This is a work of creative fiction.
I tried to save her.
That’s all I’ve been repeating to myself all week. When I watched her leave me, I chanted it. While I sat in the cold, gray hell, I whispered it. As my daughter-in-law-to-be spooned peanut butter down my throat (“You need protein,” she assured me, and I laughed.), I shouted it. And now that this tie is forming a noose around my neck, I’m trying to yell it again. But I can’t. I’m choking.
All the words sound the same now. They tell me they’re sorry, and I accept, but I do it blindly. I just expect it’s coming at this point. The blonde dentist came in yesterday and I said “Thank you” before he could even say he was sorry. I wasn’t even embarrassed. If anyone was going to be, it should be him. What does sorry mean at a funeral, anyway? Why are you apologizing? You didn’t kill my wife. I know who killed my wife, and I don’t think it will be by to tell me how truly, deeply sorry it is that she’s gone.
They come up to me and say, “If there’s anything I can do…” but that’s just it. That’s where they stop. They don’t finish it by saying, “I’ll do it for you.” They don’t even make a specific offer. Hell, I know why they do it. They expect me to say, “No, no, I’m fine.” Because they want me to be fine. Not because they care about me; not at all. No, they want me to be fine so they can go back to being happy and feeling blessed and invincible without all the guilt. I’m making them get real, and they hate that. But by offering me some half-assed promise, they think they’re doing the right thing by doing nothing. There is only one person who has offered to do a strong something, and I know, I believe that she will do it… if I don’t beat her to the punch.
But today’s the day. I can tell by the suit that’s clinging to my human body like a parasite. Maybe I’ll just let it suck the life out of me. There was a reason I was allowed to be a man, and now that reason is gone. Why the fuck am I still here?
It smells like wedding in here. I really can’t stand that. Last month, that’s what we were all here for, a damn celebration that our two friends finally made honest of the way they feel about each other, and that’s where this whole thing began. I guess Nicky James and I should have known that as soon as one of us got his perfect girl, the other would have to lose his. And considering the timing, I should have known I’d be the one to lose.
Right now, I’m sitting in a creepy, freezing choir room because I don’t want to deal with other people. There’s a big “THANK YOU!” poster with pictures of smiling high school students glued on it, thinking they’re going to Broadway because they were in the St. Cat’s production of Anything Goes. It’s staring at me, taunting me, and it’s bright orange. Why does a poster have the nerve to be bright orange on a day like this? This life is not a candy and smiles industry. Bright orange.
I’ve got an index card in my hands. It’s a damn good thing I remembered that just now because I was wondering what the hell was digging into my palm. I look at the card that is supposed to have notes about the eulogy on it, and I realize I can’t read those words anymore. The sweat destroyed them. Oh, I want to laugh. The same thing happened in the same room in 1989 when I got married, and now I’m here. I’m at her funeral. Elton John, you hit the nail on the head, buddy.
I don’t even know why I have an index card. It’s not as though I’m fifteen in my khaki pants giving a speech on the British Invasion for a grade. My wife is dead. She’s the one in the casket, and I’m delivering her eulogy. I’m the man. I’m supposed to go first. She’s supposed to give my eulogy. God, why the fuck do I have an index card? Am I really insulting the life of this badass so much? Bringing a fucking index card to her funeral? If she were here, she’d be all over my ass. An index card. I toss it in the trash.
The trashcan is empty save for a white sheet of computer paper and now, that stupid fucking index card. I don’t know why, but I reach into the trash and pick out the other piece of paper. It’s the first page of sheet music to none other than “Amazing Grace.” On the bottom, the impossible-to-mistake handwriting of a teenage girl is printed clearly, and there are the words, “I quit."
And I start to cry.
I don’t give a shit that everybody out there wants me to hold it together. I don’t give a shit that I don’t know this girl. I’m crying, shamelessly crying, and there’s nothing anyone can to do dry my eyes, especially not “sorry” or “anything.” She quit. Yes, she quit, and I am so sad for her, but I am sadder for Janie. This girl had the opportunity to give up, and she did. But she also had the choice to keep on and not let the bastards grind her down. This girl is free to make choices, from quitting the choir or marrying someone or ordering a salad or moving to Alaska. This girl can choose because that’s what you can do when you’re alive. My Janie didn’t choose to fade away on our couch while I tried to save her. And she’ll never get to choose anything ever again, not ever.
I just need someone to tell me how and why. You understand, kind of, what death is when it’s not happening around you. When you’re outside, you can look on and say, “Death is part of life.” You think you’re a mature, uppity philosopher when you make observations like that, don’t you? I know you do. I’ve been there. But I saw my wife’s body when that was all that was left of the warrior, and I can’t say that, the way she looked when she was taken from me… I just can’t say that’s a part of life. How selfish I was when I looked at death before. How cold they are today when they look at me.
Now, I stand in front of the dirt. We just put a hefty mortgage down so that my Jane can rest comfortably. I don’t think the word mortgage has even been so appropriately used before. That’s poetic. Macabre, but poetic.
“Well, Janie,” I whisper in a voice so hoarse I don’t think it’s mine. “I love you. And I miss you. Remember to miss me, okay?”
When I look straight ahead, I can see her smile at me.
“I know you will,” I add.
The new voice startles me, and I turn around to follow it. There’s the young man, so like me, but Janie’s amber eyes are the ones staring at me. I don’t know how I’m going to deal with those eyes in the wrong sockets.
“Evan,” I said.
“Let’s get out of here.”
And my son wraps his arms around my shoulders. That’s what we do. We get out of there. We leave the woman who loved us so much behind… underground. She should be in between us. This should have been someone else’s funeral.
I tried to save her.