The needs of the dead

It’s Mimi’s job to prepare the dead for their wake. As she explains it to me over mouthfuls of cherry cheesecake, when a loved one identifies a victim, they are often exposed to a body that is broken, traumatised. So she tries to make that last viewing better for closing eyes, for what is seen in the dark. She tries to bring her dead back to who they were before.

She wants that to be the memory, the smallest consolation.

I had a talent for doing hair and makeup. And I found a way to use it. I mean, at first it was just curiousity. That lady at the salon told me some crazy shit about her job – and at the time, I was in the mood for crazy. But then, well, it sort of got important. The needs of the dead, and all that.

The needs of the dead. To Mimi, death is its own kind of living. Her bodies are present, aware. Her girls – she uses the term my girls – hover, observe what is happening to them. They tell her things, too, she says. Now that she has learnt how to listen to what they have to say. She pieces her damaged girls back together, and she listens to their stories. They are in turn grateful for her care, for her efforts at returning them to who they used to be.

Before.

Well, that’s how it seems to me, she says, licking cream from her fork.

There isn’t any sense that I’ll find this strange. Mimi assumes I know what she is talking about. And I do, I suppose, in my own way. Jane changed everything. Jane changes everything. She is not past tense, or rather, her past feels like the only thing that informs my present. I feel the constant pull back to that first moment, when I saw the billow of white, the hazy flutter of fabric that led me to her body. I’ve come to think of it as a kind of beckoning. A flag raised for me to stumble toward.

It’s what I wanted to explain tonight, when it was my turn in the circle. This idea that I was meant to find Jane, how it goes against all my reason, but it feels true, just the same. How Jane haunts me, and I can’t let it go, can’t let her go, because I still don’t understand why. Why she chose me. Why it happened. Why anything like this happens, and how I’m not even sure that’s the right question to ask.

I just know everything leads back to her.

I didn’t say any of this, of course. I don’t have Mimi’s ease when it comes to the needs of the dead. I spoke instead of the shock, the sense of safety dislocated.

And how, after finding Jane that afternoon, I can never unknown this: anything can be waiting around the next corner. You’re only ever one turn away from your whole world changing. And from there, you can never get back what you’ve lost.

Riverside Park NYC

Turning Into the After …

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