Funerals and Crucifixions

by Pietra Dunmore

It was my Auntie’s funeral. I walked over to the casket. I paused and reflected. There she was in her white floral dress that she bought from Sears. I stood there realizing that it had been almost 2 years since I saw her. A wave of guilt washed over me. I asked myself what I was doing there, and, of course, I told myself that I shouldn’t have come or told her what transpired between Christian and I in her home. I believed that the knowledge of what I told her caused her heart to seize and give up that very afternoon.

I sat in Auntie’s church, the second row back, fourth seat in. I looked at the center of the stage as the pastor leaned over and spoke in a soft voice announcing the next speaker.
-->The moment I saw Christian, my face burned with heat and my eyes watered. I hadn’t seen his face in about ten years and in that time he had aged considerably. His face plagued with lines and his hairline had receded past his ears, my silver crucifix still hanging from his neck. 
He walked up to the microphone, pulled out a yellow piece of lined paper, and unfolded it. Christian’s eyes watered, as he took a deep breath. He began to read, his breathing becoming irregular, as he tried not to let his voice crack. “She was my mother when I lost mine.” The words echoed heavily. Past those words, I heard none other, his sorrow merely a weak murmur in my ears. I was again present when the room had paused and I watched him scuffle back to his seat.

I watched as my mother dabbed tears from her eyes, Uncle Cornbread looked on in disbelief, and Christian standing with his head hung low holding the hand of a young boy that looked identical to him and sitting next to a woman I guessed to be his new wife. I was angry and I felt a fire burning in my mind. I wanted to do something impulsive like throw an egg in Christian’s face, slash his tires, or punch him straight in the nose. I listened to Auntie’s church ladies sob and wail as they held their hands to their ample bosoms.

Auntie’s body laying there, in perpetual sleep as though I had killed her, as if the secret released into the air had struck her dead. I viewed family around me crying, grasping at each other’s arms and hands with tissues trying to console one another.

“She was so young.” One woman would say.

“Jesus called her home,” another would whisper.

Despite all the emotion surrounding me, I hadn’t felt it yet. I didn’t cry and I was angry at Auntie for not being able to stomach what I told her.

It wasn’t that she died right after I told her, it was a few months later, but I knew it was on her mind. How she looked at me in disbelief with her hand over her breast as she lowered herself down into the easy chair. “Say it isn’t so.” She whispered. I handed her a box of the numerous letters and cards Christian had sent me over the years, his own cursive handwriting betraying our secret. Note after note, Auntie looked through reading the words, “this is our secret” and “don’t tell Auntie, she wouldn’t understand.” And the most damning of all, “Destroy this letter.” Auntie folded each letter written on yellow legal pad, and placed them back in their respective envelopes. She closed the box and handed it back to me.

“What do you want to do?”

I didn’t know how to answer that question.

The summer I was fifteen, Christian and I would go to hotels. The first time we went, Christian told Auntie we were going to a Sixers game. He’d keep the game on the entire time just in case Uncle Cornbread wanted to talk about the game. Christian would park the car in the furthest part of the lot away from the lobby.

“I’ll be right back, stay here.” Christian took his keys out the engine and walked away. I looked at the signs surrounding me. Vacancy. $38 a night. TV and air conditioning included. Christian came back shortly, tapped on the back window and handed me a key. “Count to fifty, then come to this room. Put this hat over your head.” Christian handed me his baseball cap, then pointed to the key chain that had the number 308 on it. He disappeared into the side stairway, then resurfaced on the third floor balcony and vanished into a door on the corner. I did as I was told and counted to fifty. I got out of the truck, locked the doors and went up the stairs.

The first time I walked into the room, I remember it being dark and all I could make out was a large bed with a floral comforter on it. As my eyes adjusted I saw a television and a side table with a phone on it. Christian used the remote to turn on the television, illuminating the room. He seemed a little nervous, checking the blinds to make sure they were closed, unlocking and locking the door twice, then using the chain.

I watched him place a black bag down on the dresser. Christian excused himself and went to the bathroom. While I heard him urinate through the thin walls, I peered into his small black bag pulling the zipper down to find shiny red foil squares and a travel size petroleum jelly. I read the wrapper on the balloon’s package a realized what they were. Condoms. I felt my face getting hot. I closed the bag and stood in the center of the hotel room.

Christian opened the bathroom door, smiled and sat on the bed. I just stood. He looked up at me and patted the bed.

“Take a load off.” I reluctantly sat on the bed.

“Do you know why I brought you here?” Christian asked reaching out to me. I shook my head no. “I wanted to be with you, away from the house.”

“Okay.” I inched back on the bed so that I was sitting erect with my back firmly against the headboard. I listened to the sound of the freeway drowning out the television.

“Relax. I just want to talk to you.” Christian pulled on my legs gently so I was laying flat on the bed. Christian lay down facing me. He took my face in his hands and looked into my eyes. I looked at his eyes above me and felt calm.

“You’re beautiful, don’t let anyone tell you any different.” Christian moved in close touching his nose to my cheek. He rubbed his nose from my cheek to my neck and began to kiss me there. I felt his hot breath on my neck and was unsure if I felt comfortable. He touched my face with his fingertips and kissed me. Christian’s hands felt for the edge of my shorts and went underneath. My thighs tightened around his hands preventing him from going further.

Numerous times we would visit that summer and the same scenario would take place. He would try for hours to enter me and couldn’t. Most times his penis remained flaccid and he’d blame me telling me I had the bra and panties of a little girl. During subsequent hotel visits he’d bring bra and panty sets from Victoria’s Secret for me to wear. He’d mock my clothes, telling me they were too loose and boyish. He complained that my body looked like a child’s and told me to gain 15 pounds so my breasts and hips would form. Comments about my clothes or body were more frequent the more we were together. “Why do you dress like a boy? You can’t see your body shape in that.” “I need you to wear heels and stockings when you come over.” “I don’t like those shoes.” “Don’t wear those panties they look like they belong on a 5 year old.”

Other times he told me he was sure that God was stopping him, that I could be a test of his Christianity. When he became too frustrated with his own stories, he’d put on his clothes, grab his black bag and unlock the door.

“Just count to fifty before leaving the room.” He’d say.

We’d spend the ride back to Auntie’s in silence.

When the summer was over he still kept in contact, calling me on the phone late hours of the night, whispering that he loved me and that we would move away together and have a ‘real’ relationship in a far away state. We just couldn’t get married until I was eighteen, and I was to keep our relationship a secret until we could do things legally. I chose to believe him, although our love seemed different from the open kind of love that I heard the girls in school talk about. I’d watch teenaged couples hold hands in the hallways, envying their relationship. The affection they could share while I hid out in the backseat of Christian’s car until we were outside of city limits. The kisses the high school girls could bestow on their boyfriends while Christian barely noticed me at family gatherings. It made me feel uneasy, like an undercurrent in the pit of my stomach. I didn’t enjoy the way it felt when he would try to enter me. I hated the way he blamed me for the times he couldn’t get hard. Even though I didn’t like those things I wanted to be around so he would hug me and tell me I was pretty.

Christian would send me mix tapes, on a 90 minute Maxell cassette. He’d record songs like Into the Night by Benny Mardones, No Ordinary Love by Sade, and Marvin Gaye’s Distant Lover. I would listen to them on my walkman on my way to school. The cassette would always come with a small handwritten note saying that he was thinking about me. My fingers would trace the smooth curves of his catholic school taught cursive.

These were the letters that Auntie read. The knowledge didn’t do her any good. None of this information would do his son or his new wife, or my mother, or any future boyfriends of mine any good. I wondered what it was like for his wife. What it was like for her to love him and not truly know him. I imagined that one day Christian would slip and say something wildly inappropriate about his son’s girlfriends when he began to bring them home. Or maybe he would look at some middle school and high school student just a second too long, and she would know. The whole thought sickened me.

Long after other family members and friends had left the church, I remained standing over Auntie’s casket. I stood there and watched as the workers removed the flowers. As I sat back down in the pew the pain hit me. I felt my eyes well up and my hands shake. I was battling guilt and grief, my body fighting the impending tears. I was eventually unable to hold them back and I sat there and cried. I cried for having told her, I cried at her reaction to me afterward, I cried for the Auntie I lost.

Sometime that evening after the family had gone, Christian and I sat together in his car. I felt nervous and twitchy as we were silent for awhile looking out into the traffic. We sat with the windows open, the summer’s humidity upon us even at nightfall. We kept our voices low and looked around every once in awhile to make sure no one was listening.

Christian went on a long soliloquy and described the selfishness of his youth. He explained that those summers with me were within a series of those selfish moments when he rarely thought about the consequences of his actions. He had decided to put that time behind him in order to move on and embrace the man that he is now.

“Mentally I face challenges every day, and I know that I am having non Christian like feelings. I will pick up my bible lay my hand over it and pray. Every day for hours I can’t stop thinking about it. I pray, and pray.... I know I’m a sinner, I’m not perfect. How do you control something like that? I never had to struggle with something that was so emotionally and physically intense before. I’ve never met a girl like you. I’m not saying it’s your fault, but you would look up at me and…” I had stopped listening to him, I was still angry and felt my face flaming with heat. There was no apology, just statements. He looked at me intently as he whispered that he prays for me in church. I just raised my hand in the air and cut him off, mid-sentence.

“I try to put this into perspective all the time. I am 27 now. Your son is the same age now as when I met you. I look at your son and I can’t imagine touching him. I don’t see him as anything other than a little boy. I try to imagine how you saw me at that age and confused my admiration for something sexual. I question it all the time.”

“Don’t say that.”

“I don’t understand why you get to be happy.” I stared defiantly at him.

“Why would you say that?”

“I saw you with your wife today and I hated you. I hated the smile you had on your face and the family you get to have. I should have those things too.” I was so anxious I was shaking.

“So what are you saying?”

“You ruined me.”

“That’s not true.”

“When I told Thomas…” My eyes started to tear at the thought of my ex-boyfriend’s face. “When I told him…” I couldn’t even finish the sentence.

“You told him?” He nearly screamed cutting me off. “Why would you do that?”

“I couldn’t let him touch me, I’d get up in the middle of the night crying, I had to tell him.” I began to cry and stopped myself short. “What did your wife say when you told her?”

"She doesn’t know." I looked at him in shock.

"Why didn’t you tell her?"

“She had no need to know.”

“Then she doesn’t know you at all. She is married to a lie.”

“What difference would it make if I told her?”

“You already know the answer to that question. That’s why you never told her.”

“Do you hate me?” he asked. He shook his head, and tears welled in his eyes. I refused to see his tears as sincere.

“I don’t know what I feel.”

“I've thought about calling you like hundred times and apologize, but I didn’t want to upset you, then I figured you just grow out of it.”

“Grow out of it?! It’s that simple for you isn’t it. You just get to act like I never happened, like you never touched me, like you never lied. I had to lie to everyone and you got to move down south and have a wonderful life with your wife and kid. Nothing happened to you.”

“But it wasn’t like I drugged you and raped you.”

“It wasn’t like you should have been buying me panties and showing me porn either.”

“Would it make you feel better if I told you how truly sorry I am for what I’ve done?”

“I don’t believe it would. You still get to have a life I will never have and be happy.”

“I want my chain back.” I pointed to my sterling silver Jesus nestled in his chest hair. Christian turned it around and undid the clasp. I snatched it from him and got out of the car, never to look back.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock