My sister laid in her coffin, bloated, overly bronzed, and eye makeup unlike the way she did it herself. We grew up in a small town where women still wore blue eyeliner so naturally this trend was also passed on to corpses. Her hands were neatly stacked over her silk, merlot colored prom dress. The plunging neckline revealed too many bruises from her accident and a white and silver striped scarf that matched one of my own was wrapped around her and fastened beneath her gown.
Growing up, my family tended to isolate themselves from the rest of our family. I had met my mother’s parents, her siblings, their children, my dad’s parents, and his siblings who never had children. I met them, saw them at birthdays and holidays or when someone died, but we didn’t have family reunions or vacations with them. We didn’t go over to their houses just to hang out. We stayed away and they let us. I’ve kept tabs on them, but I’ve never really known them, known what’s typical of them or if I could even trust them. I grew up with my brothers and my sister. I know them, I love them, and they’ve always been my best friends, no matter how much we’ve hated each other.
On April 7, 2013, my sister drove home from work drunk, managed to make it an hour and crashed head on with another vehicle while driving on the wrong side of the road only 10 minutes from her house. On April 7, 2013 at 4:02 am, police and EMS arrived on the scene and continued to try to save my sister’s life while transporting her to the hospital. On April 7, 2013 at 5:04 am, my sister was pronounced deceased. On April 7, 2013 at 8:32 am, a cop, a stranger, stood in my doorway and told me where and how she died, and that she had killed someone in her path.
The last time I had talked to my sister was three days before she died. We hadn’t actually spoken to each other and I still can’t remember the last time I heard her voice. We had become increasingly distant after a fight she had with my older brother. They had gotten into a fight about work and she tried to drive home drunk. He had to hold her down in the car while her boyfriend drove to prevent her from jumping out, and he was able to save her that night.
They didn’t talk for months before she died and he regrets it every day. I tried my best to help them reconcile their issues to no avail, but, she was my sister and I wanted to be closer to her even if my brother was unable to. She and I texted back and forth for an hour or so the Thursday before her accident, making plans for me to visit her where she worked at the National Harbor. She wanted to show me how beautiful it was at night.
She died on a Sunday, we had her wake on Thursday, and buried her on a Friday, her last hurrah, a sick joke between my brothers and I. That Thursday, the funeral parlor we had her wake at was flooded with relatives, a majority of which I was meeting for the first time, or I hadn’t seen since the last funeral. Some sat me down and told me that they were sad she was gone. People that never knew her were somehow affected by her death. Of course it was sad, but I wondered why they would be sad. Their lives didn’t change. In a few hours, they would leave and go back to their spouses and children and never give her a second thought.
They wanted me to stand over her body with them, to pray with them for her soul to go to heaven. My sister was an atheist. I still don’t know what I believe in. I’ve never been one for church and the probability of there actually being a God doesn’t seem realistic to me, but hey, I can’t actually say there isn’t one.
But, nonetheless, my sister was an atheist and they wanted me to pray for her. She didn’t even want to be buried. She wanted to be cremated and have her ashes spread at the beach. But, here I was, praying to an atheist’s body with strangers.
I tried to avoid staring at her for too long. I couldn’t help but imagine what was under the makeup. I knew her skull had been fractured, which accounted for her left eye bulging slightly behind her eyelid. I couldn’t help but imagine how she flew out of her car without her seat belt. How her body hit the ground, snapping her neck. I couldn’t help but wonder if she felt it when her skin was scraped against the concrete, or if she was aware of how long it took for the paramedics to get to her.
I couldn’t face her; until my friend Austin, who practically held my hand the entire week, insisted that I should because it would be my last few moments with her. But it was a dead body, and realistically she couldn’t respond. I’m a fairly realistic person. This was dumb. But Austin insisted.
Hand-in-hand, Austin and I walked over to her casket, the one I picked out for her, and kneeled, wondering what the hell you were supposed to say to a dead body.
We stood over my sister, surrounded by a room full of strangers and began to laugh until we cried, not because it was funny, of course. It wasn’t funny. Death isn’t funny. But we couldn’t help but think of how ridiculous it was that all these people whom she had never met came to see her. We laughed at how awful their timing was.