Guilt from the grave
Oh how I envy psychopaths. Lacking any sense of guilt or remorse; they rationalize, blame and deny it all away. OJ, Casey and Jodi sleep like babies. While I pop Ambien the way I eat brownies, one half at a time.
I used to think guilt was unique to women; rooted in Catholicism. But my self-condemned male, Jewish, Lutheran and agnostic friends have cleared that all up for me.
Alice Miller, author of “The Drama of Being a Child,” states “Many people suffer all their lives from this oppressive feeling of guilt, the sense of not having lived up to their parents’ expectations… no argument can overcome these guilt feelings, for they have their beginnings in life’s earliest period, and from that they derive their intensity.”
For me, guilt can lie dormant for weeks. And then my best friend fails to sign off with “Love” on an email (xox is not the same) and I’m worried I somehow offended her. Or a complete stranger in the express check-out lane casually glances at the illegal number of items in my cart and BAM! I’m paralyzed. I tell myself to get over it. But I can’t. So I take a walk, read the happy parts of The New Yorker (Shouts & Murmurs and the cartoon captions), journal my hypersensitive feelings and eat three brownie halves. But it’s still fucking there!
When I just can’t shake it – I give in to it. In the way I imagine how people drown. They struggle and fight and gasp for air. But at the end, they give up and quietly float to the bottom – peacefully and serenely yielding to the sea.
My surrender is the image of my mother in her casket. (Might as well go for it, right?!) There she was, 22 years ago, the age I am now, all primped for her private viewing. This is such a strange custom. Why is it necessary to see the dead, well, dead? Lying in a box, fully clothed, wearing glasses with their eyes closed. It’s unnatural and morbid.
My sister and I were summoned to the viewing room to give our approval.
And there was our mother, sleeping with her glasses on. My first thought was “what jackass decided she should hold a nosegay of wildflowers?” Then I remembered it was my idea, to signify her love of gardening. But it was pretty obvious she didn’t just skip in from the meadow.
I was about to ask for a prop change when I noticed her earrings. Pretty little garnets and diamonds. A Christmas gift from me. Oh shit, the stylist put them on her upside down and sideways. Mother would blame me for assuming the funeral home knew they were not inverted triangles. No big deal, I thought, I’ll just give them a twist. I turned the one closest to me and accidentally touched her ear. It was cold as ice and felt nothing at all like skin. I froze. I guess that was the first time I ever touched a dead person.
I’d had a few days to get used to the fact she was gone, but for some reason touching her cold, little earlobe made me realize she was never coming back.
Just then the funeral director walked up, cleared his throat and actually gave us a “thumbs up” gesture, to see if we could get this show started. I couldn’t bear touching her again so I gave a little nod, knowing full well the other earring was pointing straight to hell.
I sent my mother to eternity, lopsided. And, once again, I let her down.