I Never Came Back (The Funeral)

The only thing more awkward than attending a funeral for a guy you barely knew is then attending a reception celebrating the life of the same guy. Again, whom you barely knew. Yet, such was my exact situation. Here I was, still in my ill-fitting black suit, white shirt, black tie combo—the same color scheme I saw repeated a hundred times here—sitting alone at a small round table, plucking at one of those party sandwiches with the little toothpick sticking out of the middle, wondering how anyone could eat after spending an hour talking about a dead guy. Especially while a slideshow of said dead guy’s entire life was playing in a slow loop at the front of the room, set to a Sarah McLachlan song, also on a loop.
Carl, the deceased, had been a family friend, and a popular one, judging from the crowd here. At least two hundred people, and more were still arriving. I scanned the throng; there were only a handful of faces that I recognized. My mom was up front with Carl’s wife. My younger sister was…somewhere, and my brother had just left for the sandwich line again. Leaving me in a roomful of semi-sad strangers and nothing to do but play with my food and hope I looked mournful enough.
It wasn’t that I wasn’t sad. I was. It’s just that no one had ever explained to me the etiquette for one of these functions. Either that, or I was missing some probably obvious social cues from those around me. It was probably the later, given my track record. I always laughed at the wrong things, clapped at the wrong times, and I always, without fail, said “Thanks, you too,” whenever the usher at the movies snipped my ticket and told me to enjoy the film.
Here, my options were fairly limited. I could either A) hide out in the bathroom, typically my go-to, or B) sit here, probably looking like a weirdo, staring at my hands or my plate or some other random piece of the room. Today, I opted for option B. So There I was, lazily scanning the sandwich line, when by chance my eyes fell on the very last thing I would have expected to see here.
A girl. No, the girl.
She was just coming out of the line, and was walking with another girl, a friend I assumed. She had an oval face, big, bright eyes that glowed even behind rectangular eyeglasses, thick sweeping lashes, lips that looked like she was smiling even when she wasn’t, glowing skin that I couldn’t decide was the result of makeup or her natural aura, and sandy brown hair that danced to her shoulders with every step she took. She wore a black dress, but it seemed to be a different type of black, a special shade of black that only she was allowed to wear, a black that wasn’t the color of mourning, but of pure, unfiltered joy.
My entire body froze. My heart stopped. Not stuttered. Not staggered. Stopped completely. For about five full seconds. When it did beat again, that first thump came so hard that it almost knocked me out of my seat. I didn’t much think about these things, but in the future, when somebody asked me how I met my wife, I didn’t really want a funeral involved in the story. Fate, it seemed, saw things differently.
But if luck favored the prepared, then I was officially the most unlucky guy in existence, because I was not ready. Not by a long shot. The sum total of my experience interacting with girls could be encompassed in two words: not much. Which wasn’t by choice. I was convinced that there was some defect in my brain—or body, or face, or all three—that made it impossible for me to properly interact with girls on any level. And when it came to girls I found attractive, that sum total shrank to one simple word: None.
And then, for some reason, maybe a joke her friend told, maybe something funny she noticed, she smiled. That smile spoke to me on a molecular level. I was buzzing at a higher frequency now. Colors were more intense. Sensations were stronger. That smile alone reaffirmed my belief in God. Not just any God, but a loving, gracious Heavenly Father who saw fit to reach into the depths of my psyche and draw forth my own personal vision of the perfect girl, and then not only breathe life into said perfect girl, but then bring the two of us together right here, right now.
Right after a funeral.
Despite these less than ideal surroundings I offered up a silent thank you to the dearly departed Carl for having met this angelic being while he was alive.
They stopped at the opening of the room, talking and holding their tiny plates, to search for someplace to sit.
I did a quick sweep of the tables surrounding me. All were occupied, but there were plenty of empty seats. Even though I was sitting alone and there were four empty chairs surrounding me, I knew already that they would not choose my table. Because I was that guy. The unlucky one. The one that got passed over. Historically I had always been close, but no dice. Doubtless that would be the case today.
But for once, I didn’t want it to be. I wanted her and her friend to sit right here, at my table. I wanted to introduce myself and ask her name. I wanted to talk to her, to get to know everything I could about her. I wanted all of this more than I had wanted anything in a long time.
I watched them deliberate. In seconds, they would choose some other table, and I’d be left with a headful of crushed expectations. I was already starting to feel the ache of disappointment in my chest when the two of them started toward my table.
My table.
I knew this was actually happening, but it felt like a hallucination, like a severe case of projected wish fulfillment. The rational part of my brain barked orders at me—sit up straight! Don’t stare! Check for crumbs on your face! Don’t be creepy!—as the girls came closer and closer. With each step they took I grew more and more certain that yes, this was actually happening, right here, right now.
There was something else I knew: I had absolutely no idea what to do next. The intricacies of social interaction were, for the most part, beyond me. Inept was the word. And inept was precisely what I didn’t want to be right now.
The girls were closer now, seven paces away. My throat tightened. My breathing quickened. I can do this, I told myself. It’s normal human interaction, not rocket science. Well, to me, maybe, it was.
Two paces.
Hi, what’s your name? Too direct. Nice sandwiches, eh? Nope. I like your glasses. Too random.
The two of them reached the table. My table. I pretended not to be watching. They sat down, directly in front of me. I said nothing.
Awkward…
The seconds passed slowly by. I knew enough to know that the longer I took to break this silence the worse of an impression I’d make. I opened my mouth. Closed it. Tried to clear my throat. Couldn’t do it. Couldn’t move. My grip on the edges of the table tightened until my hands ached.
Ten seconds…twenty…
Hi, hello, hey, what’s up, how are you…
My mouth refused to move. I was a statue. A full minute passed.
And then, I did the only thing I could do.
I got up. And I left. Half running, half stumbling over chairs, I bolted, bailed, fled. In the back—no, the front—of my mind I knew that this moment would live in infamy. Years later when I thought back to now I would cringe. I would hate myself for this. I would loathe the person I was, the wuss, the dork, the wiener who couldn’t even talk to a pretty girl. Maybe someday our paths would cross again. Maybe at some point in the future I would figure these things out, grow a backbone. Maybe one day…but that day was not today, and no amount of regret or shame could stop me from putting as much distance between me and the angel at my table as I possibly could. I sprinted away like the coward that I was, like the fearful, bashful, awkward loser that I had been all seventeen years of my life.
I had lost the battle. But the war? That was still to be waged. I would regroup, reorganize, and redeploy. One day, I would figure these things out. One day, hopefully, I would cross paths with the girl again. And on that day, unlike today, I would say hello. I would tell her my name. And maybe, just maybe, she would tell me hers.

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2 responses to “I Never Came Back (The Funeral)

  1. OH MY GOODNESS YOU ARE PERFECT 😱 Yes, here I am, stalking you once more. Your writing is amazing!!!!!!!! One day… I will meet you in person and shake your hand, you marvelous human, you.

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