“The story you are about to read is almost true. Only the names have been changed to protect the contrite.”--Raejean Corliss
“This is ungranulated, unadulterated, unabridged fantasy. It was made up and played out. Believe it if you want to. Fuck you if you do.”--Pierce Trotter
I almost laughed at Raejean’s funeral. Seriously.
I had to clench the insides of my cheeks with my teeth. Think grave thoughts. Remember how solemn the occasion was. Stop considering the absurdity of it all.
Not bursting into laughter wasn’t easy. But I knew that if I laughed it wasn’t going to be one of those silent rolling chuckles I could keep. The laughter was going to be rambunctious. Rabid. Mad. So I clenched. Thought about how my wild, maniacal laugh would sound as it rolled through the pews over the heads of the mourners, bouncing off brilliant stained glass windows. A dancing discord. I fought to retain the roar. Knowing that the only person in this sanctuary who would have understood was lying stiffly in a coffin, dead. Dead. So I bit the insides of my cheeks and dug the nails of one hand into the flesh of the other to ward off the threatening hysterics.
I even tried to cry.
It was all too ridiculous. Raejean was 33. She was talented. She was brilliant. She was beautiful. She was my best friend. She was gone. A .22 slug through the heart. Self-inflicted. It was as tidy as that type of suicide can be. And, classically Corliss, it was thought through and well planned. Before she shot herself, Raejean cleaned her new Old Town greystone from carpet to chandelier. The dishes were washed and put away. Both her guest and master bathrooms were scrubbed and scoured. Brand new monogrammed bath towels, neatly arranged, hung from the towel racks. Her bills were paid. A dozen-and-a half individually written suicide notes, all composed in iambic pentameter, were sealed in hand-addressed off-white envelopes stacked on her white Norwegian oak nightstand, awaiting distribution to family members and close friends. Like me. Roy, her estranged spouse, got two suicide notes. One was private. The other generic and instructional. A To-Whom-It May-Concern note of cordiality for any and all who may have felt slighted because they didn’t get a personal ode to her self-demise.
That was Rae. She didn’t want to leave anyone feeling left out.
I seldom go to funerals or weddings. I’m not comfortable at either. Both are ceremonies of perplexity: We don’t know what happens after death. Half the time, we know all too well what happens after marriage.
Raejean’s funeral was unlike any I had ever read about or heard of. It was pre-planned. Pre-arranged. Pre-paid. In her posthumous instructions, laid out in the generic suicide note, Raejean designated the funeral home she wanted to handle her body. She specified the church, the day and the hour for her last rites. The funeral ceremony was to be racially integrated, of course. Two men of the cloth would administer the services in what amounted to a pepper and salt tag-team approach. “The Urban Prophet,” the Rev. Billy Crowe, president and founder of Mission JAB, which Raejean once described in her column as “the most militant and momentous of the moderate Civil Rights organizations,” was one. The other was Father Robert McNicholas, an activist Catholic priest, nationally known for his liberal theological and humanitarian views. Raejean’s instructions spelled out every detail for her funeral, big and small. She decreed just who was to deliver her eulogies, how long they were expected to speak--and in what order. She had visited Oak Woods Cemetery and selected the site where she wanted to be laid to rest. Her burial plot was bought and paid for months in advance. Except for the death date, her slate-gray, green-marbled tombstone had been engraved weeks ahead. It read: “My life was metered and measured from there to here.”
And that was it. For Rae.
But what about me? Where was I going? Where had I been?
It was a long story. No. In retrospect, my life was a long series of short stories, warped and wefted. Encompassing me as I sat there facing Raejean’s death. Propelling me to wander back through my life. Compelling me to wonder deeply about my life.
Was the tapestry intact or was the wholecloth threadbare?