The morning sunlight crept through the window. After another restless night, I was grateful for the dawn. Careful not to make noise, I tiptoed into the kitchen. Broken glass littered the floor. Every cabinet and drawer stood open. Broken cups and ceramic plates covered the countertops. Careful not to step on the fragments, I opened the fridge, grabbed the half-full jug of milk, and gulped it down. I could hear Mother in the living room. Tossing the milk-jug into the trash, I went to the living room to find her.
Sweaty and shaky, Mother lay in a tight ball in the corner of the couch. I’ll Be Missing You by Puff Daddy played lowly from the TV. As Mother looked at me, tears streamed down her face. She pulled me into her embrace. I could her feel her cold damp skin against mine. Her nightgown was soaked. I remember gasping for breath as she smothered me with her love.
Mother picked me up and carried me to her room. Upon the bed was a brand-new black suit, and shoes so shiny I could see my reflection in them. As I doffed my PJs, Mother straightened her hair, fixed her makeup and put on a beautiful black dress. I put on my suit, then clicked my heels together, to get her attention. Humming gospel hymns, she tied my shoelaces and helped me with my clip-on tie.
As we walked down the street to Grandmother’s house, cars and limos lined the road. My extended family was gathered there, dressed like Mother and me in their Sunday best: aunts, uncles, cousins, even my older brother, and sister. Adults kissed my cheek and gave me hugs that lasted too long. Family members I didn’t know came up and pinched my cheek or just stared at me. My uncles nodded. My Mother held my hand and remained silent.
HONK!! HONK!! A car horn trumpeted us to attention. Lost in the sudden shuffle, unable to find my Mother, I grabbed my Uncle’s hand. Outside, I followed him to the front of the car-parade…to a limousine! Long as a school bus. We settled into the leather seats. My uncle and brother in the rear seat. We led the procession. The caravan followed.
The sun grew hotter. As we waited outside the church, my suit became more uncomfortable. I felt suffocated, light-headed. Finally, the church doors creaked open, the organ started. The choir sang softly. I marched down the aisle following Mother.
Up front was a long blue coffin (open), adorned with roses and flowers. The man in the casket was not smiling. Not frowning. Not doing anything. He looked to be at peace with the chaos surrounding him. Pulling her hair out of her face, Mother leaned over slowly and kissed the man’s forehead. Curious, I reached inside the casket. I took hold of the man’s hand and squeezed it. The coldness sent chills down my spine.
The muffled cries in the room turned now into loud wails. Mother shook and wept as we seated ourselves in a pew. Uncles consoled crying aunts. Cousins comforted my somber grandmother. I just sat there, unsure what to do. As the preacher took the stage, the congregation composed themselves. Throughout the sermon, I could hear sniffles and moans. Soon bored, I busied myself by making funny faces into my shiny shoes. My cousin beside me said his shoes were shinier. I argued they weren’t. The service ended, we filed back to the limo. I crossed my fingers for a return to grandmother’s house. My wish was not granted.
High in the sky, the sun gleamed down. The mourners gathered closely in the shade of the massive oak tree. The casket, suspended over a deep hole in the ground, was now closed. No roses or flowers. As the pallbearers stood beside the coffin, the preacher went into a final prayer. The soft cries crescendoed into wails. A red rose found its way into my hand. The casket was lowered into the hole. One by one, family and friends made their way to the edge of the grave and tossed their rose onto the casket. Standing at the edge of the grave, I admired that great shiny box at the bottom. Rose in hand, I stretched my arm out over the grave and released the rose while saying goodbye to the man inside.