Singing My First Funeral
I think his last name was Messerich. His first…Charlie?
Probably. I hear my father’s voice saying it with
that friendly lilt men use to mean a good guy: Charlie
Messerich, church sexton during those few years Dad
tried believing what the rest of us did. Charlie’s funeral.
Everyone else was still alive. Sextons cleaned, fixed things—
but clearly not everything. Like having to die. Zion Church
looked embalmed as ever: dim, airless, polished, Victorian—
even with Sputnik twinkling in circles over our heads.
Someone else must have cleaned, I thought, and wondered
why I couldn’t cry. I knew you were supposed to. One girl
whose name I’ve also lost crayoned a picture: a man labeled
Charlie Messerich leading the Junior Choir skywards, all
our arms out straight before us like movie monsters, all
our kimono-sleeved choir robes dragging behind us on
pink and orange clouds. Melissa, maybe. I’d watched her
roll Italian bread into little balls and swallow handfuls
of them at the Spaghetti Dinner. Kids said her parents had
to call the ambulance and get her stomach pumped. Would
she have died? She cried at the funeral, and I could not.
Hymns. An anthem. It was just more church, and not
even Good Friday. I never asked her about her stomach.
Afterwards, I took off my starchy collar and freed my hair
and bobby pins from my choir beanie for The Reception
in the Parish Hall. Everyone’s mother smiled through
a haze of heated-over ham and pineapple slices too dense
for me to want any. I don’t think I ever cried, even later,
back home. I scuffed the soles of my patent leather shoes
all the way to my parents’ car. All afternoon, everything
was too bright, like staring at a bare light bulb. Like Heaven.
Editor’s Note: The detailed voice of the narrator meticulously leads the reader through her first experience with death as a singer, and offers the realization that nothing is as simple as she thought. The last couplet is a killer.