Worn Wood

March 23, 2010
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The worn wood felt like velvet against my fingers. Many years of ritual use had abolished any threat of splinter. On the pew my parents surrounded me like towers on either side, and in front of us was Pastor Carpenter. I was watching him speak, the way his temples throbbed as his jaws formed his whispers. I was watching but not hearing. The only speech I could hear was my own commentary, and at that moment I was too numb to comprehend what was happening in our little church. I watched as he sat up abruptly and gave my mom’s shoulder a rub, most definitely murmuring comforting nothings. The moment he walked away the few people around me began to stand. I looked up at them as they did, recognizing the faces of these people who had raised me. Who had made themselves a place too close to my heart to be called ‘friends’, they were my family; forever making the small little town my home. My own 100 Acre Woods. It took a minute, but my brain sent a message that I should follow their gaze, so I turned around.
Entering was my family, more people I’d known all my life. They were carrying a box. A large box whose glossy shell mirrored the ancient track lights that shined down from above. I knew what its purpose was; the reason for the sporadic squeezes my rib cage was giving my lungs. But my brain was playing ignorant wondering what was in that oblong box.
The following minutes were focused on the floor ignoring the activity of people arriving. My mind was going wild with possibilities as my subconscious worked on my breathing. My ribs were starting to hurt, but the stale air I was gasping at seemed to hold a larger dagger. It was so familiar, a mixture of the farm and mildew that I could trace to the old, glorious choir robes that where hanging on a feeble rack in the back; a smell from my childhood. But now my mind cataloged it as the smell of betrayal. I couldn’t understand how it was able to hang around limply in the air for something so painful for me, as if it was nothing.
This feeling of betrayal showed my intelligence. I knew what was in the box. So as I looked up at the casket that was now open and alone in the center of the church, I was surprised by my shock. It seemed like no time at all and Pastor was done preaching a sermon I hardly recognized as English. And that’s when it started, this thing that set my heart racing and had every hair standing on end. What ever it was I closed my eyes tight, praying for it to stop. It was making me nauseous. Or maybe that was the taste now plaguing my mouth, a sickening mix of rust and salt water, an essence of what a bloody lip tastes like. Maybe it was a compilation of the two, I didn’t care, I prayed for it to end. But it didn’t.
I felt myself sway as I tried to look up, the nausea overwhelming me as my fingers gripped the soft wood for support. My unfocused eyes searched wildly, trying desperately to find the cause but at the same time avoid all the heart-wrenching images. There was a slight pause, and for half a heartbeat I thought I would be fine, until it started back up again, this time with rejuvenated energy. The truth knocked the wind out of me as my eyes revealed the source. This noise, this blasphemy, was coming from my cousin; from little Brianna, who had her life ahead of her. A three year old who couldn’t seem to understand why her mother wouldn’t wake up. Or why her mom was in that conspicuous box in the first place. Brianna, whose baby face was normally euphoric and framed with blonde curls, was now screwed up on the ground in anguish. Looking at her on the floor, I knew how she felt; we were both loosing someone who raised us. A beautiful woman who had made a unique connection with each of us so powerful it had been tangible. And now, it wasn’t.
It was too much. I couldn’t understand. And I was mad, so mad. All I knew for sure was the pain. The pain of knowing this loss would only deepen in time, the fact that, that was the first time I’d seen my father cry in my nine years of life. I would never enjoy the fall again, the falling of leaves and crisp mornings. My emotions were in such distress I couldn’t follow them downstairs to all the food. In my head that meant saying good-bye.
Even back then I knew the gravity of that moment, I could sense the way my life would change: Like the impending absence of my mother after her sister’s death or the scars those smells, those images, and that sound would leave. And the way all of this could be brought back by the feel of that worn wood. I never did make it down stairs; instead I made my way down the length of the Church and pushed the heavy double doors away from me. I ignored the shiver of protest my body gave against the November air and sat down on the bench staged in front of the decrepit church. Right away my mind went to work on a slide show of my aunt while she was alive, my eyes closed and my fingers memorized the soft, worn wood of the seat.





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