“The Summer Before” by David M. Som

I stood around uncomfortably in a shirt that likely would have better fit my twelve-year-old self than my eighteen-year-old self. I awaited my turn to approach the man. There were vases of flowers of all types and colors on pedestals surrounding the massive, person-shaped box he was in. The biggest and most impressive spray, however, lay atop the casket itself. I reached out and poked one of the flower petals, and it wriggled in retaliation. Loss was a complicated ordeal.

To be quite honest, I barely knew the man in the casket. Besides this posthumous meeting, I’d only ever seen him in person about twice in my entire life. Thus, standing before his embalmed body under rose-colored lights seemed like an intrusion. The only connection I had with him whatsoever was my acquaintanceship—if not very loose friendship—with his youngest daughter, whom I went to school with. I twisted my body slightly so I could glance behind me toward her and the remaining members of her immediate family. There were tears in their eyes, but they seemed to lose themselves in conversation with loved ones—enough so that the imminent crumbling of personhood was only internal. I couldn’t fathom the pain they were enduring behind their soft smiles and brave faces.

The peculiarity of this situation weighed on me as I tilted my head toward the man in the casket. I was on the cusp of a new chapter in my life; I’d graduated from community college just two weeks prior. My life would soon turn upside down as I prepared to move and finish out my bachelor’s degree at a university. Meanwhile, the book of his life ended where mine began. Without thinking, my arm shot out to touch the front of his suit jacket. It was almost a comforting gesture on my part, but there was nobody for me to comfort. I stopped myself a mere few inches away, and my hand hovered above him, daring me to move. This was too overwhelmingly intimate to bear. I withdrew from him, collapsed into my own shell, and drifted off to the other side of the viewing room.

How curious it was that life continued beyond the confines of this place, which was now full to the brim with the sorrow of strangers. A few miles away, a new parent showered a new child with love. A freshly broken leg was set in a cast. Existence went on for everyone everywhere else except for this very room, in which I stood across from a dead father and husband. Before I knew it, visitation was over, and people began to file out of the room’s fanciful double doors.

How curious it was that I could put one foot in front of the other, and I did. I was alive. The doors closed behind me as I exited the funeral home. The breeze caressed my face, a lover in a dark place. What a thing. I was painfully, awfully, beautifully, wonderfully alive.

David M. Som is a Rochester, Minnesota, native, though he currently lives in Winona. He is an English major by day and cryptid by night whose writings mostly center around queerness, sexuality, death, and books—sometimes all at once. David also writes for Book Riot. He often spends his free time lurking around his school’s campus or staring into large bodies of water when they’re not frozen. He’s @davidmsom on Instagram.

Photo by Rhodi Lopez.