“It really all comes down to how you see it,” she said to me.
We sat on her back deck smoking cigarettes and waiting for the Xanax to kick in. It had been a long day, emotionally draining in the way that only a funeral can be. We had spent the afternoon watching our parents cry and the evening drinking beer in the muggy Kentucky air. We never really were keen on small talk, we didn’t see each other often and she knew there was always something I needed to talk about. There was no time to be wasted.
So, like every other visit, we talked.
Family events on my mom’s side of the family couldn’t be more different than the ones on my dad’s. It had been seventeen years since my uncle had died in the plane crash, which meant it had been seventeen years since my mom’s side had all been together. Over the course of the six hour reception, I stood at her side as she introduced me one by one to her eighty nine first cousins, each proceeding to tell me they last saw me when I was “this” tall. It is crazy to think that my mom has cousins who are two and three years older than her mother, whose funeral we were attending.
The cousins and their children came by one by one to pay their respects to my grandmother and offer their support to my mother and her siblings. Each one spent their four or five minutes rehashing a shared childhood memory with my mom and asking her if they could do anything for her. After a moment or so they continued on to my uncle and aunt, but their words were not lost on my mother. She leaned in to me more than once to tell me she couldn’t remember this cousin or that cousin’s first name or how many siblings they had, I’m sure they would have been the same if it was their mother’s funeral. Regardless of whether they remembered how old I was or how long my mom had been married, the simple fact was that their sympathy was genuine in only a way that a family member’s could be. It was clear that they were all there for each other, no matter how far apart they had grown.
So right, by the end of the night I was exhausted, Leslie and I sat on the back deck smoking and waiting for the Xanax to hit. She wasted no time. “Why are you going to New York?” “Are you really in love with this girl?” “Are you going to be able to afford it?” “Are you going to come and visit us still?” She sounded like my mother, just minus the annoyed “what the hell are you doing with your life” tone that she had taken with me since high school. She was concerned, asking about my drinking and if it was still eroding my mental health. She asked the questions I had been trying to avoid answering for the past few months. I don’t know; there is too much to put down here and too much back-story that needs telling for me to accurately explain it. I just remember sitting there looking at her nonjudgmental eyes and thinking that she was listening to my blabbering like only family could.
The drive through the hills to the funeral was long and hot, the sweet smell of the sour mash hung in the hills of the bourbon country that runs in my blood. Blasted out limestone lined both sides of the road and the ash trees let the sun though in small beams. We drove the winding roads my grandfather used to run moonshine as a teenager and past the farm where my grandma worked the land. It had been too long since I had been to the country; I feel a connection with my past when I am out in those woods, something that the city lights will forever blind me to.
The men didn’t cry and the women did; a typical country funeral. I stood at the front of the church and read from the scripture, hearing my voice begin to crack over the microphone as I grew choked up. I got back to my pew and quickly stopped the welling in my eyes, sitting down as the rest of mass passed. We buried her; I almost fainted in the hot sun as we listened to the priest’s final words. We hung around for a minute before going to visit my grandpa and uncle, arguing over who would remove the red wax from the Maker’s Mark bottle we had purchased to pour over their graves. I watched the brown liquid soak back into the ground where it was born just three miles away. My grandma always said we buried them there so they could have a drink whenever they pleased.
I’ll lie there as well.
I sat down on my couch that night and can honestly say I haven’t been that tired in years. The fifteen hour days and seventy hour weeks have nothing on that Sunday night. It takes a lot to hold in those emotions, to be strong for your mother and your aunt. The men don’t cry in our family; that’s how it has been forever, we just don’t. I remember my uncle telling me he had no sympathy for me as I cried at his father’s funeral. “That’s my pa, boy, if anyone should be crying it’s me and ya don’t see me cryin away now do ya?” He had a point.
I didn’t cry at his funeral six months later.
But that isn’t me, not in the slightest. My family knows me well, but not so well that they have picked up on the things I’ve been hiding from them. I’ve learned to hide my emotions from my family, even the ones like Leslie, who know me so well. It has grown over the years to the point where I find it hard to talk to my parents and even my brother about things I need off of my chest. Hiding the way I feel is terrible for my mental stability and just provides more fodder for the inevitable emotional explosion that takes place every few weeks. It has driven me insane my whole life.
So I got into bed that night and I called her to say goodnight. I had been waiting for that voice all day long, as soon as I heard it, the levees broke. As the previous week was poured out in tears and screaming, she just listened patiently. I could feel it leaving me, my heart slowed down and my breathing calmed. I just needed to let it out. The whole weekend I was in the company of my family, but I couldn’t help feeling completely alone…whether I really was or not. I spent five minutes on the phone with her and everything I had been building up for the previous five days was gone in an instant. I don’t know yet know what this means, but I’m slowly beginning to realize.
The ease of release and the judgment free listening, they are the reasons I started writing here. I started writing when I was alone, and the truth is…I was alone.
I don’t feel that way so much anymore.