Wake Of A Stranger This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   I remember that horrible night well: it was chilly out and raining periodically. It seemed that the very heavens were crying.

And well they should be. The cause of heaven's sorrow was the same cause of my anxiety as I walked towards the funeral home. How should I act? What should I say to Gail? It's bad enough that her 17-year-old sister had been fated to get into a car driven by a drunk, but Gail and she were so close - man, how close.

I remember distinctly how packed that place was, and how scared I was in the faint smiles of some strangers who evidently were glad my classmates and I were there, there to see the body of a young girl we had never met, and there to struggle with the best way to act.

We lingered at the entrance hall, too scared to do anything else. Finally we went into the room next to where the body lay. The tears in that room were watery arrows that hit me hard with every sob. I had to stay in control; how could I cry? I didn't even know this girl, only her sister.

I sat there terrified and choking on tears, with a few friends from school for about an hour. We saw a girl (probably a friend of the deceased) become so overwhelmed that she started crying explosively while screaming "No, No!" I was mad at that girl for almost making me lose it, angry that I almost cried embarrassing tears.

About ten or twelve of us went outside into the welcoming tranquility of the night. The discussion turned the overwhelming sadness into a burning, clenched-teeth anger directed at that boy who made the decision to drink and drive early one morning on a slick and dangerous road. I was not able to feel the fire of anger because my tears were still held back on the inside, quickly quenching any flame.

After some emotional discussion which included our now-strong belief in the death penalty, we decided we had to go inside and pray before the body - the body of a beautiful and talented teenager who will ever remain young because of a crime punished by one year in prison - just one!

We waited in a long line, twisting around countless motley bouquets which did nothing to brighten the room. It was incredible how much crying and wailing were happening. Not me though; oh no, I was Mr. Tough Guy. The knot in my stomach tightened as if pulled by giants. The lump in my throat got lumpier, and the coffin was right in front of me.

I knelt and tried to remember a prayer I had said daily for years - but the words did not come, nor thankfully did any "shameful" tears which I avoided by not looking at the beautiful young body.

Somehow I got up without becoming hysterical in my absolute and utter sorrow for a young woman I had never met. I went over to Gail and her family. We all shook hands and Gail gave me a weak hug which I returned even more awkwardly.

I remember thinking that I would give my own life to end the pain of Gail and everyone else in that room, and in reflecting on that night, I'm sure I still would.

The wake was almost over. I was told Gail wanted us - her classmates and friends - to stay for awhile. I stood there with them encircling the seated Gail, who was weakly laughing at the class-clown's jokes.

I respected him for trying to cheer everyone up, but to my surprise, everyone in the group was smiling except me!

I could barely muster a smile when I was introduced along with the rest of the group. I felt like a jerk because I thought that I was somehow destroying this new and timidly jovial mood. I didn't want to dampen Gail's spirit now that she had cracked a smile.

When I finally left, I felt as if I had lost a piece of me essential for my stability, and I knew that it was lying in that coffin.

It began to rain as I was walking home - heaven's tears mixed with my own.n


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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