to sing. I could barely breathe. How did I used to do this every night in front of thousands of people?
How is it possible to forget who you are?
I licked my lips and was about to say something like I’m sorry, I just can’t, and let people think it was just that I was too deep in grief to do it, when the back door of the church opened. And for one horrifying second I saw Digger.
And then Ziggy came sailing up the center aisle.
He was all in black. The only detail I could take in before he reached me, hugged me, and said gently–into the microphone–“Sorry I’m late”–was that he had a diamond stud or pin in the center of his chest, right through a black satin tie.
He had one arm around me, and when he took a breath I took a breath, and when he started to sing something in my back brain kicked in and I did, too. I didn’t even realize what we were doing until we were on the second or third word.
It was the German hymn Priss had made us (well, me) learn the year before. The one I hadn’t done in forever, but, you know, we’d repeated it a lot. Ziggy had written a harmony line for it.
It almost didn’t feel like me singing, like the words were just being pulled out of me like wind filling sails, like some force of nature just propelled my voice along.
Ziggy. Ziggy is a force of nature and don’t you forget it.
When we came to the chorus I heard a female voice join us, in German, and it gave me goosebumps. No, not my imagination nor my mother risen from the dead. Rose, the former chorus director.
When the hymn finished, Ziggy whispered in my ear. “Candlelight next?”
He had said like a question but it was clear to me he didn’t mean it like a question. Good decision. I could play that one in my sleep. Anytime, anywhere. Of course. And no more fitting setting than this. I was completely on autopilot, which was fine.
And as we came to the end of the song, Ziggy hummed and la-la-la’d over my usual outro, and then he held a long, long note, filling up that entire church with his lungs…
And segued right into the new song. Oh boy. I nodded. it made sense. I wasn’t in any way ready for it, but I remembered the chords. I didn’t flub the picking. I couldn’t really concentrate on his singing because I was trying too hard to keep up and not make a mistake.
I saw an interview with a tightrope walker once. She said some days, when you’re on, it’s like running across your living room. Then there are days when you’re not on, and it feels like… you’re walking a tightrope. Ha.
But just because I feel like I’m on a tightrope doesn’t mean I’m going to fall off. We finished the song, and people applauded–which I wasn’t even sure was appropriate given the venue, but I guess people felt moved to–and then Ziggy hugged me one last time and led me down to the front pew where there was a seat for me.
I sat down next to Remo, who had his guitar resting on his foot, and rested my guitar on my own foot, and Ziggy went to take a seat somewhere behind us, blowing kisses as he went.
I love him so goddamn much.