CW: Mention of suicide attempt
[Non-Fiction] The Funeral
It’s funny, he says, to see you in church. I imagine before, in Sunday best, hands to the sky, calling it open, to divide into a million parts, to some bearded daddy in the sky. I try to explain, it was just how I was raised. I try and remember how it felt, truth tugging at my insides, gnawing at my bones. How everything I was taught I knew instinctively, was wrong. It took me two decades to plant enough false memories, to forget how often I prayed to believe everything was true, to leave. How I knew I was talking to myself, how I felt nothing during church, not ever. I try and explain how speaking in tongues felt (like faking past participles in French class), how voting Republican felt (my Christian duty), how losing my virginity to a grown man felt when I was just sixteen (Biblesplained—he was a man of God; there was no sin in love). But, wasn’t there? When the pastor stood at the pulpit and declared homosexuality as a damnable sin, a fast track to hell, like the special line at Disneyland, my hands curved over a flimsy, colorful ticket. I imagined impaling him with the American flag on stage, I remember my teenage anger, my confusion, boiling up and over onto my skin. I remember how often I was condemned for being female, for tramping around in breasts (God-given, God-sized), how my mother would attend with black eyes and bruises (but divorce, she was told, was a sin). We were to submit to our husbands, our pastors, to God. A father-figure for those of us without fathers. For those of us whose fathers were going to hell. And so I did—I submitted in the backseat of a car in the middle of the Orange Groves; I submitted at the altar, decorated with a hundred fake flowers when I was eighteen. How ironic, my wedding colors being white and rainbow. A rainbow: God’s promise, white: purity. But I was neither of those things, not really. I explain then to him, his ears perked in equal parts confusion and enthrallment, of the dark waves of depression that drowned me in the years that followed, how many times I kept praying (if I believe in you, you’ll make me better), kept wearing my Sunday best, kept raising my hands to the sky, wishing for everything to shatter and rain on me in a thousand glass shards, to rip me up into a thousand glass pieces. My whole life was a lie and eventually, I had to find out how to stop lying. Lying was, after all, a sin, right? Damnable—yet, I sought the warmth of the flames like a misdirected insect. Fluttering and disoriented. Wing-tips singed.
There is a certain trauma that follows you forever, embedded in the brainwaves of indoctrination. When I stopped praying, the sky remained intact. I was not surprised when the earth didn’t open and swallow me up. I searched for some essence of spirit in other places, I kept trying to explain it all: the ghosts hiding in every corner of every apartment after my divorce. After my suicide attempt. I was desperate to fill the hole of never-believing with some sort of belief. Of something, anything; to feel something, anything. I tried to explain it away, but all I could find was superstition. And so, I explain to him, instead: that’s all it ever was. Black cats and spider bites. A way to pass the time on Sundays. It meant nothing, I say in half-truth, the light from stained glass windows reflecting prisms of rainbows on exposed thighs. And yet, sitting in a pew dressed in all-black Sunday best is triggering. I miss the intention, the family in congregation. No—I remember, the bruises on my soul. I remember the hundred-grand in loans I took out for Christian College, taking courses that taught us how to save people, to tell them nicely that they are too, going to hell, that everything they think they know is wrong, science is wrong, equality is wrong, wrong, wrong, everything. The guilt buried heavy in my chest. Complicit. Unknowing, knowing, fraught for atonement.
But more so, I remember the way the air felt after it was over—like it would carry me straight to space, heavenless and beautiful. I drove and drove and drove until I reached the ends of the earth, just listening to the silence carried on the breeze. Free of voices, of prayers—so many false memories. I don’t want to die in a church, I tell him. I want to light on fire when I arrive on the doorstep of death, become a million little parts and turn back into earth, into stardust, into the nothing I was born as. He understands, he says. That this is not frightening. The comfort in knowing we are so small, so unspecial, woven in an infinite universe of unknowing. When we are dead we are nothing but a memory, I say, not having to explain further that this peace was what saved me, brought me back from that God-prison, allowed me to live. A born-again Atheist, I joke, as the pastor starts praying about the afterlife. I stay silent, hands clasped, eyes open, imagining bodies decompose into infinite different things, buried and reborn as new life, immortal, feeling everything.
Erica Hoffmeister was born and raised in Southern California and earned her MA in English and MFA in Creative Writing from Chapman University’s dual degree program. She has both poetry and fiction published or forthcoming in Abstract Magazine, FreezeRay Poetry, So to Speak, Rag Queen Periodical, Toasted Cheese, Rat’s Ass Review, Literary Mama, among others. She has most recently won first place for the Kingdoms in the Wild Poetry Prize, with her chapbook Roots Grew Wild set for publication August of 2018. She was also a runner-up for the Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize, received an honorable mention for the Lorian Hemingway Award for Short Fiction and has been nominated for Best of the Net. She currently lives in Denver with her husband and daughter, Scout, and perpetually misses home—wherever that feels like at the time.