Second, the funeral for my great-aunt was on Thursday. (Wednesday was Pallas Cat Day on my Tumblr, because I needed a Pallas Cat Day, quite frankly.) It was held in a little churchyard cemetery up in north Alabama, not quite as far up as Decatur, but pretty close. It was the kind of place that had more cows than people and more churches than cows. I enjoyed the cows a lot.
One of the things I love about Alabama is that there's undeveloped woodland everywhere, even in the cities, and it's all beautiful--so if you're out in the country, it's going to be really great.
The real problem with the drive (if you're my mother) or the ride (if you're me) was that it was two hours both ways. And that's if you don't get lost. Which we did, on the way back, and the Google Maps GPS did not seem to recognize our location as being anywhere near where it actually was, and then when we did find I-65, it was closed for a really ugly wreck right on the exit we needed to take.
It was also near the towns of Arab (AY-rab), Egypt, and Hog Jaw. Oh, Alabama.
Anyway. It was fairly informal, just a graveside service led by one of my aunts, and she and a couple of the other aunts spoke a bit, and then she opened the floor to anyone else who wanted to speak. And she'd asked me before they started if I wanted to, and at the time I'd said I wasn't sure if I could hold it together up there. And then I watched a couple of my cousins get up there and get very emotional about our great-aunt, and I thought, I lived with her for nearly twenty years. There was a point where she was somewhere between a grandmother and a third parent to me. If I didn't speak--and God only knew what I could think of to say on that kind of notice--I don't think I'd ever feel anything but regret afterwards. So when my aunt asked if anyone else wanted to say something, and there was a lull, I said "I will" (and then I had to change from my sunglasses to my regular glasses, which was super smooth, but okay), and went up to the little podium and started talking.
The thing is, I had been the only person who hadn't been crying at all through the entire event. Not a sniffle. And once the aunts started talking, for some reason--every time they said my great-aunt's name--her name wasn't Mary, but let's say, every time someone referred to her as "Aunt Mary" (and everyone, regardless of generation, did), it made me smile. And they told fun, sweet stories about her, and those made me smile even more, whereas everyone else was sobbing. The whole crowd must have thought I was insane. So I got up there and said, "I'm one of the children she helped to raise." And I only spoke for a minute or two, but the gist of it was, "I can't bring myself to cry, because all I have are happy memories of her." And of course, as soon as I said that, I got a bit teary. But only a bit.
It only occurred to me later that I probably should have been terrified of getting up there to speak. It just... honestly didn't occur to me. I was more concerned about saying something coherent on short notice than being nervous. Maybe I have the Made of Fail podcast to thank for this, I don't know.
I almost didn't want to mention this, wasn't sure I should, but--some of y'all have been reading here for so many years, and you'll understand the significance of what I'm about to tell you, that I kind of feel like I should. I don't want to go through it all over again, but the short version is, my father walked out when I was 19, and I hadn't seen or heard from him since. And I'm the only one who hadn't seen or heard from him, and I had very conflicted feelings about this--like, 55% relief that he's gone, and 45% fierce indignation that he's still gone. Like, I don't want to see him, but I'm insulted that he doesn't even want to make the effort. But I don't want him to make the effort! But I don't understand why he won't! My emotional baggage, let me show you it. And I knew that he would be at this funeral--it's his aunt, after all--and that I had to go, and he had to go, and because it's not about us, there would be no way around it. And I had been dreading this moment for twelve years--not because I thought he would do anything, but because (as previously mentioned) I have a severe Elinor Dashwood complex, and I was really afraid that whatever reaction I had been repressing but, finally, in this moment, expressed, I would not be able to control it. I might burst into tears, I might flee the scene, I might start screaming blue murder in the middle of the cemetery, I might trip over my own feet and fall over, I might punch him in the head. I really did not know which one it might be. And that's why I wore my sunglasses pretty much the whole time, so I could survey the scene without making actual eye contact. (Although it was, truly, so bright out that I got an actual sunburn--a little keyhole-neckline sunburn.) I saw him when I first walked into the cemetery, and--it was a strange feeling. I can't quite describe it. He looked more the way I remembered him than I had expected him to, but at the same time--the last time I'd seen him, I was 19. He looked very different to me there at my age of 31, the way that everything from your childhood looks smaller when you're grown-up. I didn't really feel anything else--not anything new, not anything uncontrollable.
A few minutes later, someone passed word to me that he wanted to talk to me. "Well, he's not gonna get to," I said pleasantly. And that was it. He circled the cemetery for the next hour, and almost every time I looked over to see where he was, he was looking at me. I don't know what he wanted to say to me, and I kind of don't care; I am no Pandora. I suspect it would have been some attempt at whitewashing the situation and ignoring everything that had happened, along the lines of, "So, how are you doing?" At which point, "I DON'T KNOW, DO YOU WANT ME TO START WITH 1998, OR A BIT LATER THAN THAT?" would have jumped out of my mouth, and it would have been bad. Whatever it was, it was not a conversation I wanted to have at a funeral.
And the next day, Friday, I woke up feeling really good. I just felt--really at peace with the whole day before, even if it had been tense and physically draining at the time. I don't know if I deserved to feel at peace, given that I hadn't seen my aunt very often since she had moved away, but I did. And this huge weight had also been lifted from me--twelve years of squirrelly anxiety that I might run into him, that someone might try to throw us together, what would I say, what would I do, what would he think, and--I don't have to worry about that anymore. It's over, and I got out of there with my dignity intact and no warrants out for my arrest, and while I still don't particularly want to see him, I don't feel that towering indignation anymore. It's like--I got some weird kind of closure, just by getting the opportunity to say no. Which I don't think I'd ever said to him before, in essence. I just--felt like a different, lighter person when I woke up the next day. I don't know.
Meanwhile, I have a ton of work to do, and I actually feel like doing it.