The Norwegian Blues

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At the end of yesterday’s post, I snuck in a quote from Birdman: “A thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing.” In the film, it’s written on a notecard and stuck to the main character’s mirror. It also shows up later in the film as he tries to explain his life – and usefulness – to a notoriously negative theater critic. It’s one of those vague self-help quotes that I’m never quite sure is deep or just posturing, but for today’s post, we’ll assume the former.

On my way to work this morning, I was mulling over various things, and briefly considered the fact that were I to die today, my parents wouldn’t know what songs to play at my funeral. I thought of how little anyone can really know a person, but how much less my family knows about me than pretty much anyone else I interact with on a regular basis. I live roughly 1,000 miles from the town of my birth, and try to avoid returning as much as possible. On top of that, my family doesn’t travel, and we don’t talk or email that often (forget texting – my parents’ cell phones only get turned on in case of emergencies).

Of course I feel a twinge of regret. I’m an only child, and was quite close to my parents before moving away 15 years ago. But to be honest, though I miss them from time to time, they have their lives and I have mine. If our life stories are told by our family connections, I guess mine will end up being sad. I’m under no illusion that my life, as structured at this moment, will somehow end up being magically full of the love and laughter of family members in my golden years. So let’s cross our fingers that I get married before I keel over, and my husband (poor, unlucky mystery man) and friends get the body (or what’s left of it) so as not to completely muck up my funeral.

Anyway, before I got carried away thinking of funeral plans, I was thinking of the fact that I am a thing, and while I know myself to be a thing of some specificity, with a defined list of likes, dislikes, habits and mannerisms, from the outside I am constantly being mis-defined as another thing entirely by the people who know me least, be they family members or innocent bystanders. Maybe it’s being a Scorpio? People accuse me of holding secrets and not conveying information well enough, which I’ve heard is a habit of the sign. Or maybe it’s that very few people pay attention to other people, and no matter how much we care and how much time we spend studying our friends to learn their quirks, we’ll never really be able to pin down the entire personality.

I dunno. But in case I do get run over by a bus on my way home tonight, or fall off of a cliff while I’m in Spain this October, here’s some vital info for those of you who know me IRL:

Disposal Method: the most ecologically sensitive method available at the time of my passing. See Be A Tree for ideas. I was holding out for a mushroom death shroud, but I don’t think they’ve been perfected yet. One of those bio urn things would be nice, but DEFINITELY NOT A PINE TREE. I’m serious, guys. If my choice is to fuck up the environment or support the life of a pine tree, just let me do my goopy, chemical-laden worst. Pine trees are an abomination. I’d be fine with being a maple or a beech, though.

Funeral: Pointless for me, as I’ll be dead and disinterested in celebratory acts. If you want to have one, just meet up at the bar or something. If you’re in New Orleans, go to Holy Ground. Have Cheryl pour you a Jameson on the rocks. Try to remember a time when I said something funny or nice or something. Give other people hugs. Have funeral sex if your standards are that low and your whiskey goggles are working. I won’t judge you. If you’re in North Carolina, go hang out with my dad. He’ll be crushed, and he’ll need you to check in on him from time to time (though he’ll never say that).

Music: All of my crappiest favorites, and make it a karaoke night, why don’t ya? Start with Donovan (not Mellow Yellow, please) and early Chicago, move on to KISS, and finish up the night with a couple of hours of 90’s alt rock and 60’s pop. Don’t forget to throw in some Dry the River, Joan Armatrading, 2 Skinnee J’s, and of course Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.

Important Facts: If you’ve got to add religion into the mix, DO NOT under any circumstances quote the bible or talk about Jesus. I definitely do not want that man’s name mentioned. He was a nice guy and all, but he’s not my team captain. Also, it’s my goddamn funeral, and it’s too late to convert me. Feel free to quote St. Francis of Assisi all you’d like. He’s fantastic. You can also talk about the concept of a divine power if you’d like. Burn some sage, too. Burn lots of sage. If my spirit is still hanging around, I’d like to go ahead and move on. Gee, I hope I’m not hanging around. It would be hard to see some of your faces and not want to stay and make sure you’re OK.

There should be a photo booth, so people who don’t see each other often can get some good shots together. You never know when you’re going to see each other again, guys.

Oh, and there should most definitely be food. Clam chowder, an assortment of cured meats and cheeses (don’t skimp on the brie), GOOD bread (seriously, not just any old shitty bread, I’m talking properly chewy baguettes with a crusty exterior, fresh from the oven, and maybe some loaves of sweet black bread with honey butter), and plenty of mashed potatoes and spicy chicken wings from Popeye’s. And maybe some mini Cornish pasties and Scotch eggs. They’ll really help with all of the whiskey that I intend for people to consume.

So there you have it. Folks who know me, it’s up to you to share this with the right people if you find out I’ve shuffled off my mortal coil. Folks who don’t know me, try not to be too jealous of how fat and happy my funeral’s attendees are going to be.

Do you have funeral plans? I’d love to hear them. Might as well have some fun planning our parties while we can, right?

No Use Crying…

My grandfather died when I was 17. It was quick, though not painless. I stood in his hospital room on the night he died, listening to his ragged breath and morphine-colored moans, thinking that maybe there was still hope. Maybe he’d get better. I was young, and I know now, monumentally stupid.

The visitation was like a scene from the beginning of a horror movie. The funeral home was old, dusty and dimly lit. The smell of lilies was stifling, and I didn’t know it then, but the emotional charge of the room and its inhabitants would have been similarly overpowering for me as an empath. I felt wobbly and faint. My adult relatives stood in small groups, speaking in whispers. My cousins – all under 10 at the time – played around. The old ones were quiet and mostly respectful, but two of the younger ones ran around and yelled in the room where Granddaddy’s coffin sat.

“Anna, come look!” one little cousin cried again and again, “He just looks like he’s sleeping!”

I wanted to scream at him to stop being so nonchalant about the gaping hole in my heart. But he didn’t know. It wasn’t his fault. I hated him then, though. I hated them all, save for one. If we’re going to get truthful here, that didn’t change much over the years. It dampened a bit, became less about dislike and more about disregard. And there were other factors, general abuses on their part, personality and cultural conflicts, age differences all around. But in general, the way I felt about all but one of them at my grandfather’s funeral is how I feel now – I wrote myself out of their story on that day.

I don’t feel compelled to change my mind, either, especially when I remember how pressured I felt to look at Granddaddy there in his box. The kids were running up and down the center aisle of the funeral home, completely unchecked by their parents, as always. They were yelling at me to look, look at his face, look and see – he’s only sleeping! So I did. And what I saw was nothing. An orange, waxy mask that looked nothing at all like the Granddaddy I’d seen just two days before, alive and moaning in his hospital bed.

This thing stretched out before us was an abomination. Lips too red, skin too tan, suit too crisp, hands too plump. He didn’t look like he was asleep. He didn’t even look like he was dead. He didn’t look like anything I’d ever seen before, or would want to see again. This thing took my grandfather’s face away from me, in memory and in real life. In my memory, Granddaddy is an empty coffin, a silver money clip, a cheesy red white & blue polo shirt worn every Fourth of July, a toothpick clenched between grinning teeth, the juicy pink insides of a perfectly-cooked ribeye, the softness of a gold toe sock, a cheap hairbrush being dragged through my tangled curls, a perfect paper airplane that would always outfly my own rough interpretation, the first desperate fizz of a Cheerwine as the top unscrewed, the sound of a Lazyboy recliner popping back.

I fainted during the burial. They put me in the back seat of one of the limos, and when the family got back to my grandparents’ house, I was put to bed in their bedroom. There I curled up on Granddaddy’s side of the four poster bed, alternating between sobbing and greedily breathing in the remains of his scent on his pillow. My little cousin, the one that I love, stuck to me like glue that day and for many more after. She insisted that she be allowed to hang out with me, and she napped beside me on Nana’s side of the bed as I cried.

Eventually, Nana came into the room to check on us. She stood over me, looked down, and angrily spat out, “There’s no use crying over spilt milk.” The nicest person I knew, the woman who fell in love with my grandfather at first sight as a teenager, who threw me ice cream “tea parties,” and always had time to hear out my heartbreaks, that woman was gone forever that day. I guess to her, my behavior was just as unacceptable as my cousins’ had been for me. I don’t know. We’ve never really gotten along since that moment, and she’s gradually gotten more and more bitter over the years. It’s been a couple of years since we last talked, and that’s how this particular story ends. It’s not fair – but that’s life.