There’s a quiet that’s oddly deafening as I walk down the aisle of the church, pews filled three quarters of the way with people I barely knew or less, and the remaining bits occupied with those I knew well—though most I could say I wouldn’t have been sorry if I didn’t. Know them, that is.
I didn’t watch where I was going as I walked. There was no point. It’s not like ghosts can knock things over, and considering I’d tried and failed that already, keeping a bird’s eye out to see who I could find for curiosity’s sake seemed safe enough. As I walked—or rather, glided? My movements mimicked walking at the very least but I couldn’t touch the floor without sinking through it; I’ve some ghostly mechanics to work out still—I picked out familiar faces from the crowd.
First. An old woman in the front, somber but not sad. Good. I wouldn’t expect good old Gilda Ackley to be sad, with her matter-of-fact views on life (“We’re born, we live, we die; that’s a fact and if you can’t accept it you might as well get a hurry on up with the dyin’ part,” was her favorite thing to say to “youngsters” who had the nerve to complain about how hard life was in her vicinity.) She’d always smelled like moth balls and wore horrid prints—in fact, she wore one then, gaudy black and white paisley and a hideous elephant broach—but she was nice, or rather, she was forward. Forwardness was something I could understand and accept.
In one of her papery frail hands she held the hand of another that I knew, her nephew. I didn’t like him as much as I liked her. She was the kind of woman that’d bake you a pie (after telling you what’s what, of course) and he was the one who’d shove the pie into his greedy little nine year old face—no utensils used, mind you—and laugh at you until you had half a mind to smack him silly. He had a hand-held game in his grubby little clutches, and punched away at the keys with little chubby—probably sticky—fingers.
How I wouldn’t miss those on hot summer days when the little brat thought it’d be funny to come into the store and rub them all over the games we sold there—I’m sure it was his way of marking territory. That’s how children did it, right?
I walked further, noting more familiar faces. Most were those I’d seen around town. When you live in a place like Radford, it’s hard not to have a lot of those faces stick. The doctor, Schultz, who’d tended to me when I was five and caught pneumonia, and the only thing I cared to remember about him back then was his hands were always too cold and he smelled like cabbage. My sixth grade teacher, Ms. Livingston, who one day told me I could be a model, even though I knew that wasn’t true because models didn’t have buck teeth and bow legs. Then there was the old man, Mr. Kearny, who worked at the produce store and always slipped extra peaches into my bag “on the house” because he knew my mother—probably had a crush on her—and always told me “Robin, now take care of these and your mama for me, ya hear?”
I’d always nod and politely say “Yes, Mr. Kearny,” back, even though I was the only person in my house who ate peaches, and he always gave me so many most of them went to waste.
I picked all their faces out and smiled. They couldn’t see me, but I could see them and that made me happy that they were the first people I saw, that they’d come. Too late it was to tell them how much I appreciated them. That doctor, even with his cold hands, for saving me once; my teacher, who’d told me I was beautiful even though I knew I wasn’t; that old man, who gave me things I liked without asking just because and not just to get something out of it. Random, selfless people.
I was actually almost sad about leaving them behind, but some things were for the better.
The last few people milled in from the back as I approached the front, where the mahogany casket was placed. I was curious, who wouldn’t be? What did I look like, with no life in my body? I knew enough of what my face looked like when I was living. Endless mornings getting ready for school with my face smushed to a mirror to dab concealer over that one patch of acne that never went away, and then with comical futility I would attempt to curl body into otherwise straw-straight blonde hair. And—I would never admit to anyone for the sheer vanity of it—take at least a few minutes to admire my favorite feature, the forest green eyes that seemed to be one of the few things people liked to compliment me on.
I looked down, though, and it was nothing like looking in a mirror in the morning to get ready for school. My eyes were closed. Neither I nor anyone ever again would see them open. That patch of acne was covered up nice, though, and someone had finally figured out the secret to giving life to my hair as it framed an otherwise unremarkable, cold, dead face.
I stared down at my body only for another few moments to admire the fact that I’d been put in one of my favorite dresses. Cute little blue number, with no straps and gold sequins inlaid into the belt. It was probably the nicest thing that I owned. I kept it special just for chorus recitals.
Hm. I wonder. Can ghosts sing?
When I tore my eyes from admiring the dress, the ceremony—I suppose that’s what it could be called—began in full swing. Pastor Wallace stood up front at the pulpit and spoke in a deep, booming voice that reminded me of a baritone resonating through the church. It was emotionally charged, nothing less than what someone would expect from a southern—born, God-fearing Baptist preacher—though it was with a little bit of an apologetic smirk that I regarded his comment about me being a good member of the church. Man didn’t realize I was an Atheist but then again, neither did anyone else here, either. I chuckled, but no one heard, what with everyone being too busy wrapped up in the Pastor’s “young death is always so tragic” speech, and myself wrapped up in being dead.
Several other people came to speak on my behalf. Or of myself and their relationship with me. Some, I expected what was said. My mother, Lydia, was one of the first and had one of the shortest things to say. That she’d loved me that she’d miss me, and that God was watching over me now, in death, where I was lost in life. Others, like Chrissy Potter, I didn’t expect. Chrissy Potter, who was as blonde as I was but didn’t need a curling iron to get that silky mane of corkscrews that cascaded down her back, spent a lot of time to talk about how I’d tutor her on the weekends—oh, if anyone needed a tutor, it was definitely her—and how my kindness would be missed, and that she’d liked me, and had wanted to be better friends. In all honesty I thought the girl had been rather discontent with the fact I constantly accosted her about tutoring sessions and keeping up her grades, but I supposed it was better late than never to know she actually liked me. Wow. I had liked her, too, at a point, though probably not in the same context that she liked me. Life happened that way, sometimes.
The one thing that was the same, either expected or unexpected, was the running theme to everyone’s speeches. On and on it went, and I found it a wonder how all these people kept using that word.
I died too young, according to them, in such a sad, sad, way. Suicide, after all, was near unheard of in my town. It just didn’t happen. Ever. Everything was white picket fences and contentment with life. La-dee-da-dee-da.
The thing I found ironic—or rather, the thing I found most intriguing—is how people interpreted how I must have been. Sad. The word sad came up as often as tragic, and somewhere between my mother having to leave in a fit of tears when my boyfriend, Chris, came to the pulpit and announced he’d loved me, with tears leaking from those blue eyes of his and sandy hair disheveled as though he’d not kept it neat in weeks, I realized they had no idea about why I did it, that sadness had nothing to do with it. Sadness, after all, could be cured with ice crème and chick flicks.
You don’t kill yourself over just sadness. I didn’t kill myself over sadness.
I suppose it was the drawback to being like this. I had gotten what I’d wanted, yes. Life was over and… well it was a rather freeing feeling, because when you don’t want to live just because living is, well, less appealing to you than not, people get the wrong idea and the pity was palpable, even to my wispy form that could feel nothing. I hadn’t wanted pity when I decided eating an entire bottle of sleeping pills was a good idea, I wanted peace. The kind that you couldn’t find while living. Everything seemed so empty when I was alive and it… didn’t quite seem that way now, if I was honest with myself.
I didn’t expect any of these people to understand, so it was probably a good idea they couldn’t see or hear me anyway. When people have a notion in their heads in this town, they tend to stick to it, even if someone tells them otherwise. None of them would be able to understand what it’s like to just…
Not want to live.
It was something I’d thought about, before I did it. It was something I thought of, then, as speeches ended and my casket was closed, carried out of the church and into the hearse. I sat—floated, really, in a sitting position—beside my mother in her old sedan as she followed right behind it, and thought about why. Why I’d felt that this end was the only end that’d leave me full in a world where I felt empty, even if it was a world that had the nice doctor, my kind teacher, that old man that gave me peaches, my mother, Chrissy… Then again, I’d always felt that way, as long as I could remember, and for as long as I could remember had had the notion in my mind that maybe even with nice things in your life, sometimes you just didn’t want it anymore.
I watched as they lowered my casket six feet into the ground and like the night that I took all those pills, I still couldn’t fully understand why I had felt so empty right up until the point that I did it, but I knew after I had done it—well, felt, I felt it—that it was the right thing to do.
I smiled, when everyone but my mother was gone and dirt was thrown over the mahogany. I stayed there, and continued to smile, when the hole was filled and my mother no longer stood there sobbing, blaming herself.
For an eternity I stood there, smiling.