The Wake

February 1, 2009
I had just caught news of the loss of my grandmother just three days beforehand, and already I found myself at a wake on a Thursday night in Rhode Island, miles from where I had expected myself to be at any given time on that day. Death has a funny little habit of sneaking up on its prey when they least expect it, waiting to strike at the most inconvenient and least desirable times.

But I digress.

It was at this wake that I was alerted to some of the more peculiar aspects of life, far more so than at the funeral the day after or even at any given point throughout the duration of my life. I had been at a wake or two before this one, but never for an immediate family member, and never one for whom the deceased truly meant anything to me.

Dressed up in suit and tie, looking as strapping as can be, I reluctantly stepped in the funeral parlor, with the scents of perfume filling my nostrils, and nothing but the sight of grandiose decorations and flowered carpeting below my feet. Turning to my left, I traveled in the direction of the casket to pay my last respects.

It was at this moment that I became aware of the first abomination that I would be unfortunate enough to encounter that night. My beloved grandmother, who had hitherto never been concerned with her looks, and neither were her beloveds for that matter, was covered in every form of makeup imaginable with Rosary beads wrapped around her hands in such an intricate manner that it could not possibly have occurred by chance. The most vivid description that can possibly be given of her appearance is that of a vintage doll set up for display on a diorama, demanding the attention of those who walk past.

Attempting to ignore the minute details of her disconcerting appearance, I finished paying my respects, and walked over to the line of immediate family members, where I was to encounter the second and most significant atrocity of the night. Ironically, although these were not the conditions I would have liked them to be, I did enjoy seeing the family members that I have long since encountered. With hugs, kisses, and handshakes abound, I greeted many a family member I know and love. After this seemingly unnecessary ritual of 'hello', I sunk into my spot in line. Of course, this happened to be the last in line, which would contribute to the atrocity that was earlier brushed upon.

As it was still early in the night, our line of immediate family members had little more to do than twiddle our thumbs, make as much idle chatter as possible, and wait for more people to show up. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to engage in a rather invigorating conversation of where I would like to attend University when I eventually come of age, but other than that small snippet of bonhomie in the morbid scene I found myself in, I was faced with little enjoyment.

When the hour struck 6:45, what I like to refer to as the 'unconcerned' began to arrive. Yes, as I mentioned earlier, I had fallen under the category of 'unconcerned' twice before in my life, and although I am certainly not condoning my past behavior, little more can be expected of a child who truly does not understand the nature of the unknown, although I am sure of the fact that I offended the immediate family as much as these subjects offended me.

The 'unconcerned' carried with them an air of indifference; these were the men and women who would kneel in front of my beloved grandmother for but a fraction of a section, head over to the line of immediate family members, shake the hand of every last one while muttering an almost inaudible phrase of 'I'm very sorry for your loss', and depart as nonchalantly as possible. However, be it because I am at but the age of sixteen, or be it because I was last in line, more often than not, I did not even receive what little respect lies within a muddled and indeterminable message.

I had hoped that what I was experiencing was but a wave of the many people to come, a minor phase in the youth of the wake, a simple fault in the grand scheme of life that would soon be followed by herds of sorrowful individuals as pained as I was, flocking to the casket like geese to a morsel of nourishment, eager to explain the chagrins that resided within their breasts to the immediate family, the deceased, or even some form of Divine being.

Naturally, I was incorrect. Rather than flocks of geese, I was faced with stampedes of buffalo, packs of coyotes, groups of rhesus monkeys, and the occasional delusional and mindless human. These sets of people were even worse than those I had faced beforehand, some skipping the step of paying their respects entirely and hopping to the line of immediate family members, shaking hands at a rate that could quite possibly be entitled to its own entry in the Guinness Book of World Records, and of course, skipping me. Yes, it was these animalistic beings that eventually came to the conclusion that I was not only undeserving of a message, but also a handshake.

Over time I lost my acrimonious mind-set and began to accept that I simply was not going to be treated like the rest of those before me, and I concluded that I would make the best of my situation through experimentation.

I found that seven o'clock was prime-time for the 'unconcerned', and was soon encountering vast sums of people. Positioning myself in an area that would be impossible to simply walk past (although some of the rhesus monkeys still managed), I began to change my personality and mannerisms for each person whom I was fortunate enough to encounter. For some people, I would stand tall, jutting my hand out, tacitly commanding them to shake my hand. For others, I slouched, holding back, muttering as indeterminable a 'thank-you' as their 'I'm very sorry for your loss'.

Over time, this turned into somewhat of a sport for me, although it may very well have been in bad taste. Gauging the reactions of the animals, I was able to discern which type of animal would react to which type of gesture, and how they would act after. For example, the buffalo, who would attempt to stampede down the line, would opt to skip me entirely when I was in a slouching position. However, when faced with the challenge of an upright position and a firm handshake, these 'tall and mighty' beasts were soon struck down; I was the David to the Goliath, and they were soon not the person they were immediately beforehand. Many of these buffalo that I was successfully able to confront would soon have a countenance of little other than confusion and dissatisfaction with themselves. Demoralized and unwilling to continue in their beloved manner, they would adopt a slouch not dissimilar to my own and stumble off into the distance.

The coyotes too allowed me to dabble in the abstract facets of human nature. Apparently the opposite of the buffalo, these entities did not react well at all to a firm handshake; rather, they realized that they had met their match, but managed to keep their composure, thoroughly complacent with their being. It was when I began to allow my body to droop that these wolves truly came alive. Pouncing on the opportunity to prey on one who appeared weaker than themselves, they thrust their hands out with a crushing handshake, seemingly purposeless if not to inflict bodily harm on hand in which they were shaking. Walking off in a pompous manner, exuding an aura of ostentation, these wolves felt they had achieved their goal in proving that they were the ones with power, not the meager sixteen year old at the end of the line of the immediate family.

I soon was faced with rhesus monkeys and mindless humans, both of whom I had not experimented with as of yet. Opting to discover the power of observation, I simply sat back and watched what the two of these would do. Unfortunately, the mindless humans were quite predictable in that they simply involuntarily babbled, and then proceeded to walk on. Such observations are to be taken with a grain of salt, however, as there was only two of these to study, which certainly is not a large enough number to be reasonably trusted.

It was within the rhesus monkeys that I found my fascination for the next hour, as the wake was to conclude at eight. These monkeys would walk to the immediate family members, teeth jutting out of their faces, but a baby's breath away from contact with the person with whom they were speaking, letting out many a guffaw and a commendable number of flying bits of spittle. Before watching such an interaction, I had yet to be surprised at the feelings my own body was capable of producing, but the contempt I experienced during those fleeting moments was ineffable.

Watching these monkeys brought both a chuckle and a tear to my eye, both of which were engendered from the same strange combination of pity and disgust that was brewing within the very confines of my stomach. Yes, it was within these people that I found my amusement for an entire hour; their mannerisms, their way of speech, and even their garb. Unfortunately, the majority of those came earlier left early as well, and by the time the clock struck eight and it was time to go, I was left feeling as though my observations were incomplete.

It was also within these monkeys, bitter as it may sound, that I came to the conclusion that when I reach the culmination of my life, I do not wish to have a wake. No matter how nontraditional it may be, there is little benefit in having a variety of callous and emotionless individuals attempt to associate with the effusive; I am certain that these buffalo, coyotes, rhesus monkeys, and mindless individuals exist in every corner of the world, and it is without a doubt that at least one of each kind, save the dumbfounded, would find their way into my wake, were I to have one, and leave with me their form of respects. I imagine that these 'respects' would accumulate over the course of the wake, and along with the make-up and Rosary beads that such types of people would demand, would serve only to weigh down my soul with less-than-divine emotions, which would, in turn, be the very force of my incarceration from heaven.

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