Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.
I pressed my face against the window, the glass cold on my cheek. I sat silently in the front seat of my dad's car-- he was driving me to my mom's house. I was fourteen, the world a cascade of grey as we drove down the road. Silent. We passed church after church in the country, and I watched them blankly. Most were empty-- it was the middle of a Saturday morning. I'd left an assignment at my mom's house that was due on Monday; needless to say, my dad was not happy to be making the drive all the way through downtown to get it. I watched his fingers clench and unclench around the steering wheel as he stared at the traffic, blank-faced.
We slowed as a light turned yellow, then red. The air hung in a thick mist outside the window, the coolness just after the rain-- or possibly just before. I don't remember. But I remember the drops on the windshield. I remember the squeak my dad's wipers made. It took him months to get them fixed; they drove me crazy every time the storms came.
I let out a breath of air and watched the window fog up. Through the haziness, I watched a long parade of people stream suddenly out of a church on the corner, people wearing black and carrying pamphlets. Some held umbrellas, pops of color to stand out against the sea of grey.
"Oh," my dad said, like he was somehow regretful. He stared at the crowd, young and old, black and white, faces blue despite the grey as they made their way slowly out of the building.
"What's oh?" I asked quietly, glancing over at him.
"It's a funeral for a young person," he murmured, and I sat up straighter in my seat as I looked at him, then back out the window.
"How can you tell?" I didn't see any signs, couldn't make out any pamphlets or pictures.
"There are just a lot of young people there. And usually, the younger the person, the more the attendants."
I watched the people filing out of the building, tried to process how old most of them were. Many looked like they were my age. Was it someone in high school? Someone younger?
The light turned green, but people were walking in the street, heading to cars, blocking traffic. They blinked as the light hit their eyes after their time in the church, hugged each other, talked and shook hands. My dad slowly inched forward, and a part of me wanted him to stop-- put it in park. Let me climb out of the car, go inside, look at the world through the stain-glass windows and stare through the fragments of color at the coffin. Ask who they were, how old they'd been. How had it happened?
A clearing in the crowd surfaced and my dad sped through. I sighed and leaned my head back against the window, watching them disappear in the side-view mirror. My mind wandered as I thought about my dad's words-- the younger the person, the more the attendants. It seemed like the opposite should be true. If you were around to meet more people, shouldn't more people come?
I stared out the window absent-mindedly, thinking of all the people my age who had walked out of the funeral. They'd given up a Saturday morning to go to that. Had they wanted to? Had their parents forced them? Maybe there were people who had wanted to go but hadn't.
That funeral stuck in my mind. It stuck with me when I started my homework; when I went back to school the next week; through the divorce trial and the migraines. I think about it now, staring up at the goddamned ceiling in the dark. The knives are stabbing at my eyes. The blue is suffocating me.
It seems like the people who are loved the most are always the ones to die. I don't know why I haven't thought of it before. Have you ever seen more friends and family all gathered in one place? Ever seen somebody more loved than a memory lying in a coffin?
I was fourteen, and I remember that vague, distant thought-- would this many people come for me? If something happened, would this many people care? Kids from the neighborhood, a handful at school-- how many of my classmates would complain to their mothers about the suits they had to put on, how they were wasting a Saturday on me? How many of those people out there actually cared? They shook hands with people they barely knew, hugged strangers. Stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the wet cold fog. Blocked traffic.
It could've been a disease. Maybe instead of flowers, the family asked for donations to a charity. It could've been an accident, someone riding a bike too close to the road, not wearing a seatbelt and flying through the window. Or it could've been neither. It could've been a handful of pills, a rope. A gun or a knife. Maybe the parents had cried as they read the note; maybe the classmates had gotten a day off.
I press my hands into my eyes in the dark, wishing I could pull out the red-hot pain like string, wrap it into a ball of yarn and sell it in a crafting store. In the car that day, I didn't say anything more. My dad stayed silent. I stayed silent. The unspoken truth had passed between us. A warning that didn't need to leave his lips, an unspoken agreement barred behind mine. I got my homework from my mom's house, then got back in the car. By the time we drove past the church again, the street was empty, the church dark. It felt like the foreign stripped bare, death sinking naked into a bathtub. Darkness seeping into the water and spreading out, an infection. That was what it looked like unmasked. Not the handshakes, the hugs, the tears and colorful umbrellas. It was that empty grey, the misty air and the squeak of the windshield wiper. Death was all around me.
In the car, I pressed my forehead to the cold window. I squeezed my eyes shut. I let the grey wash over me as the knives began to move.