It was raining. That’s what I most remember of that day. I guess there was a mass. I guess the priest called out the rosary, prayers were chanted, automatic responses extracted from the mouths hidden beneath umbrellas, a field of somber black, an occasional flash of color.
To me it was a blur, chanting of ritual prayers a buzzing in my head. A radio station tuning in and out. Static and white noise broken up by the bar of a song.
I don’t remember most of it. I’ve been to funerals before and they’re all the same. Nothing changes but the weather. Pete was there. He’d shoved a flask in my hand before it started. To calm the nerves he said. Good scotch, and knowing Pete probably expensive.
I remember that, the clear memory of the same church with the same man giving me a drink to calm the nerves. Almost exactly like my wedding day. A grey wool suit replaced by an anonymous black one, a sunny day in May replaced with the cold rains of February. The same hip flask. The same whiskey.
I should have railed against the drunk drivers, scream at the injustice, deny a god who would take her from me so early. Anger, denial, bargaining and, depression would be understood. Acceptance would not. All I felt was numb.
“Gravedigger, when you dig my grave, can you make it shallow, so that I can feel the rain…”
She loved Dave Matthews.
The first dance at our wedding was to The Space Between Us.
“That’s not a first dance song,” I had said. “It’s about breaking up.”
“No it’s not, it’s about holding on,” she said. “And it’s better than U2. Everyone goes with One and think’s it’s a love song but it’s not. Anyway, I like it.”
Of course she was right. Or if she wasn’t it didn’t matter. It was an argument I wasn’t going to win. I liked the song too. We’d danced to it, down in the back room of The Ivy’s. Just the two of us alone, like the thirty or so friends and family weren’t there. That was a good day.
Today wasn’t. The coffin, a little over five feet in length, so small, like a child’s. The crucifix shining in gold paint atop the lid. Instead of a ring Pete handed me a small shovel filled with wet clay. My hand shook and the earth to fell to the wooden box with a such a noise I almost cried out with the pain as it landed, wanted to call it back. It should be left gently down, with barely a whisper, not dropped four or five feet, in an uncaring manner to land where it will.
I wanted to kick everyone out, and slowly and gently fill the grave. Tenderly like pulling a blanket to cover her. The yellow digger, parked out of the way in a laneway was no way to fill a grave. There was too much life in her to cover in such a mechanical manner.
A memory I could hold on to. The memory of that dance. But it’s broken now. Holes sides leak out to the other holes, dragging me again and again to other spaces, other times. The empty bed. The rain in the graveyard. Her clothes on the floor. A knock at the door and the cops, quiet, polite, reserved. They’re the memories I want to tear from my brain, scrub out of my life. That’s why I left. Just two weeks after the funeral was over I’d sold nearly everything I owned, quit my job and drove to the mainland.
The first few weeks are a blur. I know I drank a lot, popped pills. Numbed the pain.
I woke up in Portland. Or was woken up by a knock at the window.
“You’ll need to move. There’s no parking here after 9,” a guy in a truck. Some city employee needing access.
I’d slept in my car again. After closing down another pub I’d crawled in, opened a bottle and passed out. Now with blurry eyes and a pounding head I had to move. I started the car and pulled away. A mile or two in some direction, away being the only destination. A Walmart car park. Aspirin in the glove box. An empty water bottle. Wash down with whiskey. Back to sleep.
She had a point. I checked the mirror, it had been a week or more since I’d shaved. Or changed my clothes. Eyes bloodshot, sleeping in my car. Cheap whiskey beside me.
“We need to get a house,” Li said.
“Why? I thought you loved this condo, it’s right downtown. In the middle of everything.”
“There’s no room for the baby. We should buy a house,” Li said. “Then it’ll be our home. Us.”
I liked that. ‘Us’.