I think the numbness started to kick in after I turned fourteen. It first became apparent in Easter 1999. My favorite teacher Mr. Morris was killed. Somebody slit his throat and dumped his body behind our biology lab. To this day they never figured out who did it.
When somebody dies especially someone who means something to you, you’re supposed to feel sad, you have to cry. I think I felt sad, but it was mostly shock. And confused disassociation . A lot was happening very close to me but I felt so far away.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the throat part. I thought about it all the time. Studying for my physics exams. Trying to memorize French vocabulary. I fell asleep every night with my right hand around my neck trying and failing to imagine the same thing happening to me. It was so out of the ordinary, my first awareness of really bad things happening to people, and if it could happen to the nicest person I had ever known, surely it could happen to any one else.
We sat in the church and listened to the pastor pray for his soul. Young men from the national football team gave their remarks. High school girls led the congregation in a rendition of hymns. Take my life and let it be, consecrated Lord to thee. Another group led us is “His Eye is on the Sparrow” but I didn’t know the words to that one so I remained quiet. We said the Lord’s prayer….But deliver us from evil…
We walked from the church to the public cemetery scuffing our white canvas shoes against loose dirt that surrounded burial plots, many of which had only a cross made of two pieces of narrow wood nailed together, bunches of plastic flowers nearby long ago faded in the sun.
Why wasn’t I crying? I cried for everything. So used to hearing the playground chant ‘Cry cry baby cry for nothing, dog and pussy dig out ya eye’
The one time I should have been crying I was not, and it confused me. I was hyper aware of everything. The people on the side of the road lamenting bout ‘those poor high school girls.’
Marsha and Kerri walking proudly but solemnly in front carrying the school banner that we only used on special occasions.
We stood with our heads bowed and watched six men lower his casket into the ground. It wasn’t like on a movie I had seen on TV where there was velvety cloth canvassing the burial plot. No. Just dirt. A huge mound of it off to the side waiting to return from where it came.
The pastor said a prayer that went on for a long time. My eyes should have been closed but they were not and I could see a woman directly in front of me a white handkerchief covering most of her face her shoulders moving quickly up and down.
The crowd grew quiet, people standing around, not sure what to do. Then one girl took off her yellow sash and threw it into the grave.
Our school dress uniform was a square neck white dress with pleats and around our waist we wore a cotton sash, the color corresponding to which house we were in. The sash was $20 and we bought it from the secretary in the office I first form and didn’t consider anything other than it lasting us the five years of high school.
I bought mine almost a month after school started because when I asked father for the money he said to ‘check me next week’, and the same thing the week after until finally just when I thought I would get a demerit for not having my sash I asked one more time and the next day raced to the office with a crisp pinkish greenish bill and a few seconds later walked back to class my palms cupped in front of my face, inhaling the smell of cotton.
Not long after the single yellow sash lay strewn across the brown varnished coffin more sashes started accumulating. Unknotted from the waists of fourteen year olds and fifteen year olds, these strips of fabric sailed for what seemed like an eternity before landing soundlessly some falling into the spaces separating the wood from the earth and landing unseen into the ground
I hesitated. Money didn’t grown on trees. Would be chastised when I got home. Accused of being ‘follow fashion’? I untied the loose double knot and stepped forward then dropped the red strip of woven cotton then stared at the stringy tassels mixing with deep brown ground.
I felt sad but wasn’t sure why exactly. I blinked away un-fallen tears then walked home alone.