Trigger Warning * Violence * Language
I loved him until the end. I wasn’t in love with him, but I still loved him. I’d grown up with him, and he was the father of my three children. So as he lay in the casket all groomed to fake the look of rest, I knew something was missing. We had never discussed funeral arrangements for either of us. Death was only a possibility when he threatened it upon me. It was real to me, not to him. Invincibility ran strong in his blood.
But here I stood, alive. And there he lay, dead. If it were a race, he won this round, but I knew I’d be soon behind him. I expected death at almost any time. I wouldn’t make it to 30, I knew this for sure. I thought I should put down notes for what I wanted and did not want. I think if he had ever considered he’d be here on display, he’d have had some of his own suggestions. Yet, one thing was glaringly obvious to me: he needed a hat.
Somewhere in the fog of people coming and going, whispers around me, rumors of his heroism for trying to save my life (even in my shock, I found time to laugh a little), I bought him a hat. A Florida State hat. I don’t know if I put it on his head or if I allowed the professionals, but one minute he was in the casket without, and the next, his dignity was restored. It was the only bit of grace I had to offer, one last attempt at peace with him. You hate me and you tried to kill me, but does this help? Do you love me enough now?
Everyone balked. How dare I. He looked so nice in his dress shirt and slacks, and there I went and ruined it with a hat. Never mind that I found the whole look already ruined by the actual death. I upset the balance of what a funeral should be, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t supposed to be here anyway. Not in this small Georgia town, not in this funeral home, and most certainly not in this life.
The hat stayed. I sat on the front row during the service, as any good widow would. I felt their stares and blame bore into the back of my skull, and I ignored them. No matter how I responded, they’d talk about this or that and how wrong I was. So I stared at the tip of the burgundy FSU hat and listened to the funeral director drone on about gardening and how much this man loved his children. I wanted to object, to explain that a man who loves his children so much doesn’t do things to go to prison, doesn’t get other girls pregnant, and he most certainly doesn’t try to kill his children’s mother, but I said nothing. Let them have this version of him. I knew the truth. And really, many of them knew the truth too. But truth can be an ugly thing, and lies are often prettier. Denial holds promise of something better. I should know.
It was unreal. My husband was dead. Gone. How was I going to live life without his direction? How was I supposed to know what I could and could not do next? I didn’t know how to be alone. Except, that’s not true. I just didn’t know it wasn’t true.
The tears came. I hugged Scott, who squeezed himself into a small ball beside me. I cried for Nate and his lost life, long before he actually died, and I cried for our children, who were not to blame and should have never had to see either parent in a coffin, ever. I cried for the family behind and around me, for they loved him, especially the ones who blamed me. It was that love that made it so easy to blame me.
I didn’t notice when the service ended. My face was buried in Scott’s hair, trying to sort out the flood of emotions hitting me. I’ve never lost anyone close to me. I’d been to just two funerals in my life, but I hadn’t been close to either person. The tears I shed then were for the families who were in pain. Now it was me. Maybe others were shedding tears for me.
“Angie, you need to go start your car. You have to follow the hearse to the cemetery. You’re first.” My mother-in-law Mary, the very first from a lifetime ago, stood at my side, holding my arm. She didn’t blame me. She was actually on my side, and I realized she had always been on my side. She reached out to me from a place very similar, trying to stop me before I headed down the same kind of road she’d been on.
I nodded and led my children out the side doors. I didn’t know how this worked. I just did what I was told, shuffling from one place to the next, the same thing I’ve been doing my whole life.
As the caravan started, all traffic stopped out of respect. I couldn’t help but think of the many times Nate had passed funeral processions before, caring not one bit about whomever had just lost a loved one.
In the small town, the local police held back traffic, their hats in their hands. I shook my head. He always hated you guys. I nodded at them and mouthed a “thank you,” crying harder as they nodded back.
How was I supposed to keep driving? Cars were stopped everywhere, and I realized that they had just lost one of their own. They didn’t even know it, of course, but Nate was born here. Now he was home again.
The date was December 11, 1997. Nine years ago on this day our story began when we talked on the phone and he convinced me to break up with my boyfriend. Today I saw him for the last time ever.
I swear I heard strains of Love Bites on the wind as it blew through the cemetery. Yes, yes it does. Nate’s coffin sunk into the ground, cranking lower and lower. I watched it and wondered if this is the part where I should throw myself on top of it, just to give everyone something else to talk about.
“Let’s go home, Angie” Mom said, grabbing my elbow and pulling me away.
I looked back over my shoulder, the coffin no longer visible. Just a hole in the ground. I heard Paul tell Marge that the spot next to Nate would be his, and that was fine by me. I’d spent enough time with him.
“Angie, let’s go. We can go pack up your stuff and get you back to Williston. Angie?”
“It’s Angela,” I said, taking my name back. I shook my head. “No, it’s time for me to do this on my own.”
I drove home with my babies and did not look back.
About Angela Giles Klocke – I’m a Colorado-based speaker, writer, advocate, and princess! I am also a survivor of child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, and more. I would love to speak to your group, school, or organization. Catch my TEDx Colorado Springs Talk on abuse, violence, and talking about uncomfortable topics, coming soon. Contact me!