The stench of a funeral home has unforgettably stuck with me. Each one smells identically of rotting flesh, formaldehyde, and dying floral arrangements. The first time that smell gripped my nostrils was six days before my fifth birthday. My father made his way back to our home after leaving me with my Granny. His veins were racing with a Molotov cocktail of cocaine, Jim Beam, and rage. A mere hour behind him, my mother arrived home after a Sunday morning shift at the grocery store deli she worked part-time at to support my father's drinking and driving habits. She inserted her key into the front door, turned the worn brass handle, and stepped in through the storm door as she did every other afternoon. This step wasn’t like the others. My mother looked up to a black revolver staring at her forehead, my father’s dead eyes staring from behind it. His demons overtook him that day, convincing him to grab a handgun, usually stowed away in a small red toolbox in the back of his garage, and destroy everything in its path. It was in my mother's blood to fight, and as I was wholly unaware, slumped on my Granny's couch unable to help her, she did exactly that. She fought for her life. My father was still present somewhere deep inside the demon’s grasp, and in a final gracious gesture, sacrificed himself. After a struggle, the gun must've pulled back and turned on the evil that overtook him. I imagine that there was a glimmer of the man we had once known but hadn't seen in so long, looking back into my mother's eyes as a final selfless apology. His last bit of light pulled the trigger, and the gun fired. All of our worlds, and everything we had all known, simultaneously fell crashing onto the floor.
I simulate every action and reaction in my head each day as if I were there to see it unfold. If I had been present, I could've subdued the demons and gotten my father to a different, less permanent ending. These are the moments that I repeatedly play, like a video game, each in an alternate dimension. I've analyzed every cause and effect from conception until the millisecond that shattered my world to find the mistake. I'll spend each second of my life hunting for the demons that dragged us to that moment.
I associate every ringing phone with my mother's call to my Granny to confess what had happened that day. The rotary wall-mounted phone seemed to ring more distinctly with that call, and I consistently heard its replica. My mother’s face waking me from my slumber several hours later was my first clue that something had changed. She appeared freshly showered, possibly to wash the blood away, but was still wary and unkempt. Her makeup was still intact, just in the wrong spots. The mascara had run down her face and smudged around her eyelids. She pulled me outside, past my grandmother's, down the stairs, and when we finally got back to the exact car I had arrived in, I became aware of why she looked so disheveled. My mother had always been a no-nonsense type of parent, but I still didn't receive an in-depth replay, which bothered me to the core. Only that my father "was gone." Different iterations of that term funneled in over the coming days, none that I fully understood in their context. My Manga reassured me that my father was "in the sky" now. I didn't understand that one fucking bit. Was he going to fall out at some point in time? Gloria mentioned that he was in "heaven," a term I also had no reference for. We weren’t a religious family like my Aunt Sharon’s family, my mother’s sister. She forced her husband and two children to dress in stuffy clothing and pack into a church with hundreds of other people to learn about going to heaven after you died. I had no interest in attending. I had plans to go to Pizza Hut in the afterlife.
My half-sister, Jessica, was the first to tell me that my father was dead and never coming back. She is ten years older than me at almost fifteen, so I trust her. She’s more outspoken than I am and gets more attention. She's always been a thin girl with tight auburn curls. I've forever been jealous of them. I have my mother's plain straight brown hair. I hate it. My father was also her father, but my mother was solely mine. You'd know almost no different, though. We look like identical twins, thanks to my father's genes.
Jessica told me what a funeral was and why we had to attend one for my father. We rode there together with my mother in the same car where I last saw my father. She sat to the left of my seat, looking out the window the entire ride there. It was raining, and my window was fogging with each breath. My mother didn't play the radio, so there was nothing to distract my brain from veering down frightening paths of what I could expect a funeral to entail. Hopefully, there are snacks.
My sister and I exited opposite sides of the car into the rain, and I walked safely behind her around the enormous white Victorian building that we were soon to usher into. She grabbed my hand, which soothed me slightly. My mother was behind us but distracted at everyone offering their condolences. As my sister and I approached the embellished, impossibly heavy doors to the funeral home entrance, she stopped me, squeezed my left hand, and looked at me to assure I was safe and composed. I nodded, and we entered cautiously. The home had been fully carpeted in a deep blood red shag. A set of stairs dripping in mahogany trim led upstairs to the left but blocked by a red velvet rope. Classy touch. Dead ahead of us was a hallway filled with depressingly dressed extended family members.
The heavy door boomed shut behind us, immediately causing an audience of people to look up and stare at us as if we were celebrities. There were mouths agape, but silence swept the room because we were the closest relatives to the corpse in the box at the front of the adjacent room. My sister is aggressive, and I, the opposite. She grabbed me tighter to her side and darted off into the doorway directly to our right. She walked with haste past a line of green folding chairs set up in rows. As the chairs parted in the middle, we turned and stopped. At the back of an aisle, we found ourselves leading directly to an elaborately adorned, light blue metal box that held what used to be our father. The color drained from her face, and all I could see when I turned to face her was the despair pouring from her eyes. My mother appeared behind us to comfort her almost out of instinct. I didn’t share my sister’s emotions, and I didn't need the comfort that my mother was offering. I felt abandoned, not sad.
I broke the grip of my sister's hand and made my way down the aisle. The room entered a matrix, and time seemed to stop around me. I could feel each conversation slow to a complete halt, every movement ceased to be, and sets of strange eyes locked on me. I put one foot in front of the other as the world watched around me. At the alcove in front of the metal box, I put both hands on the two-way mirror I found myself standing in front of and noticed nothing but the poppies surrounding me. They seemed to sway as if a breeze were crossing them in an open field. I blinked my eyes and came to an ever-expanding poppy field, covered in red and pink flowers. I fall, hands outstretched, onto my back, and close my eyes. I breathe in. I breathe out. When I open my eyes again, I'm lying on my back, looking up at an orchard of apple trees. Sitting up, I can see apples raining down from the trees into huge piles, but in the distance, past all of the banks of apples, is a box. My father. I step toward him but only seem to get further away. My pace quickens by the second, but despite my efforts, I can get no closer than where I began. The apples start to rot around me. The flowers wilt into piles of darkness on the ground. The trees die, and the bright sunshine quickly turns into night. One more blink, and I'm back in front of a two-way mirror, in a poorly decorated funeral home, filled with people I would otherwise never see staring at me. My hands are placed side by side on a cold metal box that holds what was once my most significant source of happiness in the world. I feel nothing now. I drop my hands, one at a time, letting go as I turn to see my mother watching my every move, and take my seat in the first chair I see.
My mother and sister find a seat around me. The rest of the room melts into their seating arrangements, and the services begin. It is at this point that I have my first taste of true numbness. The funeral director is speaking words from a paper he keeps glancing down at, but my ears aren't working, and my eyes fixated on three petals of a bright red poppy in front of me. Words sound like a low annoying buzz, and images around the flower petals are unrecognizably blurry. My mind is deep in a dream, but my body is stuck helplessly in reality. The urge to break my dead stare overwhelms me, and I find myself alone in a room, still seated in my chair. Behind me is a pane of glass, and behind the glass is the other side of the mirror. My mother has both hands gently placed on the mirror, trying to get my attention. I turn to face forward, focusing on the flower petals, leaving her behind me to wonder where I've gone.