When the son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory. And before him shall be gathered all nations and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.
-The New Testament
I don’t own anything black but my winter coat.
And it’s March, but warm for the season, and people all around me are sleeveless. I’m red in the face with sweat on my brow and my eyelids. I’m fingering loose change in my pocket.
This isn’t the funeral but the wake. The distinction is important. The funeral will be at a church, the wake is in this tiny little room. But most importantly, the funeral is for family, the wake is for friends.
And the funeral will be at a church.
“Sometimes, I’ll just get out a physics book and just read for fun, ya know, I just love all that stuff…I just find it so fascinating, I could read about the life of a star for hours, I could figure the calculations for Atlas, holding the world on his back…ya know? Even Greek deities! I just love all that stuff, I’m serious.
I mean, everything on this earth can be broken down into different mathematical equations, ya know? Like, everything can be…Like look at my face, there’s an order to it. There’s a math to the way our eyes are proportioned and our nose and…how our nose is the center of our face…It’s like how a flower blooms, the spiral motion…Have you ever seen a stop motion shot of a flower blooming?”
There’s a math to that and…Its intelligent design, no doubt in my mind, there’s an intelligent design to how we’re all made. We’re not this beautiful by accident. Think of an accident, you don’t think of beautiful accidents, do you? No…
And I don’t know if it’s God or gods or Buddha or aliens, but it’s something…So I don’t worship, no, I don’t go to church anymore cause I don’t know…who. Who is the designer? That’s why I read physics books, it has nothing to do with my life really but at the same time… It’s my religion. I worship the life and death of a star in the sky, I celebrate the revolutions of the sun, you know? It’s something I can believe in.”
His friends. I don’t know these faces.
Several people have approached me with looks of don’t I know you? They remember me, though, from-God, it was forever ago… And they redirect their eyes.
Every small town stereotype is present and accounted for. I can tell who was a jock, a cheerleader. Who drank, who got pregnant. Most people know Matt from high school or before. I recognize some from the yearbook. I remember stories.
The wake is for friends.
A person stands up to talk. A woman. She is wearing a purple dress. She talks about Matt’s sense of humor and the way he used to skip out on bills at the diner. People cheer. A tall man interjects with a remark that sets people laughing.
A former football player jokes about seeing Matt naked in the locker room. He speaks suggestively about locker room hijinks.
“I’m sorry for bringing you here…Some people never change, some people never grow the f*ck up…Sorry…They never think. I know you’re uncomfortable and I’m sorry but…This is how I grew up. And we were God fearing people and went to church every Sunday. Hung over, hah.
It’s very simple, you know? It’s different than how you grew up…I mean …it was different. There’s no way of saying one is better than the other, I really don’t think there is. I was a happy kid growing up, I was way happy.”
Each story is a thread and these people around me are pegs on a loom. Each story weaves in and around, pulling them tighter together. They laugh through tears and talk of heaven. My eye catches the verses sewn into the stole draped over the casket. Verses Matt memorized as a child growing up.
I sit barely moving for most of the wake. There is more singing. A woman talks about bible camp with him when they were in 8th grade. A man shares a story about Matt smoking his first cigarette. Same year.
They all seem so happy.
“I was loved and I am still loved, even while I’m away, I mean…It happens a lot that people just stick around in small towns, and that’s how it is in my small town, people don’t expect you to go away, they expect to love you for life. Hah. Isn’t there something nice about that? But it was good for me, I mean, I don’t regret…my childhood. I don’t regret it.”
I’m standing before realizing I have something to say. My hands are fists in my pockets. I look from face to face.
I am the only person in the room wearing black.
“Matt and I are atheists, when he died, he was an atheist. We both were.”
“You do fit, you do! Or whatever. You’re like the missing piece from a beautiful puzzle, you may not fit, but you’re beautiful and…Ah f*ck-sorry…I’m the one who doesn’t fit, I don’t fit either…Not anymore or maybe I never did. So we can not fit together! Hah, I mean …we can fit together.”
I move through the room of bodies and skewed chairs feeling all eyes on me. I don’t check their expressions.
My body is a knot until I’m on the steps outside. There, I collapse against the railing.
I don’t feel better. I thought I’d feel better. But I feel all alone.
I am, I am.
About the Author
Rachel Kuhnle is an English/Theater student at Concordia University Saint Paul. She is also the Arts&Variety editor for the school newspaper and a founding member of the campus Writing Club.