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Saturday, August 22, 2015

On the Whole, I'd Rather Be In...

On a recent trip back home, there was a moment when even my father told me, "It's okay to be

We were at a funeral and greeting fellow mourners of all ages from 60 to 92, and an elderly couple approached me. A man and a woman. The woman inhaled her sentences, speaking as if she instantly wanted to take her words back. The man spoke as if he were trying to return her words to her.

First, the couple spoke to my father. There were many "How are you" and "Long time no see!" exchanges, then the perfunctory, "And you remember Marc. Marc, you remember [Name] and [Name]."

The couple beamed at me. "All growed up," the man said.

"?eh t'nsI" the woman responded, touching my shoulder.

"Too grown," I replied. "Course I remember. Been a long time." A half-truth and a full-truth. I vaguely recalled them from my extremely distant youth, and it had been a long time. Looking at their faces, hearing their voices, what came to me was a tastefully-decorated trailer, a whiff of a scandal, and my paternal grandparents. Which is to say we were nearly relatives by Alabama standards.

After shakings of hands and slappings of backs, conversation resumed.

[Name] asked dad how things were going for the family business. Dad asked [Name] how both [Name] and [Name] were getting around in the old mobile home. (The answer to both questions were decidedly different. Both answers were delivered with upbeat voices.)

Then [Name] turned her attention to me and asked, "?tey deirram uoy era, oS"

She was grasping my hands and smiling so sweetly I'd lost concentration. The need to be kind overwhelmed my instinct to shout, "What?" And we were at a funeral--I was of the family, but not in the family. It was not a time for reunions from my past when so many had gathered to reunion with direct decedents of the deceased. A line was forming behind [Name] and [Name]. The visitation system was being gummed up by this short misty-memory reunion.

"I'm sorry. I didn't understand." I leaned closer, pretending that the noise from the room with the dead body and the funeral flowers was too much.

"!?tey deirram uoy erA" she shouted in my ear. I was reminded of a character in Lost in Yonkers. Gert. Gert inhaled her sentences as well, but not quite so enthusiastically that she sucked them back in, a letter at a time.

[Name] reached in and grabbed my arm. He abandoned Dad's arm, which he'd been holding during the business/mobile home portion of the discussion. "She asked who you married."

Swear to god, [Name] echoed: "Who'd you marry?"


And before I continue on to my answer, please understand a few things. I'm not about to excuse what I said, but I do think there were some... issues entering in to my response. For instance, we were at the visitation slash funeral of my step-grandfather, and while I'd been treated like a relative, I was aware I was an outsider. Not in a weird outsider way. I was welcome and loved. But it was not my place to set a tone for the visitation slash funeral. It was not my place to intrude.

I hadn't been home in nearly half a decade. Alabama has been through superficial changes, but on the way in I'd passed a few church signs saying, "Until this country stops legalizing sin, it is Lost." The capital 'L' always made me cringe.

"Married. No. Not yet."

[Name] squeezed my arms and said, "Aw, you get'm."

[Name] squeezed my hands and said, ".lrig emos dnif ll'uoY"

And they were gone. The line behind them filed past. Dad said, "You could've told them."

"I panicked."

"They're so old they probably wouldn't understand enough to care."

Then later, during the part of the funeral where the preacher, or minister, or whatever acknowledged the survivors, my name and my brother's name were included with the grandchildren. Thing is, all the grandchildren had the names of their spouses called out. When it came to me, I was just Marc Mitchell, spouseless.

Lesson learned. Never go back to a state actively fighting against reason and law.

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