A funeral parlor is no place for a thirteen-year-old boy. They don’t belong there. They belong outside, carrying a rifle, hunting dove. They should be riding bikes, throwing rocks at abandoned rusty Buicks in overgrown fields. A boy should not be near a casket, shaking hands with men who look as awkward in their neckties as he does.
Because after three hundred handshakes, a boy starts to get tendonitis of the elbow, and he slurs his words. His knees lock up and he loses the ability to think.
I saw one such boy. He was fading, getting hungry. I got to the funeral parlor late, wearing a necktie fit for a monkey, just like him. He stood by his mother, with a flat look on his face.
It’s a look that is neither happy nor sad. Neither hot nor cold. Not grim, nor concerned. It’s the basic look of being alive. Because that’s all that boy was. One big numb pile of human-being.
By the time I made it to him, the boy had already heard the top fifty phrases of the day. They all sound the same and they get stuck in your head.
Trite one-liners like: “Your daddy’s in a better place, boy.” Or, “He’s at peace now.” Or my personal favorite, “Be strong for your mama.”
I shook the boy’s hand and didn’t say a word. Because he wouldn’t have remembered a damn thing I said anyway. I’m not even kin to him. But I’ve thought a lot about it, and if I could’ve told him something, I would’ve said these words:
My friend, I wish I could stand in your place,
Today, and the for next thirty years,
Because, you see, I’ve worn your face,
I’m not as old as I may appear.
But God won’t let me do that for you,
And you really wouldn’t want Him to,
For after thirty years, you’ll grow strong,
Somehow you’ll learn to carry on.
And when you’re all grown,
You’ll write this poem.
Like I’ve just done for you.