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A Memoir Section. Day 485.

This is a small piece of a chapter I titled “Ashes and Sweaty Palms” from my memoir. It illuminates the absurdity of days that follow a loss for a widow or widower, absurdity that many refrain from talking about. It goes beyond the pomp and circumstance of the lavish, gold-draped services with generals, carefully pressed uniforms, and good behavior. There are no folded flags in these intimate moments, nor are there people guiding you, holding you by both elbows as they show you the way. In the days and months and years that pass, the glory and grace move along with the masses of mourners, and Americans really should know that:

In order to have a marker put down at the veterans’ cemetery in town, they needed actual remains.

I paused and made an appointment to bring Roger’s remains to the local funeral home. The urn was a wooden cube, about nine inches by nine inches, that was unnaturally heavy. I’ve never seen inside it or jiggled it to listen for rattling. It had an American seal, and a gold-trimmed onyx plate inscribed with:

Roger L. Adams
SGT
12 July 1972
29 June 2009

My appointment came to transfer some of his ashes into a smaller urn to be buried. Auntie and I got into her avocado colored Jeep Wrangler which never had its doors or top on. I remember wearing a black sundress, my hair was in its North Carolina muggy messy bun, and my flip flops were tucked under my left arm. It had been weeks since his death, so I believe I was wearing lip gloss again. Light pink. I cradled Roger’s urn tightly to my chest, buckled my seat belt, and lit a cigarette. I dragged deep onto it, welcoming the smoke’s pain as we made our way.

Shiny BMWs with chrome trim and roaring lifted pickups swirled around the road as I held my dead husband’s ashes. I moved him to the floor between my bare feet after a bump in the road concerned me. Delirium circled us in her glorious gray mist as our little hairs stuck to our sun-kissed sweaty cheeks. There was sun but it wasn’t showing.

People were going to Kmart, first dates, baseball practice, and McDonald’s. They were driving along with their music smiling at what their boss wore or griping about their broken acrylic nail. They were late for hair appointments and early for affairs. It was simply absurd. We talked to the urn pretending or believing it mattered to him.

Five minutes later we parked in front of the funeral home in Jacksonville, NC. I wriggled my feet into my teal Old Navy flip flops and jumped down from the Jeep. I pressed his urn to my chest in a strong squeeze purposely making it hard for me to breathe, welcoming the ridiculous pain.

His remains were protected in my embrace as we walked into the front lobby. The cool air conditioning enveloped my shoulders and face as we left the July air. The front room was darkened and empty, and our feet were cushioned by soft, Turkish rugs, lavish and plush, blood red. The chairs looked too nice to sit on with their crimson cloth. Why so much red? A small man came out. He had light brown hair and was wearing jeans and a polo shirt.

I resisted my urge to snarl at him, show him my teeth, and said plainly, “How much do you need?”

“About a handful,” he quietly and politely said.

I looked at Auntie and she mirrored my face. I handed my husband in his box over to the man, and he nodded and said, “It’ll only take five minutes.” I prayed for his hands to be not sweaty and wondered if I should go with him.

We sat on the imported furniture with our Target clothes and looked around. Was this comical? Was it sad? It was ludicrous like something one would watch on a sitcom, yet it wasn’t funny. I touched the plush carpet with my big toe to feel its softness as I starred in my own dark sitcom. The man entered our silence with outstretched arms. He was holding Roger’s condensed body in the urn as far away from his own body as he could. I couldn’t help but believe it felt lighter as I received it and embraced its squareness. 

“Thank you.”

“Have a good day,” he nodded, and walked away before we did.

We drove home with less craze and confusion than our ride there. Our shoulders were a little lower and the clouds were grayer. I lit my Camel Crush, and intentionally inhaled more of my life away.

A day or two later or who even knows, I filled out the paperwork for the cemetery.

“What am I going to write on his marker?” I asked Auntie, “I only have a few spaces.”

“It’ll come to you,” she said.

I could have written “Father and Husband,” or “Proud Soldier.” Instead, on his marker in the cemetery, under his name, rank, and awards, people read:

SIMPLE MAN, QUIET HERO

2 thoughts on “A Memoir Section. Day 485.”

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